Enough With the Value Messages Already

Perhaps no word in the marketing lexicon has been abused as much in the past six months or so as “value.” Aleve is running ads that present its analgesics as a cheaper way to address arthritis pain than prescription meds. KFC has offered its “$10 challenge” to consumers, daring them to try to cook up the equivalent of the chain’s $9.99 value meal. Those who accept the challenge and make a mess in the kitchen might be interested in Bounty’s latest value claim—that it can absorb twice as much as a competing bargain paper towel. Meanwhile, Microsoft is running ads showing a consumer thumbing her nose at more expensive Apple products and Gillette’s new advertising claims that a man need only spend $1 a week on the brand’s Fusion blades to keep his chin baby-butt smooth.Marketing messages of this stripe are one strategy for addressing the fact that consumers are loath to open their wallets these days. But they’re also only one alternative to cutting prices. It seems like marketers aren’t exploring others.
An alternative way to go at it, for instance, is to broaden your product portfolio as, say, BMW did with its Z3, a “value roadster” that was introduced at a sub-$25,000 price point a few years ago. (Admittedly, Jaguar did the same thing back in 2001 with its X Type sedan, with disastrous results.)
Another possible antidote to stuck-wallet syndrome is to create a “fighter brand” like Procter & Gamble did in 1976 with its Luvs diapers, which were meant to be a hedge against store brands while Pampers held down the high end of the market.
Still another tactic—and, lately, a more common one—is what some are calling “value brands.” Paradoxically, though, value brands may be the most expensive solution to the problem, which is why you don’t see a lot of them kicked off these days. Marketers who have the wherewithal to launch a value brand in this climate would probably be rewarded. But in case not, there are still many other ways of attacking the problem.
One of the biggest proponents of value brands is Martin Bishop, director of brand strategy for the San Francisco office of Landor Associates. In a recent essay on the subject, Bishop differentiates value brands from fighter brands this way: “Unlike defensive fighter brands, value brands respond proactively and aggressively to opportunities in the value market. Instead of defending the flagship brand, these brands take advantage of a clear value opportunity. Their purpose is not to defend the status quo, but to take advantage of a new market opportunity.”

Bishop then goes on to give a few examples of value brands. Red Bicyclette from E&J Gallo, for instance, “built an identity that is entirely separate from that of its parent company’s brand.” The brand is cheap wine with an adventurous and fun attitude—which is a different thing, Bishop says, from just cheap wine. Likewise, Toyota’s Scion isn’t just an inexpensive car aimed at Gen Y, but one that is much less mainstream and more edgy than Toyota’s core product. (A cool yellow one is pictured above. A 2009 XB with a manual transmission carries a base price of $16,420, pretty reasonable for a set of wheels nobody will think you borrowed from your parents.)
If you had to pull out one thing that separates a value brand from a fighter brand then, it would be that the brand has more going for it than just price. It’s also got some attitude in there as well.
When I interviewed Bishop last week, he said that the biggest problem with fighter brands is that their mission isn’t so much to appeal to consumers as to thwart a threat from competitors. “You don’t really care if the fighter brand is successful or not,” he said. “Your mindset isn’t oriented to that.”