J&J scraps TV portion of $100 mil Benecol push

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Johnson & Johnson's McNeil Consumer Products has pulled the TV portion of its pledged $100 million campaign for Benecol.

Although the healthcare marketer had promised to support the line of cholesterol-lowering foods with $1 million a week in media, primarily TV, McNeil found the campaign has not succeeded in boosting sales of the brand and it has discontinued it, an executive close to the company said.

The ads broke in May via Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare, New York.

The launch effort for the much-anticipated lineup of "functional foods," now expanded from the initial spreads to salad dressings and snack bars, has featured a fiftysomething man named Frank Macking who lowered his cholesterol with Benecol products.

`CHANGING FOCUS'

That campaign, originally slated to continue through the end of the year, has been benched, and for 2000 McNeil is "changing focus and looking at new ways to reach consumers," a company spokeswoman said. Although McNeil will "continue to invest heavily against the family of products," she said, the focus of the media mix going forward no longer will be TV, which the marketer previously touted as the key communication vehicle for Benecol.

The inefficiency of the spots may be due in part to the high price of Benecol products, which retail for as much as $5.99, roughly $1.50 more than rival Lipton's Take Control spreads and dressings. Its price also is more than double that of non-functional brands in the categories in which it competes, said the executive close to McNeil.

"Consumers who see the ads and then go into the store to buy the product see it costs more than $5 for a tub of margarine and there's total sticker shock," he said.

To drive up the perceived value of the products, the executive said McNeil is planning on ramping up professional communications to gain doctor recommendations because "if the doctor tells you [about the health effects of Benecol], it carries more weight."

Sales of Benecol spreads in supermarkets were $13.7 million, with Take Control sales at $8.2 million for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 10, according to Information Resources Inc. Those numbers are small, certainly compared to expectations and also when measured against sales of leading brands such as Lipton's I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, at $206 million, and Shedd's Country Crock, at $202 million.

Sales for Benecol's salad dressings were so minuscule they didn't make IRI's ranking in the $1.4 billion category, falling well under its $7 million starting point.

The tepid response is a disappointment, even considering the fact that functional foods aren't expected to catch on immediately.

"Anyone entering into the functional foods category, whether manufacturer or retailer, has to realize that on the front end these things take time to grow," said one industry observer.

TWO ALREADY OUT

Many marketers, though, have not had the funds to wait it out. Campbell Soup Co. was quick to pull Intelligent Quisine out of test markets in April 1998, and just last week Kellogg Co. abandoned its less than 1-year-old Ensemble brand.

Although "[marketers] have identified a clearly defined concern and need relative to cholesterol and food consumption," the industry observer said.

Take Control will continue its TV and print campaign from McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, featuring Regis Philbin, said an executive close to the company. The lineup, however, soon will be altered slightly with introduction of a light version of its 10-ounce tub that will in some cases replace its single-serving portions that are not as popular with consumers.

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