Friday August 22, 2014

All things being equal, clever advertising wins


Occasionally I like to write about misleading advertising, but there is another aspect to the game of liberating people from their hard-earned cash that fascinates me. It is what I like to call solutions in search of a problem.

The latest is the vented beer can from Coors Light/Molson Canadian. The basic idea is a second hole in the can that gives the beer a smoother pour.  

I am of a vintage that I can remember when we had beer and pop cans that you had to pierce with a can opener. And yes, we did make two holes, one for drinking (or pouring) and one for venting, but really? This is a problem?

Coors Light, of course, is the brand that gave us a whole bunch of other useless gimmicks such as the vented case (cools faster), the cooler pack (has a plastic lining so you can ice them right in the case) and “cold-activated” bottles and cans (the mountain turns blue when the beer is cold).

The most ridiculous of all from this company, though, is its “cold” campaign as if it is somehow a feature of their product and not a function of putting it in the fridge.

This is the thing about parity products, they require a tonne of advertising because there is essentially nothing separating one from another.

This is certainly true of beer. There is a lot of action in the space right  now with craft brewers and different styles, but as far as domestic, mass-produced, what I call “yellow beer,” goes, a manufacturer pretty much has to invent benefits to try to gain any kind of edge.

Other products that fall into this category are pretty much anything you might find in your kitchen or bathroom. Toothpastes, soaps, shampoos, household cleaners are all virtually identical to each other.

So, how do you gain the edge? Successful advertisers quickly learned that being the first to claim something can have major advantages.

Crest toothpaste is a classic example of this. In the 1950s, toothpaste was basically sold on the benefit of cleaner teeth or fresher breath. Then Crest came up with preventing cavities. Who can forget the “Look, ma, no cavities” campaign. It ran for decades and positioned Crest at the top of the market.

Of course, every brand of toothpaste could have made the same claim. Heck, brushing your teeth with water will prevent cavities. But Crest got there first.

One of my favourite examples of parity product advertising is the yogurt segment. People get fiercely loyal to their brands so I will probably get slammed for this, but yogurt is yogurt is yogurt.

But what if we said ours contains bacteria? No, bacteria doesn’t sound very good. Let’s call it probiotics.

Nevermind that all yogurt contains probiotics. Nevermind that scientists have yet to prove any health benefit associated with consuming probiotic bacteria. It sounds all sciencey and stuff, it must be good.

The food industry is full of this kind slight-of-hand. Remember psyllium fibre? Oat fibre does basically the same thing for you, but it just doesn’t have that exotic flair that makes for good parity product advertising.

How about Omega-3? Polyunsaturated fats are, in fact, important in the human diet, but they exist naturally in hundreds of the foods we eat.

It’s tough to distinguish yourself in the world of parity products. They are generally not very titillating in and of themselves. They are everyday items that basically offer identical benefits.

When faced with a shelf full of, for example, headache medicine, which one do you reach for? Chances are, the one by the company that has done the best job of making itself seem unique when it really is not.



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