Avoiding the fate of 'flash-in-the-pan' brands

Cadbury Fuse
Cadbury Fuse

LONDON - Magners' struggle to maintain its strong launch momentum is one that can affect any brand.

The jury is out, at least for the time being, on whether Magners, which helped revive the UK cider market with its over-ice proposition, will be able to sustain its success in an ever-more competitive market, or whether it will sink into obscurity as quickly as it burst into the national consciousness. If it does fade away, it won't be the first, and certainly not the last, brand to do so.

Owner C&C Group launched the rebranded Magners into the UK market as a trendy, premium-priced luxury drink in 2006, after one of the hottest summers on record. But last summer's miserable weather and competition from Scottish & Newcastle's relaunched Bulmers, has taken its toll. Magners hopes to win back market share by launching a draught variant into the on-trade, but Peter Shaw, managing director of Brand Catalyst, believes it is fighting a losing battle.

'Every 10 years or so you see a cider brand trying to convince us that it is ‘the new beer',' he says. 'But they are building on a flawed proposition, because the product, which is sweeter, fruitier and more acidic than beer, is not suited to being consumed in volume night after night. Cider is an occasion drink.'

Many 'flash-in-the-pan' brands fail because their owners get so excited by what they see as a strong proposition that they fail to recognise such 'product truths', claims Shaw. 'Sunny Delight is a classic example. Procter & Gamble invested heavily to buy shelf space, so the initial uptake was fantastic. But consumers found the product wanting at a time when healthy eating was entering the national consciousness,' he adds.

What's more, despite C&C bosses' wry criticism of Bulmers' over-ice 'imitation', a brand cannot fight on the strength of a generic proposition anyone else can copy. 'If you are up against a stronger player with deeper pockets, they can easily "out-ice" you,' says Shaw.

The near-demise of KP's fleetingly popular Brannigans crisps, which appeared more authentic than many other crisp brands in the mid-90s, owes much to the financial and marketing muscle of bigger competitors. Following PepsiCo's decision to expand into the UK snacking sector by acquiring Walkers in 1989, it invested heavily in technical and product innovation, raw materials and marketing. The latter, particularly, left the likes of Brannigans standing as Walkers became one of the UK's biggest brands.

'If you get a very big player that decides to own a category, you are in trouble. You may wake the bigger players up out of their complacency, but you rarely blow them away,' warns Shaw, who cites newspaper Today, which pioneered the use of colour in 1986, as an example.

While some brands should never have been launched, the innovation 'oil tanker' becomes hard to stop. Others, meanwhile, should have been given more of a chance to prove themselves. 'The food and drink sector is very impatient and tends to drop products within six to 12 months if sales are flagging,' says Shaw, who points out that it took Mars eight years to make Twix successful.

Cadbury's Fuse is a case in point. Although the chocolate bar did exceptionally well in research and on launch, the company failed to invest in marketing, and eventually discontinued the line.

Interbrand UK chief executive Rune Gustafson believes such short-termism stems from City pressure for results allied to the rapid turnover of marketers. 'New marketers may lack the same commitment to a product as their predecessor, and new brand managers also want to make their mark quickly,' he says, adding that brands need to strike a better balance between short-term sales and share and longer-term brand-building.

They should also remember that customers are not stupid, warns Corporate Edge chairman Chris Wood. 'Consumers understand marketing, so when they see "10% extra free" or a stack of products in a dump bin, they know that something is wrong,' he says. 'Good brands never take their customers for granted, and ensure that they consistently deliver against the brand promise.'

The real test of whether or not Magners' success is sustainable will be in how it deals with its problems. Luke Mansfield, inventor at innovation company ?What If!, believes it is not too late for the brand to innovate its way out of the corner in which it finds itself. 'Magners is unlikely to win the cider battle, but it has real opportunities to diversify into juice or branded fruit, both of which would tap into longer-term trends,' he says.

Common pitfalls of flash-in-the-pan brands

Over-hyped

Sinclair C5 (was supposed to revolutionise transport); energy drink Hype (a Red-Bull-type beverage that even sponsored a Formula One car); Boo.com (the first major UK dotcom to collapse, due to lavish corporate lifestyles and lack of proper business controls despite no immediate prospect of profits).

Unsustainable novelty value

Pot Noodle, Space Dust and alcopops were all consumed less frequently than marketers anticipated. The colour-changing Global Hypercolor T-shirts were worn by every kid in the neighbourhood in the late-80s, but rivals copied the technology just as kids got bored with the concept.

Manufacturer neglect or impatience

Cadbury's Fuse bar and Biarritz chocolates; Unilever's Radion clothing detergent.

Their bluff is called

Sunny Delight.

Fail to live up to the taste test

Mars' Banjo artificial chocolate (which few liked) and low-fat chocolate bar Flyte ('better for you' snacks need to be delicious, too); Jordans' cereal bars (ditto); Nabisco's Snack-well's low-fat, low-sugar biscuits and cakes.

Losing the war

Sony's Betamax video format was trounced by JVC's VHS; Sony's Blu-Ray DVD recently killed off the rival Toshiba-backed HD DVD format due to the support of most of the Hollywood film studios - and the presence of a Blu-Ray player in every Sony PlayStation 3.

Source: Corporate Edge and ?What If!

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