Editorial: Success recipe? Better products

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The program at the just concluded Association of National Advertisers annual conference impressed the marketers there, including its look at today's marketing return-on-investment issues. But the speakers who earned the highest praise reminded listeners where marketing still begins and ends-with the product.

Pepsi-Cola North America President Dawn Hudson and General Motors Vice- Chairman of Product Development Robert Lutz did not preach or sell (two approaches that always leave people cold). They simply told their companies' stories, which, importantly, showcased "product-first" marketing.

Mr. Lutz told how GM had made Cadillac, once a dated brand beset with problems, a hip, respected marque once more. The first step on its "road to redemption"? Improve the cars, Mr. Lutz said.

Likewise, Ms. Hudson traced the creation of Pepsi-Cola's huge and successful Sierra Mist, and the extensions to its Mountain Dew brand, to long periods of product research. Pepsi moved forward with the products, claimed Hudson, only after they outstripped rivals in taste tests.

Later, Ernst & Young Chief Marketing Officer James Speros singled out Harley-Davidson Co. and suggested it should replace Coke at the top of the most-valuable-brand charts. Its distinctive product is Harley-Davidson's biggest strength-from the throaty roar of the engine to the teardrop shape of the bike, and the product itself is as much a communication tool as any ad or PR push from the company.

The idea that all great marketing starts with the product is hardly an original one. As the founder of Advertising Age, G.D. Crain Jr., put it back in November 1916: "The first requirement of a good ad is a good product." But this is still a lesson too often forgotten. Those marketers at the ANA meeting who enjoyed these speeches might like to ask whether they, too, need to take a second look at their products.

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