OPINION: MILLS ON ... BRAND LONGEVITY

The naturally conservative among us - ie those suffering from millennial angst and futurephobia - may well find solace in an unlikely place: The Grocer magazine’s annual survey of 1999’s top-selling FMCG products.

The naturally conservative among us - ie those suffering from

millennial angst and futurephobia - may well find solace in an unlikely

place: The Grocer magazine’s annual survey of 1999’s top-selling FMCG

products.



There, nostalgics can wallow in a list of familiar brand names that

continue to lead their sectors: Kit Kat, Walkers, Cadbury’s, Mr Kipling,

Heinz, Walls, Birds Eye, Persil, Ariel and so on. Phew, you think, just

as McDonald’s charming man-whose-tap-is-still-leaking ad captures it,

the end of the century has come and gone and there’s still a reassuring

sameness about the world. Indeed, with the exception of Walkers, Muller

and Sunny Delight, whose success has come within the past decade, most

of the sector leaders have been at or near the top of their particular

perches for at least 30 years. And most, if not all, have famous or

long-standing ad campaigns behind them.



If the cold wind of recession were to strike this year, therefore, and

budgets come under threat, I don’t doubt that the effectiveness unit at

the IPA would turn immediately to The Grocer’s list to demonstrate two

things: one, the potency of the brand in general, and two, that

advertising continues to work - at least in these particular FMCG

categories. For that, we should all give thanks.



Nevertheless, as the tables show, some well-established market leaders

or top ten brands performed badly - McVitie’s biscuits, Heinz canned

foods, Ariel powders, Nescafe Gold Blend and Whiskas to take but a

handful. We can classify all these as traditional advertisers, but

whether the declines are down to fundamental category changes (for

example the growth of chilled or ready-cook meals in the canned foods

sector), poor (or less) marketing and promotional activity or the growth

of own-label, is difficult to say. If anybody thinks I’m being too hard

on their favourite brands, I should also point out that Ariel’s powder

products may be suffering, but its tablets variant is going a storm.

Similarly, canned petfood may be in decline, but premium single-serving

foods such as Whiskas Pouch are experiencing rapid growth rates.



Which brings us to product innovation. Casual study of the tables

suggest few new products and brands are coming through or, even if they

are, they find it hard to gain critical mass. This is wrong: it’s just

that most of the innovation is being done off the back of established

brands - of which Whiskas, Dove, Ariel and Persil all prove the point.

And let’s not forget Kit Kat Chunky, propelling the master brand to new

heights of market leadership without, as far as I can tell, any serious

cannibalisation.



But while all this successful brand stretching may remind us of the

ultimate power of branding, what does it say about our industry that

there are so few genuinely new products or emerging brand names breaking

through the ranks? Is this, therefore, testament to advertising’s power

to keep established brands at the top of their sectors? Or does it mean

that advertising is failing in another key respect: bringing new brands

and products to market leadership?



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