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10 Brand Blunders...And How to Avoid Them

Published on 10/05/05 at 05:15pm

1) Stay loyal to the core brand message and never undermine it

It may have seemed a good idea at the time when Gerald Ratner decided to compare a piece of his jewellery to an M&S prawn sandwich and suggest which he thought would be the better purchase, but he belittled his customers by telling them that, while they purchased from his stores because of his low prices, what they were buying was "crap".

Maybe we can all learn from Voltarol because of its consistent message and image which, despite many generic competitors, remains a cornerstone of NSAID therapy.


2) Innovation is only real innovation when there is a customer need

The advent of what we now accept as a part of daily life - the mobile phone - started life as a brand called Rabbit. Research suggested this was a great idea - make calls away from home. A technological advance but with a couple of major flaws - you couldn't receive calls and could only make calls from certain places. So what was the advantage over the old BT phone box? What customer need did it satisfy? Unfortunately for Rabbit, none. Compete in a market or therapeutic category, only when you know that you are satisfying an unmet, unsatisfied or latent customer need and remember me-toos and me-threes and me-fours rarely succeed other than on low price.


3) Know where your brand can go and where it cannot

Often we are looking to extend our brand into new areas with new indications. But, can the brand 'stretch' in the minds of your target customers?

Rossignol, the definitive name in skis decided that, if their target customer skied in winter they probably played tennis in summer. This led to the launch of Rossignol tennis racquets...and no sales. The brand didn't stretch.

In pharma, Pfizer's Cardura XL (doxazosin) is an established treatment in hypertension, and it is also marketed under the Cardura XL name as a treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

In contrast, Lilly's duloxetine is known under the brand names Cymbalta for painful depression and Yentreve for stress urinary incontinence. The product is being co-promoted by Lilly and Boehringer Ingelheim except in Greece, Italy and Spain where it will be marketed as Cymbalta and Yentreve by Lilly and Xeristar and Ariclaim by Boehringer Ingelheim.


4) If it ain't broke, don't fix it

Coca-Cola, the 'Real Thing', decided to 'update' its formulation and with a blaze of publicity launched 'New Coke'. They then had to launch 'Classic Coke' a few months later as consumers rejected the new formulation. As one pharmaceutical marketer put it, when asked about the lesson to be learned: "By all means subject your brand to the rigours of evolution but revolution often results in a change for the worse."


5) Use the mix - but use it wisely

Ill-conceived use of the marketing mix not only fails to support the brand and what it stands for, but can bring a company to its knees.

As Hoover found out to its cost - its ultimate cost of ownership - with its infamous free flights promotion. If you have a core proposition for your brand, be creative and use the marketing mix to reinforce the proposition and the brand values. Cialis branded condoms for the weekend?


6) The best is not always the best

It is the customer who decides which is best. As Sony found out when they launched Betamax. Most people 'in-the-know' will tell you that as a video recording system Betamax was streets ahead of the VHS system for picture and sound quality. But the VHS system was the one that became the norm because, although inferior, Philips and their partners managed the supply chain more effectively (VHS was the system of choice in the equipment and film rental market).

And maybe AstraZeneca have found this out as well - clinical trials suggest that Crestor is better than Lipitor on efficacy, but perhaps we all should remember an adaptation of Al Ries and Jack Trout's Immutable Laws of Marketing: 'Marketing is not a battle of products; it is a battle of perceptions, and it is better to be first in the mind than it is to be better'.


7) Stay loyal to your core brand values

The core values of your brand are part of the reason customers choose to remain loyal to even more mature brands. Changing them can force customers to change their views as British Airways found to their cost when they introduced their 'more global' branding, represented by various tail fin images. As well as, apparently, causing major identification problems for air traffic control around the world, it made customers reappraise why they chose to fly BA - because they chose to 'fly the flag'. When do we, as pharmaceutical marketers, know when a new product manager has been appointed? When yet another new advertisement and new messages appear.


8) It works in the US so it must work everywhere

In America, Coca-Cola's Dasani is the second-biggest bottled water brand and promoted by the six times Tour de France winner and folk hero Lance Armstrong. With Coke's marketing muscle and that kind of track record, those Brits should really love the stuff, right? Wrong.

Dasani was launched in the UK in February 2004 and was instantly shoulder to shoulder on shelves with the country's established mineral water brands. But then one enterprising reporter discovered that Dasani wasn't like other mineral water brands - it was essentially tap water put through a purification process with mineral salts added in a factory.

Needless to say, the media had a field day exposing Dasani's secret and leapt on parallels with a storyline from Only Fools and Horses where Del Boy and Rodney bottle water from their flat in Peckham and flog it to unsuspecting customers as Peckham Spring. Dasani's bottling plant was in Sidcup, Kent, just a few miles down the road from Peckham, and explanations of its purification process from Coke executives were futile.

Just weeks later, the killer blow came for Dasani when the water became contaminated with the potentially carcinogenic chemical bromate, and the company was forced to withdraw all 500,000 bottles from the market.


9) Efficacy isn't everything

We have all heard the slogan 'Persil Washes Whiter' but in the mission to wash even whiter, Persil Power managed to hand a competitive advantage to its arch-rival, Ariel, who suddenly found that they could simply say 'Persil Power rots clothes'.  

Maybe Merck is rueing the power message on Vioxx. The 'attribute' may sound convincing but does it fit with the emotional benefit your brand has built in the minds of the target customer?


10) Transferring brand values into new categories

Just because you have an established, aspirational brand in one category, it doesn't mean that the values will be totally transferable and credible in another. Porsche's 4x4 Cayenne is a case in point. The Porsche name is the byword for high performance, German engineered sports cars - but the Cayenne as the Porsche for the weekend, second car? I think not! I may yet be proved wrong - they have sold some for sure but what may be the longer term affect on the Porsche brand of such a move into an inappropriate market?


Chris Marks is Managing Consultant at The MSI Consultancy. For more information visit:


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