Nobody Ever Buys Brand X
by Chad Rueffert


Only a few years ago there was a whole aisle in the supermarket stacked with black and white packaged products proudly billed as “generic” and boasting price tags as much as 50% lower than the top brands.  Today, the black and white packaging is gone and the term “generic” is used mostly for prescription drugs.  What happened to the generic product craze?  Grocers, like retailers in nearly every market in the world, learned that nobody every buys Brand X.


The old generic supermarket products haven’t disappeared.  They’ve been reinvented as store brands with names like “Safeway Select.” They’ve been repackaged and repriced and even given premium shelf space to compete with non-store brands.  Supermarkets discovered that to create loyal, repeat buying customers you must have a BRAND IMAGE.  Nobody every buys Brand X.


The cereal in the black and white box may have the exact same ingredients, flavor and nutritional value as Cap’n Crunch, but it has no brand image, and therefore, nothing for the potential buyer to relate to.  Luke Sullivan, a copywriter for Fallon McElligott, defines a brand this way:  “A brand isn’t just the name on the box.  It isn’t the thing in the box, either.  A brand is the sum total of all the emotions, thoughts, images, history, possibilities, and gossip that exist in the marketplace about a certain company.”


To make an impact in a competitive market place, every product and company needs to begin to create positive “Brand Equity.”  Once you’ve created a product, given it a name, and begun to sell it on the market, brand equity automatically begins to build.  Do people react positively to the name of your product?  Are they attracted by the packaging?  Those customer perceptions are the beginning of your brand equity, and can be either positive or negative.


To ensure that your product creates POSITIVE brand equity, you must determine its core value.  You must decide what your product stands for and build your marketing strategy around it.  Consider three automobile brands:  Jeep, Cadillac and Volvo.  You can easily and quickly define what each brand stands for.  Jeep is about 4-wheel driving. Cadillac is about luxury.  Volvo is about safety.  How would you feel about buying a Cadillac compact hatchback?  Would you ever look at a Cadillac the same way again?  Probably not.


Companies that forget or stray from their brand’s core value inevitably get into trouble.  New Coke is the classic example of straying from a core value.  The brand image that Coca-Cola had created was built around American tradition.  Coke was the “real thing”.  New Coke, by definition couldn’t be the real thing, and had no tradition behind it.  Coca-Cola strayed from its brand image and created a failure.  Luckily, New Coke had the accidental result of rallying the buying public behind Classic Coke, so the experiment wasn’t a total failure.  Most departures from core values aren’t so lucky.


In a marketplace where most product characteristics are identical, the best known and best remembered brands hold the highest market share.  In “The Want Makers”, Mike Destiny, former group director for England’s Allied Breweries was quoted:  “The many competitive brands [of beer] are virtually identical in terms of taste, color, and alcohol delivery, and after two or three pints even an expert couldn’t tell them apart.  So the consumer is literally drinking the advertising, and the advertising is the brand.”


Because today’s marketplace is so filled with nearly identical, competing products, advertising becomes one of the most powerful forces in creating positive brand equity.  What your potential customer sees on television, hears on the radio and sees in the magazine or on the Internet will determine how they respond to your product.  That response is your brand equity.  If your product is similar in features and cost to your competitors, that response is also the reason prospects will buy or not buy your product.


Nobody buys Brand X.  If there is one magic formula for ensuring that you build positive brand equity for your product it is:  (Core Values + Consistency) x Advertising = Positive Brand Equity.  Stick to your core values, be consistent about your message, and distribute that message to your audience. If you don’t, you’ll be just another Brand X taking up space on the shelf.