Personalisation – From Baked Beans to Alan Partridge

personalisation - cornflakes

Let me be clear from the outset, I don’t really like personalisation. If you’re the type of person who likes say a cushion with your name on it then maybe this isn’t the article for you. Now it may seem odd that someone whose day job is branding stuff should take against, well branding stuff, but in my head there is a difference between putting a company name onto an item and putting my name onto something.

It seems I am in the minority though as the UK market for personalised gifts is expected to hit £1 billion this year. According to a study by Roland DG, a gift that has been personalised is seen as more thoughtful and unique and warrants an additional 7% cost. It’s also related to age with 18-34 year olds more taken with the concept and prepared to spend more than their parents for the bespoke branding.

Personalisation has been around for some time of course. Ironically as a child I used to long to find my name on one of those racks of keyrings or door plaques with seemingly every name under the sun except mine. I also remember those cards that featured the year of your birth and all the big events that had happened alongside your arrival. These were not truly personalised though, it took the advent of digital printing in the 90’s and the ability to produce cheap single images to get truly personal.

Snappy Snaps were an early adopter with their access to our then analogue photos. You could get a variety of products made featuring your own photographs – calendars, coasters, cushions, t-shirts and who could forget the Snappy Snaps mugs from Alan Partridge’s mobile home?

Personalisation hits the High Street

In 2000 Moonpig the online card company launched; here you could create a tabloid front page or magazine cover starring your mate for a truly bespoke birthday card. Moonpig has just floated on the stock market valued at £1.2 billion, seeing growth of 135% during the pandemic as we searched for ways to connect with each other. 2006 saw the launch of the mail order and online company Not on the High Street, founded by Holly Tucker at her kitchen table. Intended as a marketplace for small traders selling unique items you couldn’t buy in big stores, they quickly identified gifts with a personal element as a huge trend. Now with 2 million visitors a month to the site and 5,000 retailers onboard as well as sales of around £200 million annually, rumours of a flotation are rife. Though as with many huge growth companies, it has not yet turned a profit.

Which brings us to the explosion of personalised gifts available today with almost no item that cannot be personalised. We’ve gone from the racks of the elusive name-bearing keyrings of my childhood to personalised garden stones (I kid you not) and bibles. Should you feel the need to own or perhaps gift a personalised hammer or BBQ, no problem. Ditto tie hangers replete with your name or maybe a bottle of gin or prosecco featuring not just your name but your birth flower.

Some products are quite mind-boggling; personalised Vaseline? It comes, somewhat unsettlingly, from a company called Getting Personal too. But I guess I’m showing my age here, the brand has moved on these days.

personalisation - vaseline

You can also get dog poo bags with your dog’s name on, presumably not to hang in a tree; your own Blue Plaque celebrating your (lack of) fame; and I came across a rather nice bottle of Tanqueray in a wooden box which said Grandad on it but is it just me? I couldn’t help but be reminded of a coffin somehow.

personalisation - gin

And of course for special occasions the whole industry goes into overdrive, barely able to contain its excitement at the thought of all the name slapping that can occur on virtually anything you can sell. After all, what better way to say Happy Mother’s Day than to send her some delicious macarons which have her face printed on them.

personalisation - macaroons

And Christmas Crackers no longer need to be filled with packs of miniature playing cards and nail clippers, nor do they need to be of a size that can go on the table. Why not order yourself a two metre-long personalised version filled with gifts of your choice? I don’t know, perhaps a swimsuit or tree bauble featuring your name. Or maybe just some Vaseline.

Food of course is a big branding area, for business too. You can have a tray of donuts with your company logo slapped on the top (I felt it important to road test them at a trade fair, they don’t look much but they tasted surprisingly pleasant).

personalisation - corporate branded donuts
Corporate branded donuts at a trade fair

In the personal arena though, the options are quite dizzying. Much of it is chocolate or sweet-themed with Toblerone and Kit Kat popular products to individualise. Ultimately though, anything and everything can carry your name.

Or you could go for the whole Heinz collection; after all, who doesn’t want personalised Mayonnaise?

personalisation - heinz tins and ketchup

Finally, you can buy your loved one a ‘My Last Rolo’, plated with 22 carat gold in a presentation box and engraved with their name or heartfelt message. Costing £90, no doubt there are some ungrateful types that might prefer the chocolate version.

personalisation - my last rolo

Getting personal

If you have read this far then you might be thinking that I’m being somewhat snarky about the subject, after all it’s just a bit of fun, putting your name on some Spaghetti Hoops. Well yes but then again, there is something quite impersonal about the whole business. When I see what are undoubtedly amazing bespoke birthday cake pictures circulating on WhatsApp, I’m reminded of the hours spent trying to make Cadbury’s Flakes look like spines on my ‘celebrated’ hedgehog cake. It was made, not ordered, with love, and that can get lost in the rush to have something spectacular or clever.

Perhaps I am again showing my age though, complaining about the unstoppable march of the individuality of the modern age, of the need to star in our own story. Having given much thought recently to the subject I was therefore interested to see the offer on a Kellogg’s packet to have your own personalised Cornflakes made and decided to see what mischief I could create. Sadly despite several attempts to have a bespoke Back to School pack made for Gavin Williamson, Kellogg’s are wise to the possibility of this subversion and declined my application.

Unwilling to waste the 2 kilos of Cornflakes it took to get the required codes though I decided to use myself in the experiment (a flat refusal from all other family members) and am now the proud owner of a personalised cereal sleeve. Despite much shaking of heads in the house, I’m strangely taken with it. Perhaps it’s the childhood trauma of the missing keyrings, the rejection I faced with my abbreviated name, the unfairness of missing out on the door name plate for my bedroom. It’s actually a poorly executed box, misaligned and miscut, almost like they knew my heart wasn’t in it. Best I hold off on the cushions I think.

personalisation - cornflakes
personalisation - cornflakes

A quick note on the links above – though we do occasionally include affiliate links in our articles, none of the above will make us any money. We’ve included them as a nod to using the photos and also because some of you might fancy a jar of your very own Nutella. I wouldn’t think any less of you, I really wouldn’t.

  1. YES! Another one in the rose gold series. Good show, Jo. I think I agree with you here. This personally personalising smacks not of branding but of giving cult status to the owner. Odd as it might be adding it costs money however the effect on resale value is exactly the opposite. Unless many years later one runs into a fountain pen personalised with A. EINSTEIN or W. CHURCHILL on the barrel perhaps. In that case…

  2. My name was never popular when I was a child, but with the (fairly) recent arrival of a Princess, suddenly it’s cropping up everywhere. I would have loved all those things when I was younger! Now I have to smile politely when my mother in law brings back holiday souvenirs I can never regift…

    Another problem I frequently had – when the occasion arose to CHOSE to have something customised, my name was usually too long to fit.

    1. I sympathise Charlotte, name length is an issue. I’ve come across a number of online forms where it refuses to let me have a name with only two letters. I have to adopt Joe just to get it accepted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.