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Legacy to Lifestyle: Keys to Growth for Stagnant CPG Brands

For CPG brands to successfully evolve from a legacy to lifestyle brands, they must leverage word-of-mouth principles and social sharing in advertising.

Editor’s Intro: Social Media have fundamentally changed the way that many brands have to interact with people. Instead of being thought of as passive recipients of brand messages, people take control, talking among themselves (both offline and online), and back to brands. There is no doubt that many brands, especially CPG brands have been slow to adjust to this basic shift. Rappin and Bacon present important points about how CPG brands can regain growth by embracing this social dynamic.


What to do when the prospects are not in your favor? More of the same? Many CPG companies are still married to growth strategies developed decades ago, but now just executing on a different platform. Unfortunately, the approach is not as effective today as consumers’ values and motivations are changing as rapidly as their News Feed.

But last time I looked, millennials still eat every day. And if they have kids, there’s still the age-old battle at dinner-time to eat your vegetables. Gen Z’ers still bathe, brush their teeth, and wear clean clothes. Some things haven’t changed.

But how they learn about and engage with brands has been changed, in large part thanks to social media platforms that allow them to share their experiences and preferences. It has Brands talking about creating relationships . . . but who wants a relationship with their mayonnaise, breakfast cereal or detergent?

For CPG marketers, a business key is focusing more on the marketing value of Word-of-Mouth (WOM) than emotionally-based relationships. Industry studies have pegged WOM’s impact on brand sales at 13% across categories.

Their zero-growth grocery environment has CPG marketers beginning to adapt to this change. However, while today they spend more on digital than all forms of traditional advertising combined often their digital is simply moving coupons from the circular to the desktop. Trade promotion remains the industry’s biggest marketing line items, accounting for 46.2% of spending. For relationship/WOM impact marketers need to change their KPI from impressions/opens to shares.

Some CPG marketers are starting to get it. In 2013, CPG produced brand content generated an average of 108 shares per post. By 2016, that number had increased five-fold.

But how? It starts with recognition that on-line and off-line WOM work independently from one another. A study of the correlation of online and offline WOM activity of 500 brands found little correlation between the two. Which suggests that the best practices we’ve honed over the decades to drive off-line marketing impact is missing from the new world order of social media. No one is posting about “whiter whites” or act now for a Buy One Get One.

Just like offline advertising creative that works, social sharing has to start from a consumer insight that is relevant to the brand and gives voice to a consumer truth in a new and surprising way. Successful advertising rarely succeeds through rational discussion alone argument or just a
call-to-action. It creates positive memories and feelings that influence our behavior over time to encourage us to buy something at a later date. The best ads in linear media are ingenious at leaving lasting impressions. Success in social marketing is no different.

Success comes from moving your legacy brand into a modern lifestyle brand. What do we mean by lifestyle? It is connecting to the attitudes, tastes and culture of an individual or group. It has to be authentic to the product but move beyond the product alone in a way that connects, surprises or entertains.

Recall, for example, how Dove evolved from “one-quarter moisturizing cream” to “Beauty for Real Women.” Dove leveraged a well-established functional benefit into building an emotional connection with women by reflecting the diversity of what beauty means. For CPG, it’s not about convincing you that you need toilet bowl cleaner but how can I get you to think about my toilet bowl cleaner . . . without really thinking about cleaning toilets.

Two terrific examples that stand-out:

1. P&G’s Tide “hashtag Bradshaw stain” Super Bowl stunt in 2017. Breaking the barrier between live TV and commercial. In an ad that appeared to be live TV from the Fox broadcast booth at the Super Bowl, Terry Bradshaw showed up with a stain on his white button-down shirt. However, his spill was, in fact, an elaborate pre-taped stunt that teed up another commercial late in the game with the clean shirt. According to Ad Age, the Tide stunt was covered by 600 news outlets. Garnered 4.8 billion impressions and 22% lift in Tide pod sales. Why it worked:

  • Consumer Truth. Embarrassing stains and accidents that happen to us are real fears and problems we all face.
  • Product Relevance. Getting out stains is what Tide is all about.
  • Creative Execution. Real-time, authentic situation and delivering with surprise, agility and uniqueness.

2. Kraft Mac and Cheese’s “Swear Like A Mother” campaign and partnership with author Melissa Mohr and her book Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing. Kraft did a survey finding out how much Moms admit to swearing in front of their children and how they felt about it. One can imagine, the feeling is not unlike serving Kraft Mac and Cheese…  it happens, it works and we’re not proud of it and we don’t share it on social media. How they activated? According to the Marketing Insider, the results were amazing with 4.5 million views, 70 million impressions and nearly 800,000 engagements. Even better, according to Kraft the investment was “not huge”. With a simply produced video and just minimal paid social to get the sharing started. Why it worked:

  • Consumer Truth. Swearing in front of your kids is a “not socially endorsed as a perfect parenting behavior”. But it is OK in moderation and nobody’s perfect.
  • Product Relevance. Kraft Mac and Cheese is a convenient, inexpensive easy to serve food that kids love. Yet it is “not socially endorsed as a perfect parenting behavior”. But it is OK in moderation and nobody’s perfect.
  • Creative Execution. Ideal timing, Mother’s Day, Authedelivery with real situations and timely bleeps. Connecting wholesome Kraft to “not perfect parenting” is unique and unexpected.

Like so many things today, the key to success is not discarding the fundamentals and jumping into the latest trend with your eyes closed. Success lies at the intersection of the basics and the innovations. It’s easy to get lost in all the digital metrics out there, but “the share” should be considered as the most significant driver of brand-building value for its ability to have consumers recommend a brand’s content, giving it an added layer of authenticity and resulting in Brand impressions they may be more valuable than those driven by the brand alone. But the path to “the share” is 1) finding a consumer insight/truth that is 2) relevant to the brand and 3) delivered with a compelling, unique and unexpected creative idea.

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Marc Rappin Chris Bacon

The Insight Collective