What Are CPG Brands Doing Wrong?

By Jorge Aguilar and Danny Chapman


When it comes to consumer products, marketers frequently take pragmatic promises for granted. Doesn’t it go without saying that detergents clean clothes and paper towels soak up spills?

This year’s Prophet Brand Relevance Index shows that kind of thinking is hurting some of the world’s biggest companies. For today’s consumers, practical benefits still matter.

The Index gives equal weight to what we believe are the four core drivers of relevance: Ruthless pragmatism, customer obsession, distinctive inspiration and pervasive innovation. But this year, a shakeup in the consumer product category shows consumers notice when brands have lost sight of the pragmatism, especially with more brands and information at their fingertips.

Amid the fallout are lessons that translate to every category:

Make Every Day Easier: Old Spice, a brand that has spent hundreds of millions investing in its light-hearted and wacky image, is losing relevance faster than any other consumer product, plunging 90 spots this year. That steep drop comes because – among those who are familiar with this Procter & Gamble brand – very few say it makes their lives easier. We think this is a brand so distracted by its own positioning that it’s forgotten why men need deodorant in the first place.

It’s also an example of how brands can fail to keep pace with changing consumer expectations. Back in 2010, its epic silliness led to significant market share gains. But current messaging – including YouTube videos literally described as “nonsense”– aren’t what men want these days.

Compare it to Gillette, also owned by P&G, which jumped 17 spots in our ranking, earning high marks for “Meets an important need in my life.” It not only offers great shaving and deodorant products, but practical advice, too, like tips on helping new dads stay groomed. And with its “Gillette on Demand” blade replenishment, it’s showing it can keep up with upstart brands like Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s, earning high marks for “Is always finding new ways to meet my needs.”

Old Spice’s Opportunity: To stay relevant, Old Spice should consider ways to engage men in more productive ways. What makes men sweat? How can they overcome it?

Follow Customers Everywhere: M.A.C. has some of the fiercest fans of any cosmetic brand. They love it for professional-grade quality, social activism (especially on behalf of the AIDS community) and, of course, that matte red lipstick. But none of that matters if customers think they can’t find you. This year, M.A.C. sank 61 spots in our relevancy ranking, primarily because so few people say it is “Available when and where I need it.”

What’s worth noting is that M.A.C., owned by Estee Lauder, has 500 stores of its own, distribution in many department stores and a perfectly findable web site. And it’s been stepping up its availability, now selling through both Ulta and Sephora, too. Our research shows that while M.A.C. may think it’s expanding fast enough, its customers don’t.

M.A.C.’s Opportunity: it’s not just about stepping up expansion, but making sure people perceive that availability. Today, that means moving beyond traditional retail channels. Look to competitors that are creating storefronts on Amazon to better fit into new shopping behaviors.

Do Your Job: Method is a brand that’s long been disrupting the suds business. With its beautiful bottles and botanical ingredients, consumers have been proud to display it on kitchen counters. And certainly Method’s current “There’s Good Inside” campaign reinforces its image of quality ingredients. But it leaves doubt about the dependability of the cleaning power itself and the S.C. Johnson-owned brand fell 23 places, getting poor marks for reliability. And relatively few consumers believe Method performs better than its competitors.

Other brands do better at communicating powerful cleaning outcomes, and that makes them seem more reliable. So, while Method’s packaging and ingredients
may engage consumers now and then, they need a brand and product they can depend on to get the job done.

By contrast, Clorox, which gains seven places this year, is ranked as one of the most dependable brands among all categories.

Method’s Opportunity: By refocusing on why people buy cleaners in the first place, it can lead with claims of its cleaning power to ensure consumers they can trust it to do its job, without compromising on ingredients.

This year’s Index shows us that it’s fine, and even important, to surprise and delight consumers in many ways. But if a brand isn’t seen as doing its primary job, consumers are prepared to move on – no matter how much they love you.


Jorge Aguilar is a Partner and Danny Chapman is an Engagement Manager at Prophet, a brand marketing consultancy.




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