Last November, outdoor advertising giant JCDecaux applied to Hounslow Council to change the famous Lucozade sign next to the M4 flyover in Brentford. They wished to switch the animated neon sign for a modern technology giant LCD screen, the type which has become commonplace on major trunk roads in recent years. The content was to remain Lucozade.
Locals (including me) got wind of this very late and there was outrage that the beloved sign was in danger. But on 31 January, the council turned down the application to sighs of relief all round. I announced this on Twitter which evinced a huge and positive response, and not just from Brentfordians. The sign is widely loved, it seems. Read more here. Not very good film clip by me on YouTube, here.
The current sign is, in fact, a 2010 replica of the original 1954 version which was on a building about 250 yards east of the current site. The first sign is stored in Gunnersbury Park Museum (worth visiting). Lucozade was a locally manufactured product along with other household names such as Mcleans toothpaste and Brylcreem. That remained the situation despite various mergers and takeovers over the late 20th century resulting finally in the pharmaceutical giant GSK. GSK offloaded the Lucozade brand to Japanese company Suntory last year, giving rise to the current Lucozade sign brouhaha.
I think this affair raises a lot of questions. First, if the owners of Lucozade decided they no longer wanted to pay for advertising, would it be okay for them to get free publicity on the massively busy M4 flyover? Furthermore, who would then pay for the electricity and maintenance of the sign? JC Decaux? Hounslow Council? English Heritage? I don’t think so.
There is a precedent, of sorts. Back in sixties, Ferodo – makers of brakes and related accessories – decided that their medium of choice was to be railway bridges and the deal was done, presumably with British Rail at that time. Of course, when the deal came to an end, clever Ferodo got many years of free advertising. Last year, the one on the Caledonian Road got painted over but I saw another one still proudly with us in Bow. There must be others.
Of course, there are key differences. Ferodo brake pads are less personal products than Lucozade and crucially, the Ferodo signs are ubiquitous whereas the Lucozade sign is a one-off and has strong local connections. For the moment.
But what else is going on here? This is pure speculation on my part. Suntory have picked up Lucozade, and with it the Brentford sign, which like it or not, they’re obliged to keep going. What to do? Change the sign for a modern one while committing to keeping the advertisement exclusively Lucozade as a sop to local and motorway traveler sentiment while fulfilling the heritage brief. Then, it’s the easiest thing in the world to change to other advertisers later because with a modern sign, the heritage argument has actually been lethally undermined.
Suntory and JC Decaux will be back. In the end, I think they will win. For some of the above reasons, I believe we must reluctantly accept that the sign will eventually go, there are much more deserving things to fight for around London. Equally as worthy in my opinion, but I didn’t hear anyone complaining (except me!) when we lost the lovely Christmas trees on the old Beecham building after Barratt Homes took it over.