Saad Raja on Learning Marketing Strategies from Major Brands

Saad Raja on Learning Marketing Strategies from Major Brands

We can all learn from what other brands are doing in the marketplace. Their big successes – and big mistakes –  can guide us. There’s something to be learnt from every move made by the big companies, from their initial campaigns to how they handle a crisis.

This week, I’m taking some of the latest biggest successes and slip-ups in marketing and showing how your company can learn from them. From PepsiCo to Gerber, let’s look at the best, and the worst…

Marketing success: CVS

CVS, the American drugstore, is one of the country’s biggest retailers for beauty products. According to data released by the company, as of 2017, there are over 9,800 stores in the US and annual revenue stands at almost $185 billion. With brand partners including L’Oréal, CoverGirl and Coty, the company makes almost one-third of its revenue through beauty sales.

The company recently made waves through its decision to no longer retouch photography in marketing beauty products. In addition to this, it will stamp or label any other brand that continues to retouch or alter their advertising campaigns. This includes removing heavily retouched make-up ads across its stores, marketing materials, websites, apps and on social media.

The goal of this is to help customers differentiate between realistic images and ones that have been altered to show unreachable beauty standards.

Why this is successful: Based on research by the American Medical Association, the propaganda of unrealistic body images is a significant driver of emotional and mental health issues. CVS is taking this research and actively trying to improve the way they promote their products and how this affects customers. Through putting their customers first, CVS is establishing itself as a brand that cares. Notably, this decision shows that they are in touch with the current social conversations.

This campaign is seeing a lot of positive reactions from both the press and consumers, being hailed as a big step for the progress towards body positivity. Called a ‘reality check for the beauty industry’, the move’s positive press is meaning that more attention is being given to CVS, effectively promoting their brand as a progressive company.

What you can learn from this: Listen to what your market wants. While it is common to use images of perfection in campaigns, this can be alienating to the average person. It can work well for luxury products, as they are aspirational, but isn’t as helpful for the average person. Using real images allows your customer to see themselves in your campaigns and, by extension, using your brand.

Through not using photoshop, you’ll be showing an authentic account of what your products can do and what the average person looks like. Your potential customers could be more inclined to buy from you as they’re better aware of what they’re getting.

Many people are beginning to mistrust advertising, resulting in marketing seeing a shift towards the genuine, so it can be worth trying to show more realistic images. They’re more relatable and show that you know who your market is.

Marketing slip-up: PepsiCo

PepsiCo is no stranger to marketing slip-ups. Its 2017 advert led by model Kendall Jenner was met with immediate criticism for its take on the civil rights movement and failing to understand the social consciousness of the time and its audience. It seems like the company didn’t learn from its mistakes, taking another tone-deaf approach to marketing one of its products. Designing a new type of Doritos, the company marketed them as specifically for women.

Speaking in an interview with Freakonomics Radio, Indra Nooyi, Global Chief Executive at PepsiCo, described the product: “’Are there snacks for women that can be designed and packaged differently?’ And yes, we are looking at it, and we’re getting ready to launch a bunch of them soon… for women, low-crunch, the full taste profile, not have so much of the flavour stick on the fingers, and how can you put it in a purse? Because women love to carry a snack in their purse.”

The ‘Lady Doritos’, as the Internet quickly branded them, is a cleaner, quieter version of the popular snack that is designed to fit into a handbag. Key criticisms of this product come from its need to solve a problem that isn’t there – women are fine with regular crisps.

Why this isn’t successful: Speaking to The Guardian about this campaign, Tracey Follows, a Marketing Strategy Expert and Founder of the consultancy firm Future Made, comments on the divisive nature of this advert.

Follows states: “This [is] a classic example of almost presenting women as the problem… Lots of food and drink manufacturers have tried this. We’ve seen beer for women, and things like that, and it very often doesn’t work because it feels so specifically targeted that it’s a bit patronising.”

PepsiCo’s ‘Lady Doritos’ have taken a presumptuous nature in its advertising and presents women’s needs as shallow. Instead of its marketing taking on any of the problems of gender equality, they instead cast women as different to men and, as Follows states, made women the problem.

With no real motivation clear as to why these crisps are for women, their marketing campaign relies on stereotypes. Celebrities and social media were quick to slam the product for its offensive views on what women want. With gender equality a key topic today, PepsiCo’s decision to split its market based on gender did not prove to be popular. 

The tired gender stereotypes are resulting in the company losing out in the single biggest consumer group: women.

What to learn from this: Before you make any public announcement, prepare a message track that has been vetted. Make sure that everything makes sense and you’re not rushing into your announcement. After you’ve done this, make sure you understand the greater consciousness happening in the world and consider it in everything you say and do. You want to engage in important public conversations for the right reasons!

Know your market! It’s not enough to have a product, you must be sure that there are customers who will want it. Don’t divide your customer base if it’s not necessary. If you do, you risk alienating customers.

Marketing success: KFC

As a company that’s famous for its chicken, it was quite a problem for KFC when its UK stores suffered a chicken shortage in February 2018. According to the company’s website, about 420 KFC stores were shut down, with the number of open outlets dropping to 254 at the peak of the troubles.

