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
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
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?