Marketing Dissonance

A century has passed since the consumer advertising industry first emerged to sell brands like Cadillac automobiles and Lucky Strike cigarettes. In all that time, wouldn’t you assume that the industry would have achieved some level of consensus on a common strategy for resuscitating mature and declining products?

During the past few weeks, for instance, the retail industry has been abuzz about the continuing declines in consumer demand for formerly ubiquitous products like soda, soap, cereal, and orange juice. One would assume that brands like Diet Coke, Ivory Soap, Lucky Charms, and Tropicana would implement common (or, at the very least, similar) marketing campaigns to recover lost sales.

Interestingly, though, the parent companies of these brands are taking wildly dissonant approaches to addressing their sales declines. Coca Cola, a firm that has always emphasized the social aspects of sharing soda, is doubling down on this theme with its new Share a Coke campaign. Conversely, General Mills is repositioning the Lucky Charms brand from its traditional adolescent focus to a nostalgic adult emphasis.

And what of Ivory Soap and Tropicana? It’s hard to ascertain the direction in which Proctor & Gamble and PepsiCo will take these brands. Rumors abound that P&G will simply divest itself of Ivory, an iconic brand that it has produced and distributed since 1879. And as for PepsiCo and its Tropicana brand, after a disastrous juice carton redesign led to a 20% sales decline in 2009, it has shied away from any major marketing initiatives.

Only time will tell whether a traditional marketing message, a new “retro” nostalgic message, a divestiture, or a product redesign will prove to be the most effective method for managing such declining household staples. Nevertheless, we already know one fact for sure: after a century of active engagement with American consumers, the marketing sector remains at a loss to identify — let alone implement — an effective strategy.