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The End of Advertising As We Know It by Sergio Zyman


Rating: (Recommended)


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Don’t spend one more penny on advertising until you’ve read Sergio Zyman’s new book, The End of Advertising As We Know It. After reading it, you can decide where you agree or disagree with Zyman, and then proceed with your (revised) plans. We read Zyman’s book, The End of Marketing, a few years ago, and found it long on advice, but short on specifics. The End of Advertising moves in the direction of greater specificity. Here’s an excerpt (pp. 136-141):



I'm assuming that you have a pretty good handle on what your brand's value proposition is and what message you want to get across to consumers. And, of course, you remember that everything you do communicates. But simply communicating isn't enough. If you're going to get the biggest bang for your communication buck, everything—your ads, your sponsorships, your branding efforts, and, naturally, your packaging—has to communicate a consistent message that ties in with everything else in your advertising mix. Inconsistent messages can undermine your advertising efforts faster than anything else.

What is a consumer supposed to think when you package your line of low-fat potato chips in 5-pound bags? On one hand, you're saying these chips will help you lose weight. On the other hand, you're saying here's 5 pounds of them, which completely defeats the purpose of the product.

When we reintroduced the contour bottle at Coca-Cola, we were able to sell it at a premium. The bottle communicated cool, unique, and different, which were things Coke drinkers were willing to pay a little more for. But then someone had the bright idea of putting the contour bottles in six-packs. The problem was that this sent a completely contradictory message to our customers. Those little plastic things that hold six-packs together are packaging that says value. That's not a bad thing, but selling the contour bottle individually said something else altogether: premium. I vetoed the six-pack. (After I left Coke, they did it, anyway, and contour bottle sales dropped considerably.)                                        

The makers of Strata golf balls had a similar problem. The rest of their advertising supports the idea that Strata balls are superior quality, which they are. But then they introduced a 15-ball pack. The problem is that every other golf ball manufacturer sells 12-packs. A 15-pack gives the impression that there's something inferior about the balls; otherwise, why would they sell them in bigger lots? Instead of helping, Strata's 15-pack managed to take a pretty healthy divot out of their sales.


As you know, one of my big themes is that you've got to keep adjusting your message to those ever-changing consumer needs. The same goes for packaging. As with the rest of the piece of your overall advertising mix, it's essential that you regularly monitor how things are going.

Your biggest clue is your sales. If they're not going up, you have a problem. Whether it's packaging related will take some time to figure out. Start by asking yourself these questions:

• Is my message still relevant to consumers?

• Am I communicating with the right people?

• Is my packaging making use of the most effective shapes, colors, and symbols?

• Am I taking advantage of the natural colors of the category?

• If I'm doing something to be different, am I getting an incremental benefit from the difference?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, it's time to make a change.

But make sure that the answer didn't come from in house. You are not your own target group. Get your answers from your customers, not from focus groups, which are largely a waste of time because you end up with a bunch of professional focus group goers who may or may not be actual consumers of your product. You don't need theoretical answers; you need solid data.

Finding solid data isn't any harder than going to the places where your products are sold. Grab a bunch of actual customers and ask them whether your packaging is making them buy your product. If so, why? If not, why not? Then show them a few variations of your package and ask them which one they would be more likely to buy and why. Make sure you use actual products and actual packaging. Don't show people pictures and ask which one they like best. People have to see a package in front of them and hold it in their hands to properly judge it. And don't ask people to help you design your product or ask them for abstract help. ("If we added a stripe here, what would you think?")

This is going to cost you some money. There's no target amount or percentage of sales. It doesn't have to be a lot, though—just enough to get duality information. Doing anything with your packaging without a damned good reason is a terrible mistake. It's like driving your car blindfolded and hoping you get where you're trying to go alive.

Let's go back to the previous questions for a minute. If you didn't get a no answer, there are still plenty of other situations that are major red flags that something's got to change. Here are a few:

• Your product has lost its individuality and has become more of a commodity.

• Customer expectations have changed.

• You want to communicate to consumers that something big has changed with your brand or product or service.

• You want to move into new markets or expand your target market.

• You've made a significant improvement to your product or service.




Okay, okay, so you've got the point that change is a good thing—essential, in fact. But there are lots of times when change isn’t such a hot idea. The first, of course, is if your research and results indicate that your packaging is having the desired effect. But remember, don't let a few packaging industry awards go to your head. It's not a beauty contest. Success is measured in dollars and sales.

Change simply for the sake of change is a rotten idea. Smuckers (the jelly people) paid a big price for that. They had a great advertising campaign that brought people to the jelly aisle of their grocery stores, their packaging tied in perfectly with the ads, and made the sale. But someone in the organization decided that Smuckers needed to liven up their old-fashioned label. The result was some kind of modern-looking bull's-eye thing that had nothing to do with Smuckers's message. They promptly lost 15 percent of their market.