This undoubtedly caused difficulties, with a large number of customers complaining or even ringing the police about the situation. However, the company’s quick and humorous reaction has prevented the incident from causing lasting damage to their reputation.

In a new ad, the company released an image of an empty KFC bucket with the letters rearranged to spell ‘FCK’. Created by its agency Mother, the campaign included an apology for the fact it had to shut down many stores. Through its well-handled acknowledgement and response to the problem, Marketing Week data states that KFC has so far been able to avoid any long-term impacts to the brand, with metrics such as consideration and purchase intent unaffected.

Why this was successful: From this response, it’s clear that KFC knows their market. Their comedic response shows that the company strikes the right tone in its communications. They’ve quickly apologized for the error and maintained some levity.

KFC particularly shone with how well their response handled the almost farcical nature of the problem. As a chicken shop without chicken, the restaurant chain was open to a number of jokes, with the company itself making some of the best. Their line “the chicken crossed the road, just not to our restaurants” summed up their amusing take on the matter.

With this news being widely discussed across the UK, KFC was genuine in its apology, while also being relatable. Their marketing campaign is a success through its ability to change the conversation from the negative to a more positive topic. Your response can be louder than your original problem if you are handling it well or memorably. Your reaction is vital.

What to learn from this: If you make a mistake, your marketing should deal with this quickly. This means you’ll be better positioned to handle the problem and can control the narrative better. As well, you’ll seem like you’re actively addressing the problem, which can go a long way in reassuring your customers.

While KFC used humour well here, be aware of the situation. Not every problem calls for a comedic response and some must be taken more seriously. Make sure you’re consulting other people on your campaign to ensure your approach is appropriate.

Marketing slip-up: Ram Trucks

The Super Bowl 2018 was full of memorable adverts. But not all for the right reasons. A key example of this is Ram Trucks. The company’s advert showcases a range of people working hard, while a speech made by Martin Luther King Jr can be heard. This was all to deliver the message that these trucks are meant to serve you.

Why this was unsuccessful: Although it aimed to make a meaningful and thought-provoking campaign, the end result failed to resonate with audiences. As this didn’t fit with any previous marketing campaigns, the campaign rang false with most of its viewers.

As well as this, the speech used in the campaign poorly chosen. While the excerpt chosen did fit well with what they were trying to say, the speech on whole was against capitalism and needless buying.

King’s original speech states: “Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying…  In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car.”

All in all, an unfortunate -or misguided- choice to advertise and sell a car.

What to learn from this: Undoubtedly, Martin Luther King Jr is an important figure in American history. With civil rights standing as a key issue in our current society, it could have made sense for companies to address this issue using King’s speeches. However, as Ram Trucks aren’t outspoken campaigners for civil rights, it did not seem genuine. If you are tapping into a social movement, make sure that it is relevant to your company.

Start by looking at what your company is passionate about and be guided by this. Whatever campaign your company aligns itself with should fit and reflect your business’ ethics. This will not only show consumers you care but also allows them to learn more about you.

Additionally, be fully aware of what you are using and the implications. If you’re using a speech with a powerful message in the advert, it’s vital you know what that message is!

Marketing success: Gerber Products Company

Selling baby food and baby products, Gerber is famous for its claim ‘Every Baby is A Gerber Baby’. Through this message, Gerber shows its mass appeal and wide customer base. With its recent campaign to find the Gerber spokesbaby for 2018, the company stuck to this message.

After over 140,000 babies applied for the 2018 position, the brand picked its first baby with Down’s Syndrome as the winner in over 90 years.

Why this was successful: Through making this choice, Gerber reiterated its beliefs that all babies are Gerber babies. Through opening the range of babies showcasing their brand, Gerber is showing that it is an inclusive and universal brand.

The campaign was immediately popular on social media, with many positive about the inclusivity of the brand. Through spreading awareness of acceptance of people with disabilities of all kinds, Gerber is highlighting the humanity of all babies. With modern advancements in prenatal scans, babies with Down’s Syndrome are facing more discrimination in the womb and their needs have become a pressing issue. Through this campaign, a number of charities for children with Down’s Syndrome have come out in support of the brand for their championing of babies with this condition. In attempting to end the stigma surrounding Down’s Syndrome, Gerber is showing itself to be a proactive, aware and inclusive brand.

What to learn from this: If your brand is passionate about something, has an ethical cause you champion or claims to be inclusive, don’t be afraid to show it! While its good having these beliefs, your customers will respond better if they can see you acting on it. Try incorporating some of your morals into your marketing – if it fits naturally. Not only will your products be promoted, but you’ll also be showing that your brand is committed to a worthy cause. Remember, actions really do speak louder than words.

When you’re planning your marketing campaign, be aware of what the big companies are doing. Through having this awareness of the market, your competition, your market leaders and society on whole, you’ll better find your place. A great message, combined with passion and culturally sensitivity, can yield memorable results. Marketing has been called a spectator sport, so make sure you’re watching!

Saad Raja 

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