The Bud Light “drinkability” advertising campaign has become one of Madison Avenue’s biggest disappointments of the year. After decades of beer spots devoted to fun and product identification, Bud’s agency decided to try a more cerebral product-feature approach. The goal–to convince beer drinkers that Bud Light had substantial product differences that made it a better food companion. But the campaign never connected and sales dropped. Few were convinced that Bud Light was any more drinkable than other light beers. Bud Light is backing off on “drinkability” and is heading back to its more familiar fun approach.
Bud Light’s misstep is a valuable lesson for everyone in the marketing game–mature product categories and product feature branding don’t mix. This is a lesson particularly applicable to today’s TV environment. Staff cutbacks and industry downsizing mean most TV newscasts have less enterprise reporting, fewer technology advantages, and more superficial coverage. Stations just don’t have the money to buy fleets of live trucks, huge dopplers, big name talent, and stealthy investigative teams. The product differences that existed just a few years ago are quickly disappearing. This is the new reality of TV, but many station managers are still holding on to branding approaches that worked in the old days, refusing to acknowledge a product life cycle that requires very different marketing tactics.
TV news is now moving into the mature product stage of the branding life cycle. This is where most brands live. Very few products are new and exciting. The product life cycle has three stages, and the strategy for each category is prescribed.
Stage One – a new product category
Brands in these young product categories tend to rely more heavily on product features because the features are truly revolutionary. Miller Lite was first into the light beer category and it spent a decade hanging its brand image on this product innovation. The “everything you always wanted in a beer, and less” campaign established a clear product difference and made millions for the company.
TV news brands have had their own game-changing product introductions: the first live, the first satellite trucks, doppler radar and live traffic mapping. Basing the station brand on these obviously superior features made a lot of sense because the quality of the product was demonstratively better. Station brands like “Action News” were built around this technology and it sparked a generation of new customers who loved the adventure and voyeurism of live programming.
Graeme Newell is a broadcast and web marketing specialist who serves as the president and founder of 602 communications. You can reach Graeme at firstname.lastname@example.org.