Philip Morris chief Michael Miles has commanded front-page attention with every defense of his price rollbacks on Marlboro as the "only one right answer." Coca-Cola's response has been to distance its stable of brands from PM's with an unprecedented disclaimer mailed out with first-quarter results. The headline, "Soft drinks are not cigarettes," reveals just how wide Coke wants the breach between the two companies to be perceived. (If Coke seems a bit testy, it has reason. In Canada, a country with tastes indistinguishable from our own, private-label brands already own 51% of the soft-drink market.)
ADWEEK, meanwhile, weighs in this week with a panel of experts. (See page 25.) Drawing from an array of disciplines and markets, the experts sort out what it all means. At another panel, one held last week by the alumni club of Columbia University's business school, Young & Rubicam evp John Glorieux narrowed that focus to what it all means for agencies. Or, to paraphrase the title of his talk, can agencies help build brands in a retail-driven economy?
Turns out they can help a lot. And they can do so by reverting to their charter. Citing a Y&R study of advertising from the '50s through the '80s (400 TV commercials and 500 print ads), Glorieux noted that seven out of eight TV ads in the '50s were "focused on the product and what the product could do for the consumer."
Today, by comparison, very few commercials demonstrate, much less dramatize, consumer benefits. Instead, Glorieux said, "the new ads claim a lot. Like 'Nobody beats (you name it) . . . They state good intentions a lot. 'We want to be your (blank) company.' They ask a lot. Like 'Trust us.' They assert a lot. 'We are America's (finish the sentence).' They assault their competition a lot.
"But not so many do the fundamental, basic job of 'show me.' Fewer ads show you how you can 'Be all that you can be.' Or why 'You're not getting older, you're getting better . . . . ' What's going on here?" Glorieux asked. "Dramatizing the benefit used to be the definition of advertising."
Glorieux knows what's going on, of course. He knows that agencies themselves have succumbed to the notion that it's a parity world, that their clients' products and services are no different from the competition's. "It's easy and cynical and lazy," he said. "And it's never true."
What is true is that meaningful differentiation isn't always so easy. "It's hard to dig and slog and find it," Glorieux admitted, "and it's hard to dramatize the use of it to people. It's ever so tempting to drift lazily down the river of impressionistic images or puffy performance claims--but it's not so useful."
Glorieux's thesis that agencies have become too lazy for their clients' good is compelling. If a new product truly lacks worthwhile differentiation, then its agency should have protested its introduction. Even more telling is the private-label threat has reached a flash point at a time when consumers are starving for the sort of information that old-fashioned brand advertising used to supply.
"Think about some of the obvious needs Americans are craving to have filled and think about how your brand might help," Glorieux advised. He then ticked off a number of areas, including the following, where help is in embarrassingly short supply:
* Everybody needs more time. Six million single moms are struggling to raise children; seven million Americans hold more than one job. Make life convenient for them.
* People need to learn stuff that nobody teaches anymore. Mothers are working instead of teaching their daughters to cook. Eleven million kids have no dads to teach them anything about sports. Instruct them.
* Men need help. Twenty-seven American men are single; six million divorced. Assist them.
* Kids need a new kind of help. Turn-key children are everywhere. Help them.
* Everybody needs to know more about things they never needed to know about at all before. Thirty million people are getting used to being over 65; electronic gadgetry produces more technophobes than technophiles. Comfort them.
The list of opportunities is of such length that the curtain for smartly managed brands, rather than falling, can only be rising--a notion not at all lost on the private-label purveyors who have today's brand bashers astir. "Remember that stores are brands," Glorieux said. "They've built up confidence in the names like Wal-Mart more than traditional brands. They have been helpful and responsive to consumers. Their core brand strengths have been good quality at a reasonable price."
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)