Don't Always Take The Easy Way Out

March 1, 2004
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Don't Always Take The Easy Way Out

Using existing packaging for a new product concept may lower your costs. But it can erode brand equity and confuse consumers.

By Robert McMath

Brand extensions. Line extensions. Product-line extensions. Call them what you will, they have been exploding on store shelves.
Line extensions are very popular among marketers today. Why? It's cheaper to introduce an extension than to establish a new brand.
An extension can expand the brand's franchise. Also, it's a way to determine, quickly and cheaply, if a fad is going to be a trend or just a fad. Finally, an extension is a way to control shelf space. If you occupy the space, your competition can't.
Consumers accept extensions more readily now than in the past. Barraged and besieged by new flavors, improved formulas and handier sizes, they're open to trying new things. And brands that once stood for one thing or one big idea, now stand for many ideas.
But too many companies make the mistake of rolling out an entirely new product concept using its existing packaging.
Gerber made this mistake. It used its traditional baby food jars to introduce a new line of adult food called "Singles."
At the time, Gerber thought an opportunity existed for single-serving foods in small containers that students could keep without refrigeration and eat as midnight snacks. Or which single people, especially seniors, could prepare in small quantities and eat easily.
But the use of the small jars gave consumers the perception that Gerber, with its motto "Babies are our only business," was trying to sell baby food to adults.
Faux salad dressing
Unfortunately Lipton made the same error when it introduced a liquid seasoning for potatoes in its salad dressing bottle. That was during the time when there was great interest in cutting down on fats in preparing fried foods.
The first time I bought the seasoning product, the grocery clerk at the checkout commented, "Oh, Lipton has a new dressing for preparing potato salad."
But it wasn't a bottle of dressing for making cold or hot potato salad. It was for making a lower-calorie, lower-fat potato that tasted like it was fried.
Putting this new potato-seasoning concept in a bottle associated with salad dressings caused confusion. Consumers did not perceive it as a new method for potato preparation but rather an extension into salad dressings for potatoes.
Once you confuse or disappoint your consumers with your new product extension, you stand a great chance of failure. And that can reflect poorly on your base brand image.
You can use your existing packaging to introduce a new flavor or other subtle change to your product line.
But don't jump on a trend with a brand extension that uses your existing packaging materials and production lines just because it minimizes your costs. This can harm both the new product concept and the brand equity that you've spent years nurturing. BP
The author, Robert McMath, has been a marketing consultant for more than 30 years. Through his NewProductWorks, he has advised major companies. He is the author of What Were They Thinking, a book chronicling the whys of product successes and failures. Contact him at 607.582.6125 or
rmcmath@cs.com. Visit the Internet site: www.NewProductWorks.com

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