Wednesday, August 20, 2014

what you need

Marketing is a fascinating field and I am happy to be a part of it. You, as a consumer, are the prey (and victim) of marketing practically every single second of the day... and you don't even realize it. In the morning, when you choose Starbucks over Dunkin' Donuts (or vice-versa), it's because, through careful, strategic marketing, you have unconsciously been forced to make that choice. And depending on how effectively the marketing message touches you, your selection is either the "Average Joe's coffee and donuts" of Dunkin' Donuts or the higher echelon, exclusive clique of Starbucks. Whatever your choice — it was made as a result of marketing.

The basic philosophy of marketing anything is this: You have a product. At least five other companies make a similar product. Some are better than yours, some are worse, some are the same. The task of marketing is to convince the potential customer that your product is the greatest thing ever and that the other, similar products will kill you.

There are some products that are so popular and so ubiquitous, one wonders why they even bother to continue to advertise. If you are on top, with an overwhelming market share and no one even close to being a viable competitor, why not just ditch all of your advertising budget, distribute that money among your manufacturing staff as giant bonus and call it a day? Why? Because being "Number One" is never enough. Maintaining that superior position is a full time job. And a complicated one, at that.

Let me offer an example...

In the beginning, there was Oreo (cue the angelic chorus). Actually, in the beginning, there was Hydrox. Yep, Oreo came along in 1912, four years after The Sunshine Baking Company introduced its popular chocolate sandwich cookie. Originally conceived by the National Biscuit Company as a blatant imitation of Hydrox, Oreos soon knocked Sunshine's crunchy treat on its creme-filled ass on its way to becoming (and remaining) the best-selling cookie in the United States for the next hundred years. Nabisco (as National Biscuit was later known) grew into an unstoppable cookie-producing powerhouse. With major brands like Fig Newtons, Chips Ahoy, Ritz Crackers and Premium Saltines, they left their so-called competition in the dust... or crumbs, as it were. So, there they were, sitting pretty at the top of the heap, bestowed the moniker "America's Favorite Cookie." So, now what? Now what indeed.

The masterminds in Product Development looked long and hard at the Oreo. They considered every aspect of it — its size, shape, texture, filling, structure — everything. They took the straightforward concept of two simple chocolate wafer cookies separated by a small dollop of sweet creme filling and they began to mess with it.

First, they added more filling. They made the cookie vanilla. They made the cookie vanilla and the filling chocolate. They made the cookie and the filling chocolate. They made one cookie chocolate and one cookie vanilla. They added more filling to the vanilla sandwiches. They added even more filling to the chocolate sandwiches. They made the filling blue, then red, then orange, then yellow. They stamped holiday designs into the cookie. They even made football-shaped cookies! Then, they tried different flavors of filling — mint, peanut butter, strawberry, birthday cake, coffee, gingerbread, watermelon, candy corn. It was getting out of control!

Then, they started playing with the size. They made Mini Oreos. Then, Mini Oreos in a Big Bag. Then, they made mini versions of the vanilla Oreos. Then, they took the mini Oreos out of a bag and put them in a cup. Then they just said, "Ahhh, screw it! Let's make 'em big!"

Not content with experimenting within the brand, Oreos entered other products. They showed up in ice cream, snack cakes (including regular cakes and then a version with double the amount of filling!), Jello and even pizza! That's right — not even pizza was safe from the whims of Oreos! 

Oreos were still not satisfied! They needed more! Like Sherman storming relentlessly through Atlanta, Oreos infiltrated other cookies! Not appeased by just wild variations on its own theme, Oreos shoved themselves it the middle of the helpless Chips Ahoy!

Oreos' domestic "reign of terror" shows absolutely no signs of subsiding. More "limited edition" cookies are waiting in the wings, strategically poised to be unleashed on the public. Double Stuf ® was a fine diversion from the original, but "Fruit Punch" flavored cookies? Really? Is that something we have been missing in our lives? And now, it looks like Oreos have set their sights on foreign shores as well. Now, tell me, why would a company that produces something as innocuous as a cookie ever feel the need to become so pervasive, so domineering, ... malevolent.

I'll answer that question with a question: "When was the last time you saw a package of Hydrox cookies?"

And that, my friend, concludes your first lesson in marketing. 

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