Not since then has a similar confluence of new retailing, new media and new products so threatened to upset the status quo.
"The grocery store as we know it is going out of business," said former Procter & Gamble Co. brand manager Doug Hall, who has since reinvented himself as a barefoot creativity guru, leading package-goods and other executives through new-product development sessions at his Eureka Ranch outside Cincinnati.
The supermarket will be replaced, he said, by a combination of corner perishable stores and weekly UPS boxloads of everything else from e-retailers.
"The good news is that there will be a renaissance in good, old-fashion, great products," Mr. Hall continued. "There's going to be an opportunity for more brands in the future, because you'll have direct-to-consumer shipping, just like you have more books at Amazon.com."
Despite his obvious interest in new-product boosterism, Mr. Hall isn't alone in his assessment. Just a little more effusive.
From the more button-down world of Westport, Conn., another former P&G brand manager, New England Consulting Group's Gary Stibel, makes a similar observation: "E-commerce is going to create a return to niche products and brands. While a retailer cannot afford to have a slow-turning item on the shelf, an e-commerce establishment can. And that means multiple varieties of multiple products and multiple brands very specialized to individual tastes."
The best example: When Procter & Gamble Co. launched Febreze fabric deodorizer in 1998, it looked more like a niche product than a watershed event. In retrospect, it may have marked a new era in package goods.
Prior to Febreze, P&G hadn't launched a new brand in 15 years. After Febreze, P&G plans to launch roughly two dozen new brands into test or global distribution by 2001. That singlehandedly would best the new-brand output of the industry's 25 biggest players in the past decade.
P&G isn't alone. Johnson & Johnson, S.C. Johnson & Son and Unilever are among others also breaking with recent tradition to test or launch new brands rather than mining or building on the equity of old ones.
Though it's easy to identify the Internet and e-commerce as key factors shaping package-goods marketing at the dawn of a new century, the return to brand creation may be a bigger change. And it's a change wrought at least in part by the impending e-mania. Interactive marketing and electronic retailing hold the potential of spawning new products and new ways of marketing them faster than at any time in the last century. They're ushering in a paradoxical return to the frontier days of marketing -- from short product development cycles to long advertising copy.
Perhaps most importantly, the e-world may have helped shake package goods out of its long creative stupor.
This viewpoint holds even from within P&G. Vivienne Bechtold, the company's associate director of interactive marketing, said, "With e-commerce, you can afford to have a broader range of coffee products that match different people's taste preferences.
"I'm not sure how customized toilet paper or mouthwash need be, but even with our laundry detergent we know that we can significantly improve people's satisfaction by tailoring the product for water hardness and mineral content, and some people will value that. Or maybe they'll want shampoo and perfume and laundry detergent all to have a single fragrance, and they can have all those things at the same time."
Similarly, mass customization will become a watchword of interactive advertising. "We're seeing programs like, for example, the Cover Girl relationship marketing program, where depending on the person's color profile they will get a different communication from Cover Girl," Ms. Bechtold said.
Yet exactly how such mass customization will play out in interactive marketing remains in doubt. Two years after P&G launched the Future of Advertising Stakeholders (FAST) initiative to develop workable advertising models and measurement systems for interactive advertising, package-goods players are still struggling to decide how to use the medium.
"I think we're closer" to a successful interactive advertising model, Ms. Bechtold said. "We're not there. We're closer, in that folks like Procter & Gamble and other companies are doing a lot more experimentation."
Regardless of what model emerges, the Internet and e-commerce will reshape how package-goods marketers approach consumers.
The next century "is going to diversify the way we think about marketing our products," Ms. Bechtold noted. "How we market a cosmetic versus a laundry detergent versus a toilet paper will be customized to address the things that are relevant to that category. There are going to be more media choices. Not only do we have the Internet, we have [interactive TV]. We have smart devices coming in handhelds. Package-goods marketers are going to have to think about surrounding the consumer more holistically."
The key aspect of interactive TV or other interactive media is giving consumers more control, she said.
The growing element of consumer choice brings to completion the concept of "permission marketing," which began when VCRs and remote controls made it easier for viewers to avoid commercials.
The progression will end, at least in the view of McKinsey & Co. consultants John Hagel III and Marc Singer, with the development of "infomediaries," as-yet-unspecified and unformed organizations that will blot out unwanted marketing communications for consumers and go out on their behalf to make deals with marketers.
"I think the concept of infomediaries and permission marketing is definitely going to impact [package goods]," Ms. Bechtold said. "It's a question of when, not if."
Preparing for such a future, she said, means package-goods marketers must learn to meet needs of consumers throughout their lives and give them reasons to form more lasting bonds -- conceivably even contractual ones. "That may mean extending brands from products to experiences that include service elements, multibrand consumer solutions and understanding whether P&G could actually be an infomediary," Ms. Bechtold said.
Strip away the jargon and one thing is clear: It's a long way from the days of marketing for maximum margins. But it's not so different from the days of the