Megabranding Hurts Triple Bottom Line

An article in yesterday’s New York Times prompted me to write this post that I’ve been meaning to write all week. M&Ms, that tried and true candy (and one of my mother’ favorites) that stayed the same for so many years began spinning off new iterations several years back. Today, the candy that outraged so many by simply pulling a color out of the line-up for health reasons, barely receives a raised eyebrow when introducing a new formulation. Among other variations, you can get M&Ms in Easter and Christmas colors, with almonds inside, and in dark chocolate, mint and other flavors, and even with your own message on the outside. But now, according to yesterday’s Times article, one of America’s favorite candies has made what is being called a radical departure from its traditional specs.

“The candies themselves are fatter and less uniform than traditional M&M’s. More radically, these M&M’s have no candy shell — just a shiny topcoat with a marbleized, almost metallic-looking finish in bright colors.”

It’s not a new phenomenon, but it is a sign of times. The marketing times, that is. There is such fierce competition for our brutally truncated attention spans that marketers feel they need to create new products, or new iterations of products, out of nothing just to keep our attention—and our dollars.

I’ve long wondered why we need so many different types of toilet paper, air fresheners, under-arm deoderant, toothpaste, what-have-you, and I try to keep my buying choices simple when faced with so many. I really don’t need all that stuff, and as someone who realizes their impact is already more than it should be, I am very conscious of what I buy. For not only is pretty much anything we buy making an impact, but the manufacture of this dearth of products simply to provide all potato chips to all people is certainly making an impact.

I’m not going to go into the depth of products available the the ridiculousness of it because Advertising Age’s Al Ries already wrote that article. It’s called “The Pitfalls of Megabranding” and I couldn’t say it any better myself. However, his point is a bit different. Mr. Ries states that megabranding really harms manufacturers and their brands because by offering so many choices retailers end up buying less of any single offering in exchange for a broad spectrum of product “flavors” (my quotes, not his). This means that there are often fewer of the flagship product that consumers rely on, and when they run out, they buy the competition’s product.

His point is that of harming your brand, but my point is that all this selection not only harms your brand, it harms the environment because of all the extra resources those new options gobble up. New flavors require extra ingredients and new packaging; more products require more shipping, more shelf space, and ultimately larger stores. And when it doesn’t all sell, the unpurchased merchandise has to go somewhere: to the dump or the Dollar Store (one in the same, I say) or who knows where.

But Ries’ best and final point is that megabrands may be threatened not by their own excess but by the brands who’s strength is in providing the one best product and dominating the market. Apple Computers and Illy Coffee, as he points out, provide a very limited selection of the best product possible. I learned a lot of great stuff at the last company I worked for before I struck out on my own, but perhaps the most important thing I learned is that you’ll never be the best at what you do if you try to do too much. Focusing on producing the best single product or service you can benefits your company in many ways. It keeps your people focused and saves resources—time and money being two of the most important in the business world. Because while environmentalists will preach until their blue in the face about what must be done to save the environment, most businesses and people won’t do what’s really necessary until it affects their bottom line.


Is It Really Possible To Green Direct Mail?

The Green Marketing Coalition has new guidelines that, well, don\'t do much.

That’s the topic of the New York Times article this morning titled, “Direct Mail Tries to Go Green. No, Really.” The initiative, while admirable in its effort, is a bit dubious to say the least. It is headed up by the Green Marketing Coalition and they have introduced a few ways to help lighten the carbon footprint of those who insist upon using direct mail for marketing purposes.

Don’t get me wrong, I too agree that direct mail is an effective way to reach potential customers, and I encourage my clients to use it in select circumstances. But, like others quoted in the Times article, I’m a bit skeptical of the effectiveness of the Green Marketing Coalition’s efforts. You can download a copy of their “Recommended Guidelines” at their site and see what I mean. Among the recommendations they list:

    Purchase recycled paper.
    Choose vendors and partners with internal environmental initiatives.
    Use UV printing presses and comply with hazardous waste disposal standards.
    Improve “list hygiene.”
    Proof and edit using PDF files rather than hard copies.
    Use chlorine-free, recycled paper. (this seems like a redundant point)
    Benefit from tax savings by going green.

These recommendations are good ones, but to me they seem a little obvious. Shouldn’t direct marketers be doing this already? And the last “guideline,” “Companies can benefit from the tax savings associated with going green,” seems like where their real efforts lie.

According to Spyro Kourtis, president of the Hacker Group as quoted in the Times article,

“This industry just didn’t have any real green standards.”

Well, at least they’re doing something. But we’re not living and working in a vacuum here. The guidelines were developed with the help of the above-mentioned Hacker Group, which is a direct marketing firm. One has to wonder why direct email or other types of electronic marketing aren’t on their guidelines. Obviously they’re protecting their own interests, but if this were truly a broad-based initiative to really green direct marketing and do more than just greenwash and reap some tax breaks, their guidelines could easily go beyond printed junk mail.

I have to agree with the conclusion of the Times article:

“So far, the coalition’s guidelines are long on earnestness and short on truly new ideas.”