Saturday, August 23, 2014

Same Name, Different Stuff

When I go to the grocery store for my own shopping, I tend to act like a tourist in Paris. I wander up and down the aisles, looking at all the pretty colors and unusual variations. I pick up a package of something that attracts my attention, and stand there wondering if I could if find a recipe that would include it, especially if it's on sale ("hmmm - chicken thighs - figs - I wonder"). Now and then I find a few new items of interest I can't wait to try ("nobody told me they have chocolate chip coconut butterscotch cookies!"). Then I gather it all up, only to get all the way through the checkout to find a piece of paper in my pocket reminding me to get milk and bread, the two things I forgot.

Contrast that same trip with one where I am dispatched by my wife with a shopping list. In that case, I insist on very specific instructions. Not only do I want to know that I have to buy cereal and toilet paper and crackers, but I want to know, a) what brand I need to buy, b) what size it should be, and c) what exact variation of that brand. Don't just tell me "we need detergent." When last I checked, there were at least 239 different brands on the store shelves. There are national brands, store brands, organic offerings and specialized products, all promising to make my clothes some variation of "cleaner than clean! " That's good, right?

So that why I had a more than a passing interest in the latest news from consumer goods giant Proctor & Gamble. According to CEO A.G. Lafley, the company plans to "significantly streamline and simplify the company's business and brand portfolio" by getting rid of 90 to 100 current brands. While he wasn't naming names, the keepers would have to fit into the company's core business strategies of beauty, health and home. Said Lafley, "If it's not a core brand – I don't care whether it's a $2 billion brand, it will be divested."

P&G will keep 70 to 80 brands, those that together currently generate 90 to 95 percent of the company's profits. These likely include such names as Head & Shoulders shampoo, Pampers diapers and Crest toothpaste, each the 800-pound gorillas of their respective categories. While there are also some major brands which would likely be divested, such as Ivory soap and Scope mouthwash, if you were a betting man you might also put some money down on some less-than-household names like Zirh men's grooming products, Glide dental floss and Zooth toothbrushes.

Still, if history is any guide, less brands doesn't necessarily mean less products. The concept of "brand extension" means leveraging a well-known and trusted name into areas with which it wasn't formerly associated. Take Swiss Army knives. Legendary makers of, well, knives, Victorinox has licensed the name far and wide. So now you can have a Swiss Army backpack, a Swiss Army watch, a Swiss Army pair of swimming trunks and even Swiss Army Eau de Toilette for my lady, with top notes of blossom and the oh-so-subtle whiff of corkscrew.

P&G has already started in that direction. Take the aforementioned category of detergent. Its elephant-in-the-room is the jolly orange giant Tide, which has more than twice the sales of Gain, the number two brand. Within the category they have stretched and morphed plain old liquid soap into multiple variations in formulation (With Bleach, Without Bleach, Cold Water, Hot Water, Sport, Ultra, etc.) and form factor (liquid, powder, pods, pacs).The Tide product page lists 27 variations of the brand, not to mention the assortment of sizes and packaging in which the products are available. If fact, if you put one of each type and size of Tide products end to end, you would likely reach from where I am standing to P&G Corporate headquarters in Cincinnati. Trust me, I've measured it.

And so the next logical step is to leverage the name beyond detergent. In that light, it's not too hard to envision a Tide toothpaste, Tide diapers or Tide deodorant. And beyond that? Tide cologne, Tide toilet paper and Tide batteries are all possibles. And while there is no talk of edible Tide, give it time. I just don't know if it will go with figs.


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes to go the grocery store to wander, not to shop. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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