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By on March 4, 2009 in Uncategorized with 2 Comments »

I have been listening and reading with bewildered awe the vehement anger that consumers have felt over Tropicana’s re-branding, which they debuted earlier this year. And while any discussion about Tropicana is so two weeks ago, the whole discussion has had me thinking about something all together different: Comfort Brands.

In an economic climate where fear and stress are running high and people are going back to basics in spending and consumption, I am beginning to wonder if perhaps, as marketers, we are learning a big lesson in the idea of “if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.”  

I discovered an interesting post by Ernie Schenck about his idea of Creative No-Fly Zones. In this response to another blog entry about how creativity is changing, he discusses the notion that the United States is in a cultural downslide and how advertising is perhaps the biggest culprit and vehicle for the breakdown of our culture. Ernie is speaking more specifically about how, in advertising and marketing campaigns, we are trying to push buttons and gain traction by delivering bad creative that is smarmy and cheap and, while quite possibly funny at times, denigrates and erodes our culture and society.

And while I agree with his notion of Creative No Fly Zones in terms of elevating the level of work we do without resorting to cheap and gimmicky ideas, I also wonder if we need to perhaps review product categories and Comfort Brands from the sense that perhaps there too we need to establish some Creative No-Fly Zones.

I was sitting in a kick-off meeting with a client last week where we were discussing their rebranding and re-launch for 2009. As we began to brainstorm and discuss the implications of a rebrand, the whole Tropicana packaging debacle came up. I stood there stymied by what I was seeing and hearing: outrage and passion and frustration all mixed together and pouring out of 6 very well-mannered, professional people. Over orange juice packaging?

As Marty Neumeier talks about in The Brand Gap, a brand or product is not what we (the marketers, product managers, and advertisers) say it is, it is what the consumers say it is. So whether you call us all alpha consumers, brand loyalists, or product evangelists, we all have brands that we are immediately drawn to for various reasons.

Which brings me back to the notion of Comfort Brands. Clearly the Tropicana packaging held more brand equity than the product managers at PepsiCo. or the folks at The Arnell Group had tested. Is it just a sign of the times that consumers, feeling the chaos and the sea of change all around them, don’t want to see iconic brands change right now? If PepsiCo. had launched this packaging in 2007 or 2010 would the reaction have been entirely different? What if we changed the packaging for Cheerios? Pillsbury Flour? Crisco? Would people have noticed the shift?

In order to stay relevant in this ever-changing world we have begun the process of re-invention with everything we can. Are consumers coming to a place where they are tired of change so much that they are going to start dictating what marketers can and cannot manipulate for bigger market share and returns?

If a product is not what we say it is, its what the consumer says it is, are we going to begin to see and feel the pressure and opinions of consumers dictate how and what we market? Have we permeated too far into the consumer’s comfort zones? Are consumers beginning to develop Creative No-Fly Zones for us with those brands that they have (or possibly will) deem to be Comfort Brands?