May 07, 2013

Where Are The Brands?

Yesterday, Business Insider published a piece a wrote. I am reproducing it here today (with the correct title.)

I went to the supermarket the other day. I walked up and down the aisles slowly. I noticed something. They have a lot of stuff.

They have fresh stuff and canned stuff. They have packaged stuff and bottled stuff. They have new stuff and old stuff and expensive stuff and cheap stuff. They have stuff you eat and stuff you wear and stuff you peel and stuff you stuff.

They have Philadelphia Cream Cheese, and Crest toothpaste. They have Minute Maid orange juice and Tide detergent. They have Oreo cookies and Neutragena soap. They have Skippy peanut butter and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. They have Yoplait yogurt and Hormel bacon. They have Pampers and Glad wrap. They have Dole pineapples and Coors beer.

But there’s one thing they don’t have.

They don’t have any brands that were built by online advertising. None. I couldn’t find one.

No cream cheese or toothpaste. No orange juice or detergent. No cookies or soap. No peanut butter or ice cream or bacon or diapers or plastic wrap or pineapples or beer.

I couldn’t find any brands that were built by banner advertising. Or on Facebook. Or blogs. Or podcasts. Or QR codes. Or even Google, for that matter. No mayonnaise that was successfully launched on Pinterest. No breakfast cereal that owes its life to Instagram. No yogurt from YouTube or toothpaste from Twitter.

How can we explain this? Online advertising has been around for over 15 years. When TV was 15 years old as a major medium it had built hundreds of brands in dozens of categories. Or maybe it was thousands of brands in hundreds of categories.

It’s not as if brands stopped appearing 15 years ago. There are now about 40,000 items in a typical supermarket, almost triple what there were in the early 90’s. In the year 2000 alone over 9,000 new food items were introduced. We have whole new industries. We’ve had the most explosive growth in consumer electronics and technology products the world has ever seen. But where are the major mainstream non-web-native brands that have been built by online advertising?

Or is that not what online advertising is about? Is building brands too daunting a task for online advertising?

Maybe banner ads and social media and “content” are just effective enough to get a customer to the website of an already established brand. Maybe they’re a nice way to keep in touch with people who already know you and like you.

But maybe the heavy lifting of building a brand is too much to ask of online advertising.

If not, where are they? Where are the web-built Crests and the Oreos? The Doles and the Tides and the Coors? The Pampers and the Skippys? Where is the next Heinz that Mr. Buffett is going to pay $23 billion for? I did a search and I couldn’t find them in the supermarket.

Come to think of it, I skipped aisle 9. Maybe that’s where they are.


dragos novac said...

You probably are referring to manufacturer's brands, or, most likely, to offline brands built upon online advertising.

However, on the other hand, there are plenty of brands in which the online medium played a significant factor - Yahoo, ebay, Youtube, Amazon, Instagram, 37 signals products, Twitter, Facebook, Huffington Post, Techcrunch and so on come quickly to my mind.

It is also true that they are web native products and as such traditional advertising may not have a significant impact since the consumer behaviour and intent are exclusively online.

What might be interesting though is brand declinations whereas online native brands create offline products under the same brand umbrella and as such need to use traditional ads for communicating them. Media industry might be a good research starting point - a good case imho is the work done by the Vice group.

Freelance Copywriter said...

He said "non-web-native" brands. You just named 10 web-native brands.

Neil Charles said...

That argument would be fine if the advertising industry (or a large proportion of it) wasn't trying to persuade manufacturer brands to move their ad budgets online.

That online presence builds online brands is beyond doubt - although it's interesting that the examples cited largely don't buy display advertising space as far as I'm aware. Where there's a serious problem is that the industry is pushing online advertising as a solution all over the place and the evidence is piling up that it very often doesn't work.

Sheriff Shooter said...

as lively as ever. wonderful read. glad to hear of your new adventure.

adwench said...

Did you find out about the headphone via a banner ad or a blog post?

adcontrarian said...

No. The whole science of media/marketing is in determining what is effective and what isn't. The excuse that the online media industry uses to explain the fact that online has not been effective in building brands is the exact excuse you are offering -- that it "takes a village." This is nonsense.

Some media have proven to be very effective in building brands in the past 15 years (perhaps you've heard of Blackberry, or Verizon, or Quizno's, or Viagra, or T-Mobile, or Claritin, or Comcast, or TiVo, can use Google as well as I can.) Online advertising has not.

SandraPickering said...

Nice piece with interesting observations.

If I may add 3 thoughts:

1. Many (most) of the brand you saw were probably food and drink. Brand-building in food and drink is strongly reliant on preferences developed from sensory (real-life) experiences and is also highly influenced by childhood learning. Changes in preferences are almost generational rather than in the timescales seen by, e.g., technology brands. (I have a whole paper on th topic if you are interested!)

2. The owners of these mainstream brands have not really focused on creating new brands in the recent decade or so, preferring to extend existing brands (rightly or wrongly). So you will see very few brands that were created recently, though a lot of products.

3. Those same brand-owners have embraced online recently but probably still have TV at the heart of their systems. It does work for impact, presence and visibility - perhaps particularly for their target market. Ample evidence on the effectiveness of TV here:

And yesterday's BI title was misleading :)


paulbenjou said...

Last time I looked, I couldn't find Yahoo, ebay, Youtube, Amazon, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Huffington Post, Techcrunch, etal in any supermarket

diane in michigan said...

I would argue, Dan Plant, that you had already decided to purchase headphones and used the internet to narrow down the selection available based on anonymous (since you don't personally know reviewers who post on line) individuals who chose to put their opinions on certain sites. An alternative would have been driving to Best Buy and actually trying out various headphones for yourself. You chose to rely on people you don't know to tell you which headphones to buy. You actually have no way of knowing if a percentage of those posting positive reviews were paid to do so or otherwise incentivized. Glad the headphones worked out for you.n Your odds were at best 50/50.

In your example of headphones, the internet did not create new customers for headphones since you had already decided to buy in that product category. The internet does not create need or want, it only satisfies it and this severely limits its potential as a marketing tool. It has a place in the marketing spectrum but is not the marketing panacea some purport it to be.

disqus_DG8C8CrnT0 said...

what about Virgin America? They don't do any TV advertising and people seem to know who they are?

Michael Mann said...

You can't eat binary code. Thus you will probably never find it in a supermarket.

Really though, what are the web-native brands? Amazon and ebay are nothing more than ways to actually purchase ACTUAL brands which have tangibility - things you can touch, see, taste or utilise to do something constructive (as opposed to the time suck that is facebook). What is facebook or twitter? It's not really a brand in the sense that it represents something physical. Maybe it's just part of the conversation......

Jawny Smythe said...

I could see how it would be tough to build a brand completely online, because success is bound to get attention and then that would be considered "PR". For example, in the last 20 years Ryanair has grown into one of the world's biggest airlines. Customers can only book online. They have no airport desks. They hardly ever buy ads in traditional media. Mostly people just go to their website and check out prices. But they have also ingeniously played the PR game to deliver their message of lowest prices. Thoughts?

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Tristan Bailey said...

You might want to look at Cadbury UK google+ page as they have been offering people into testing groups and showing new branding and products.

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