Years ago, to celebrate their 100th anniversary, Coca-Cola decided to refresh the packaging on all the primary brands. I fought the idea as hard as I could, but eventually Don Keogh, who was the president, and Ike Herbert, the executive vice president of marketing, told me to shut up and sit quietly in the back of the room.

They brought in this consulting company, Landor, which did a real bang-up job: They convinced the company that we should have a single look for all of our cola brands, with only minor variations for the "flavors"—diet, cherry, caffeine-free, and so forth. Unfortunately, they lost track of packaging's primary function: to differentiate the product from everything else around it on the shelf and to provide one last chance to tell the story of the brand before the consumer makes his or her final buying decision. Make everything look the same and the consumer will pay you less.

The company went along with Landor's dumb tactical plan and essentially eliminated all of Coke's differentiation on the shelf. The new look basically said, "Yo, kids, Cherry Coke is the same as Coke. It's old and stodgy and not any fun, just like your parents." All of our brands suffered, and it took us a long time to undo this major blunder.

The moral of the story is that if you're fortunate enough to have a packaging icon, think long and hard before you make significant changes. What do you think would happen if Quaker Oats put Tiger Woods on their box instead of that Quaker guy who's been there for 100 years? What if Disney decided that Mickey Mouse sounded too anti-Irish and changed his name to Fred? What if Campbell's Soup suddenly went to a label with vertical stripes instead of their trademark red-and-white horizontal bands? What if Chanel or Chivas Regal decided they could save a few bucks by putting their products into ordinary bottles? And what if Tiffany's changed the color of their box, Coca-Cola decided to go with a different script, or MOM replaced their lion with a chinchilla? Hopefully, you get the point. The answer is that people would be confused. Their entire image of the company would be changed, and it would take a lot of expensive explaining to convince them that the change was truly necessary.

There are some exceptions, but they tend to be incremental rather than earth-shattering. Car manufacturers change their body styles every few years, 'but overall there's usually plenty of similarity from year to year. Universal Pictures got rid of their plump lady with the torch and replaced her with someone much thinner. But it was still a lady with a torch, not a mouse riding a bicycle.

The important thing to keep in mind when contemplating changing or updating an icon is that the essence of the product—the specific value it communicates—has to remain the same. Remodeling the Apollo Theater in New York to upgrade the number of exits and install more comfortable seating could be a great idea, but the Apollo meaning must remain. It still has to be a place where young performers get a chance to fail or fly. Not maintaining your icon's meaning can turn it into nothing more than wallpaper.

Ford made a colossal mistake when it took its classic sporty Thunderbird and changed it into a family car, almost killing the T-bird brand altogether. But when they brought back a retro-looking T-bird coupe in 2001, the waiting lists were miles long. Pillsbury made a similar blunder when they had their doughboy do a rap commercial. What's next? A tattooed doughboy? A doughhboy with a belly-button ring? It just didn't work.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have an icon. But even if you don't, there are plenty of times when making changes isn't necessarily a good thing. If you're operating a fleet of limos in a competitive market, for example, painting polka dots on yours will certainly help them get noticed, but it probably won't get many people to ride in them. When it comes to limos, black (and sometimes white) represents wealth and respect. Polka-dot limos represent fun and Elton John.

Similarly, a school district would be crazy to paint their school bus black. Even with the words school bus written on the side, black just wouldn’t convey "school bus." As a result, the message would get muddled. People would get confused and probably wouldn't be as likely to drive as carefully around them or slow down before passing.

The most valuable advice I can give you is to do a lot of research before you make any major changes. But even doing research isn't a guarantee that your changes will be for the better. A few years ago, Wendy’s did some research and found that people didn't like waiting in line for their burgers. So they tried to reduce the time between when customers placed their orders and when they got them. Sounds like a responsible thing to do, right? Unfortunately, it backfired.

In the fast-food industry, the time it takes customers to get their orders delivered is actually part of the packaging (just think of the big Jack-in-the-Box head who takes your order at the drive-thru). As it turns out, although Wendy's customers didn't like waiting in line in the restaurant, getting their order almost immediately after placing it gave them the impression that it wasn't as fresh and had been sitting around baking under a hot lamp for a while.

Freshness was an issue for Bumble Bee Tuna, too. They did a bunch of research and found that tuna eaters have two major complaints: The cans are a pain to open, and having to drain the water is a mess. So Bumble Bee came up with a great idea: tuna in an easy-to-open pouch with no draining required. They launched a big advertising campaign, but no one was buying. Why? A few reasons. First, the pouch cost a lot more than a regular can of tuna. More important, though, was that when people looked at the pouch, they imagined that the tuna inside wasn't fresh and that it would be too dry. (How we got to a point where a can is a symbol of freshness I'll never know.) They thought the pouch was a very interesting idea, but when it came right down to it, draining the can is part of the experience and the ritual of eating tuna. It's part of the DNA of a can of tuna, and it's something that buyers accept as part of the deal when they buy it.

Zyman’s at his best with examples and stories, and The End of Advertising is full of them.

Steve Hopkins, October 28, 2003


ã 2003 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the November 2003 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: End of Advertising.htm


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