Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

By Jeremy Bullmore, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 05 February 2010 12:00AM

Q: I read in Metro that Hindustan Lever, the new owner of Pears Transparent Soap, has provoked the formation of a Facebook Group called "Bring Back The Original Pears Transparent Soap".

This follows its change to the 221-year-old formula when manufacturing it in India and has resulted in lots of free PR and then its decision to bring back the old soap. This strategy seems reminiscent of what Lever did with Persil and Coca-Cola did with New Coke. Is this a sign that the emerging markets such as India are getting as sophisticated as we are in the West?

A: You've got at least two different subjects muddled up here. India may be an emerging market but it's far from unsophisticated.

Both David Ogilvy and Stephen King found their most receptive and educated audiences there. And India's capacity for imaginative social marketing leads the world.

(How would you go about persuading several million people to sterilise babies' bottles when they spoke several hundred different languages and lived in several thousand small villages with access to no media?)

The whole "Bring Back" thing contains an intoxicating mixture of deliberate strategy and recovery from cock-up. You seem to have fallen for the rewriting of history that suggests that the 1986 launch of New Coke was an inspired and hugely successful stratagem deliberately designed to reinforce the American people's commitment to Classic Coke (the original). It wasn't.

It was a colossal cock-up.

New Coke was fully intended to replace Classic Coke completely - and one of the most comprehensive research programmes ever undertaken confirmed that it would. The company had conducted endless taste tests and had detected a measurable preference for the new brew. But what they hadn't taken into account was loss-aversion. They'd neglected to warn the American people that they were about to lose their birthright.

So the United States of America, enraged and betrayed, revolted. And ignominiously, within 77 days of the launch of New Coke, at enormous cost in dollars and corporate embarrassment, the Coca-Cola Company was forced to withdraw it. America got the Real Thing back again.

Sergio Zyman, the chief marketing officer at the time, left the Coca-Cola Company shortly afterwards.

Much later, he published a book called The End Of Marketing As We Know It. In it, he wrote that the objective of the launch had been "to revitalize the relationship of the brand Coca-Cola with consumers in the US. New Coke was incredibly successful in reattaching consumers to Coke and getting them to buy it."

And indeed it was; though even Zyman doesn't quite have the chutzpah to claim that the whole operation had been a brilliantly planned and intentional marketing ploy from the very beginning. He was, however, forgiven - and some years later, the Coca-Cola Company took him back.

I'm still of the view that Diageo would be ill-advised to launch New Guinness.

Q: A headhunter defined me as being "in the marzipan layer" and I didn't comment for fear of seeming ill-informed - what is it and is it a good place to be?

A: If you've only just fought your way up from the stodgy old cake below, it's a perfectly good place to be; but only as long as you don't bump your head on the icing and get stuck. Being permanently stuck in the marzipan layer leaves you open to ridicule and, worse, pity.

And if you were once a part of the icing yourself and now find yourself back in the marzipan layer, it's not at all a good place to be; though people who leave the icing usually leave the cake altogether, and not always voluntarily. Most cakes also boast two or three few candles but they often tragically burn out.

Competitive cakes, when seeking to recruit new icing, often look at competitors' marzipan layers in the belief that they'll find affordable and frustrated talent there. That's what your headhunter was going on about.

A very few people choose to stay in the marzipan layer for the rest of their working lives. They fear the exposure that the very top of the cake calls for.

Headhunters aren't very interested in them.

I hope that helps.

Q: Miller Williams said: "Write drunk, revise sober." Is this how they did such great campaigns in the 60s and 70s?

A: I can't remember.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4919.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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