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What's killing some top brands?

Like the dinosaurs, there were many prehistoric beasts in the history of marketing--products that disappeared long ago. Some of them were outdated by new technology and innovation, but many died because no one let them evolve. They were victims of positioning that was no longer on target and their marketers missed this oversight until it was too late. Finally, they were labeled "dinosaurs" and denied the support that might have let them flourish once again.

I'll begin with a short epitah for all the great products that were allowed to go down the tubes when most of them could have been saved through repositioning or relaunching. Take Bab-O, the biggest powder cleanser product there was until the joys of elbow grease were exposed as something women just didn't buy. Had the makers of Bab-O foreseen that the American Housewife was ready for easier cleaning, Bab-O might have made it. After all, it was the late '50s, the era of technology, of Sputnik, stereophonic sound and products that lifted stains without strains. So was it so surprising that by the mid-'50s Bab-O was eclipsed by Comet and Ajax?

The first lo-cal, No Cal, was there before Diet Rite, Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi and Diet 7up. Even as its sales lost weight, No Cal kept talking about being a substitute for rich, calorie-laden foods. But Tab had already established the real diet drink position. Tab said, forget all about the other high calorie drinks. Cut ouu that fattening sugar; thin is in. Tab had the answer. No Cal didn't even know the question had been asked.

You have to look carefully for the indicators of a brand's decline. It's rarely as simple as declining sales. They're the effect, not the cause. By the time your sales are going down, it might even be too late.

Max factor had a great product line but took too long to follow Revlon's beautiful lead in selling glamour through drugstores and supermarkets. By the time they saw what was going on, the shelves were filled with Revlon. Too little, too late.

Betty Crocker never caught on that younger women don't want Grandma's kitchen. The "American mother cooking for her family" thing is not what baking is about anymore. Today's woman wants self-gratification, respect and gratitude. She wants convenience, too. Betty Crocker doesn't pick that up. Today's woman wants an image she can identify with, not the fussy antiquated picture Betty presents. How about introducing Betty Crocker's granddaughter, a woman who understands that cooking cakes and cookies should be modern and gourmet. (Modernize that kitchen, Betty, before it's too late.)

If you think about it, some of the classic product successes of the creative revolution were repositioned products. Marlboro went from a red filter tip targeted to women, with a minor share of market, to the position of leader of the pack. Much obliged to the Marlboro Man, and a correct assumption that men needed reasurance that smoking filtered cigarettes was masculine, even individualistic. The women smokers also bought the macho which was an unexpected bonus.

Alka-Seltzer had a history of very funny, warm and award-winning advertising but sales were upset and needed fast relief. Thus, "plop plop fizz fizz." Funny, warm...but also efficacious. That was the way to people's stomachs, through their hearts, but also through their heads. Now plop plop has fizzled and it's time to reposition those tablets. Alka-Seltzer faces a two-pronged attack. On the one hand, analgesics are strong, and on the other, Rolaids and tums are talking portability and convenience. That's already spelling a lot of trouble for Alka-Seltzer. To the Rescue

There have been a lot of very successful restagings that saved a lot of brands from extinction. For example, when we at BrainReserve were assigned to Ultra Brite toothpaste, sales were hurting. The brand had started slipping from its high share of 11 to three when we began work. The brand had gotten further and further away from its original franchise positioning, "Ultra Brite gives your mouth sex appeal," and we believed that represented a trend that hadn't changed. Women from 18 to 30 still wanted to hear about sex appeal but in an upbeat, take charge 1980s way. Although our strategy was still sex appeal, we changed the way it was presented. The "Kiss My Ultra Brite" TV spot portrayed women as strong and feminine, and sales gained strength as well. Once women saw that Ultra Brite understood their needs again and delivered their contemporary sex appeal, they responded.

I've established that relaunching, repositioning and restaging can spell success, but, if sales aren't the indicator, how do you know when it's time to restage? You have to do a very hard, honest evaluation of your product and its current position in the market. The comes the tough part. Go into your office. Close the door. Pick up your product and ask yourself three straight questions. One, are the same people using the product now that used it five years ago? If the answer is yes, you're in trouble, because a fixed consumer buys product know-how. He'll buy imagery, sure, but only if there's a lot of product behind that image. And he wants the information to back up the claim. He wants real sell. Consumer Research

Conscious consumers will be resistant to impulse buying when they're spending a lot. Conscious consumers read labels and they're not just looking for designer names. They want knowledge and they'll read volumes if you offer them the opportunity. Product intelligence is what the '80s and '90s will be all about. This is a buyer's market. Americans have more and are spending more and care more about how they spend. There's more discretionary income in these two-earner households. They've just come out of a series of recessions that have taught them to buy quality--to buy things that last them longer than they did in the past. They're also well-educated about buying and can be very choosy. They demand all the answers.

Some products are already responding. Look at soft drinks: Now 7up is not just the "Uncola" anymore. It has no artificial color. It has no caffeine. "Never had it. Never will." That's promise. That's a real product difference a consumer can latch onto in the nebulous area of soft drink advertising. Pepsi hears the conscious consumer. It isn't just a generation anymore. It's a drink that "people preferred over Coke in nationwide tests." It makes people think and that's what they want to do. (So, coke, instead of telling me you're "It," tell me why, how, anything, but give me substance.)

And look at the packaged foods category. There's not a lot that's going on, except in the freezer section. Ice cream is hot, because it's talking conscious consumers' language. Haagen-Dazx and Frusen Gladjie are offering superior ice cream. But where's great apple pie, the perfect baked potato, terrific fried chicken? It's still not happening. The dinner of the future is going to be delicious, nutritions, hot and ready, and America's getting hungry for it.
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Author:Popcorn, Faith
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Jul 1, 1984
Previous Article:A competitive weapon with a future.
Next Article:Progressive Grocer's 1984 survey of buyers and merchandisers: part II.

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