In Speed, the baddie, Dennis Hopper, has planted a bomb on a moving
bus. To save the passengers, our hero and heroine, Keanu Reeves and
Sandra Bullock, have to manage the transfer of the passengers to another
bus that is travelling alongside it.
Bomb apart, the analogy is one way of illustrating the task facing
Unilever and its agencies as it contemplates the culling of 1,200 of its
lesser brands, leaving it with a mere 400 so-called ’power’ brands.
Think of the passengers as consumers of the brands to be culled; the
’safe’ bus represents the surviving brands; and the agencies, who have
to shepherd the consumers across to the power brands, are Reeves and
Unilever says the 1,200 secondary brands represent only 10 per cent of
sales - yet this adds up to about pounds 2.7 billion a year. Of course,
some brands will be sold but many will be allowed to wither over time,
and these are the ones that are interesting in an advertising and
marketing context. By any measure, that’s an awful lot of sales and
individual consumer relationships and interactions for any brand owner
to give up voluntarily.
Of course, the analogy doesn’t apply to just Unilever, but to any
company whose portfolio of brands is too big to be manageable. Clearly
the same logic that is driving Unilever - the growing power of retailers
and the inefficiencies of supporting small or local brands - will be
apparent in the boardrooms of other packaged goods companies. But the
conclusion is unavoidable: there are too many brands around for them all
to survive. Logically enough, retailers will only stock the biggest.
The weakest must go.
So imagine I am a long-standing buyer of Brut’s Aquatonic aftershave,
one of the brands said to be on the Unilever hit-list. One day it’s
there, the next I can’t find it on the shelves because it’s been culled.
Do I buy instead some Old Spice, owned by Procter &Gamble, or do I buy
Lynx, owned by Unilever? Since I am an average consumer, I don’t know or
care who owns which of the possible substitutes - unless Unilever gives
me a reason to.
All this matters for Unilever, which has to figure out how to get
consumers to switch to its power brands rather than a rival’s. Meantime,
of course, P&G will be desperately wooing Brut buyers itself - making a
difficult task even harder. Now multiply it over several hundred brands
and the magnitude is, well, something to behold. Each brand will have
its own set of solutions, but they must surely go beyond above-the-line
’family-of-products’ type advertising to direct marketing, promotions,
special offers, cross-selling and database management.
The curious thing, according to the head of one Unilever agency, is that
nobody at client brand management level seems to have thought about this
yet. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?