Mega Branding is Not Working

12 08 2008

There’s a proliferation of mega brands out there and it’s not really doing anyone a whole lot of good. A mega brand has been defined by ACNielsen as products under the same brand name in at least three categories in three geographic regions and 15 out of 50 countries.

You go to the grocery store to get some V8. All you want is regular, good-old tomato juice. Instead of a two-second decision between the low-sodium and regular-sodium V8, you also have to evaluate and decide between the nine different flavors, the V-Fusion version which has three flavors itself, and then glance through the Splash version, which is all fruit juice and has 7 flavors of its own in addition to two Splash Smoothie flavors. Oh, and by the way if you want to drink your V8 piping hot, Campbell now has V8 soup in five flavors.

Marketers think it’s great to give people more options – that’s what the people want, isn’t it? That’s what people think they want, but in all actuality, they don’t. When faced with more choices, consumers get confused, not happy. Much research has shown that the more choices a person has with a type of product, the more likely that person is to be unhappy with his choice. It’s a classic case of the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” phenomenon. Consumers aren’t happy with their choice because they’re afraid that they’ve missed out on getting something better. If a consumer only has one choice, he has no choice but to be happy, because that was his only option. He doesn’t know what it would be like to have something slightly different and possibly better because that option wasn’t there.

All these choices are not working for these companies. Instead, consumers are getting upset because shelf space at the grocery store is being dedicated to the variations, leaving little room for the original. Now, the original is selling out quickly because of less shelf space, leaving consumers irritated.

The growth of choice is getting ridiculous. And why are companies giving people so many choices? Because that’s their answer when sales go down. Breakfast cereal sales have been waning and yet Kellogg’s now has more than 50 types of breakfast cereal. There’s a correlation between declining sales and the growth of variations and options of a product. When food sales start to slip, the number of flavor options goes up.

It’s this sometimes ridiculous number of flavors and varieties that morph into a mega brand. For instance, look at Kellogg’s again. Kellogg’s created a cereal called Special K. Special K did pretty well in sales for a while and then they introduced the different flavors of Special K cereal. Sales started to drop and now we have Special K protein bars, waffles, snack bites and protein water. Special K is now a mega brand.

Procter & Gamble extended the Oil of Olay brand into cleansers, cosmetics and moisturizers and even changed the name to just Olay, turning it into a mega brand. Heck, I thought Olay was Olay. I had no idea Procter & Gamble even made Olay.

But mega branding is not the answer to fledging sales. When sales decline, it’s best to focus on the core brand message and see what can be improved upon with that. Expanding one brand into another into another is just too much for consumers. If consumers don’t buy the #1 product of a company, why do companies insist on creating #3 and #6 products? Focus on #1 for Pete’s sake!

A good example of focus is what Steve Jobs did when he took control of Apple computers. When Jobs started, Apple was promoting about 40 products, from the Newton handheld to printers. There were four major lines of computers, each with a dozen different models. Jobs cut the product line to four computers: two laptops and two desktops. And what happened? Apple doubled its share of the market in the years following.

A lesson to all of us: less is more. And focus on your core product – your original or main money-maker. The rest is just clutter that most of your target market doesn’t want.

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