No Mystery as to What Happens When You Don't Market

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, but it seems that when a marketer stops marketing, sales tend to drop.

That's the lesson to glean from observing the lemon-lime-soda category over the past 10 years. For any number of reasons, the marketers behind the biggest brands in the sector pulled back on marketing -- almost entirely in some places. Predictably, sales dropped off.

Or, more accurately, sales dropped off more than they did for other carbonated soft drinks. Obviously, there are other challenges facing the carbonated-soft-drink sector as a whole. In a country trying to come to terms with an obesity epidemic, soft drinks larded with high-fructose corn syrup are portrayed as one of the key villains. Even without health issues, trends have been leaning toward noncarbonated beverages and energy drinks.

So the major players, intent on shoring up their main cola brands, turned off the marketing tap for lemon-lime brands such as Sprite, Sierra Mist and 7Up. Oddly enough, they all seemed to reach the same conclusion at about the same time, perhaps figuring it's easier to cut back spending if everyone else is withdrawing from the field as well.

Since 2005, marketing investment has dwindled for Sprite and Sierra Mist, the No. 1 and No. 2 in the category, respectively. Each slashed measured media spending by about 80%. During that time, the category shed 160 million cases between 2000 and 2009, according to Beverage Digest.

There's no point in throwing good money after a bad product, but the fact remains that the lemon-lime sector accounts for roughly 10% of the $74 billion carbonated-soft-drink market. That's a big battleground to cede.

Most mind-boggling is the opportunity missed by any of the major players. Perhaps with Sprite going silent, Sierra Mist could have stolen major market share if the PepsiCo brand had launched an aggressive marketing campaign.

Pepsi, Coca-Cola Co. and Dr Pepper Snapple Group, which markets 7Up, have come to their senses and are getting back into the marketing fray. But in some respects, they're going to have to start building these brands from scratch. There could be some upside to that, but such short-sighted cyclical thinking should be avoided.

For a market that promises refreshment, the thinking here has been anything but.

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