Friday, September 23, 2011

Flat pop

I've been a Pepsi buyer ever since I was a trainee sales rep for them (many years ago). But it's harder and harder to find Pepsi on the shelf. What happened to the brand that once "won" the cola wars (when the other guy blinked)?

Pepsi has made so many mistakes:

Range mismanagement
Focusing on PepsiMax - and using it, solus, as a reason to justify stocking Pepsi - implied to retailers that there's no need to stock Pepsi or Diet Pepsi at all. Cue yards and yards of eye level Coke products, and a couple of facings of PepsiMax down the bottom, in the speciality section, near the Supermalt. A great product variant has ultimately done terrible damage to its parent brand, due to inept management.

Product failure
Even 20 years ago it was a barely concealed secret that Diet Pepsi was an inferior product. Nothing - least of all perception - has changed. Maybe that's why Diet Pepsi has only 236,362 facebook likes right now, (as a benchmark, Coke has almost 35m). Pepsi has lacked any meaningful brand architecture strategy.

Circular mis-insight (aka staring up your own fundament)
The classic mistake: define the consumer in your own image. This happens all the time - endless brands are mistakenly marketed to funky-20-somethings, by funky-20-somethings, regardless of what their real consumer base looks like (let's face it, more often than not (s)he is really fat and 40 with 3 kids, but who want to write that on the creative brief?). There can be few better examples than this...
the demographic of people who march to the beat of their own drum, who say no even when it's unpopular, who say yes even when it's an uncomfortable change, who change a hundred-year-old brand icon because the new one is simply more beautiful and fitting for our times.
If that's who you think you are trying to engage, you can hardly be surprised when you don't sell much pop.

Presentation pretension
In the now-infamous Arnell brand redesign document (if you've never seen it, but fancy a laugh, click here) Pepsi's logo was compared to the Mona Lisa and to a Nautilus shell. Yet there was not one mention of shelf standout. Pepsi wasn't even trying to win at the point of purchase.

Management panic
So many changes of leadership - a management carousel - culminating in last week's replacement of the US beverages CEO. These may, of course, be as much symptom as cause.

I was in the salesforce that launched Pepsi Blue in 1996. I remember the scepticism then. But that campaign (the blue Concorde, the blue newspaper letterheads, Pepsi in the space station, and so on) had a few of the fundamentals right - it was all about generating mass-market awareness and it was all about product standout. It may have been a bit thin on content, but these are, after all, carbonated soft drinks. Substance they are not. Whatever; compared to what has come since, Pepsi Blue was genius.

What's the secret ingredient of Coke? No secret at all. It has simply remembered who its consumer is, and what market it is in. That's the real thing.

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