Wednesday, March 05, 2008

How not to launch a New Coke

As CMO presiding over the launch of New Coke, Sergio Zyman rode herd over one of the largest and most important marketing blunders in history - proving that everything my father taught me about how companies and ad agencies typically create new products was absolutely true. He wanted me to believe that all ad men were crooks and con men and that they wanted clients to believe that they were the only people with phone lines to God on Fridays. He also wanted me to believe that when developing new products, most companies, including Coca-Cola did little more than set four men in a room to brainstorm - and when they did, it was usually over a supplier related concept rather than anything original. New Coke was based on a supplier's new sweetener, and it failed. Pepsi's Indra Nooyi took Procter & Gamble's Olestra and launched failed WOW! Chips with Olestra thinking the underwear staining grease would be overlooked by diet conscious consumers. Guess they were wrong. Why were they wrong?

They were wrong because they made these decisions themselves. Time and time again I'd watch inexperienced assistant account executives prepare recipe dissemination ads for Leo Burnett clients and no other input whatsoever. Take it to the account supervisor who takes it to the client and voila, another ad, another account, another sale bites the dust. We see it and forget it. Might as well be making newspaper ads for all the insight that goes into such productions - but hey clients, it's your money not mine.

I always preferred a form of consumer homework I used to employ that proactively stimulated consumer minds with hundreds of phrases covering all known and potentially hidden product dimensions that in some way shape or form might impact consumer perceptions. I put the creative stimulus packets in front of consumers, removing myself from the loop, and let consumers choose the most important directions. Because I didn't have to use my mind as the "Idea Broker" I kept hitting home runs for people like Coke and Pepsi, General Motors and General Mills.,

What's different about today? Executives in companies still don't like to do their homework.

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