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Let's see: the brand, practically synonymous with the product category, has for years been the market leader. Then management churn and a reorganization sweep in. The VP-marketing post is left vacant for two years. New product work lags. Advertising becomes "less than stellar." Then one fine day a competitor crows that the once glorious king of the marketplace has been toppled.

The puzzle is that this tale of neglect and woe is played out-for real-all too often in the marketing world. The latest company to play the role of victim in this melodrama? Dannon Co., which plucked yogurt from relative obscurity in the U.S., made it a huge hit with consumers of all ages and carved out a lucrative spot as the market leader.

Today, Dannon and rival General Mills (Yoplait and Colombo) are waging statistical battle over who is No. 1. General Mills cites volume figures from ACNielsen Corp.; Dannon says the numbers from Information Resources Inc. show it's still No. 1. But there's no disputing it's Dannon that has been losing ground-and it's Dannon that's to blame.

There are signs of life at Dannon: a new marketing VP, new ads from a new agency, new product formulations and types and a revamped strategy that takes Dannon yogurt back to its roots as a "health food." That's encouraging, but lost market share will not come back easily.

Even great brands-and Dannon surely is one of them-fade and wilt without attention. Brands take active management to stay fresh. They need steady amounts of advertising dollars, constant fine-tuning of strategy, vigilant analysis of competitor activities and an aggressive product mentality. Basic stuff. Unfortunately, it's only a matter of time before some other marketer must learn