LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

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Culprit is ad clutter

Ad Age has commented on a recent surge in private-label sales for household products and personal-care categories ("Black eye in store for big brands," AA, April 30). Sages at AC Nielsen and JP Morgan Securities claim it is being caused by aggressive price increases, strong private-label promotions by the Wal-Marts and Costcos plus a slowing of new product innovation. A couple of us see a number of other reasons as well.

Rance Crain properly comments on the dumbing down of ad communication today ("Silly ads, dearth of products, were harbingers of downturn," AA, April 9). I offer a more damning reason: an unconscionable piling up of commercials so that a viewer automatically reaches for the remote clicker.

Tune in the "Today" show around 7:20 a.m. Granted, there were no commercials for the previous 20 minutes, but then the deluge: 15 different messages (count them, 15) and a network promo during the next seven minutes, a 90-second local news cut-in (remember when it used to be five minutes?) and then three more messages before cutting back to "Today" at 7:30. The content: three car commercials, two abutting each other, within that interminable pod. Financials smack up against package goods; certain messages almost fighting each other because of questionable placement; total disregard for product protection. I recognize these are a mixture of network and local messages, but to the average viewer they are a barrage that simply turns off one's mind.

Then look at prime time, where there is supposed to be better regulation of commercial time. On a recent Thursday, when NBC ran back-to-back "Friends" episodes, the tally of messages and promos was as follows: six at 8:02, eight different ones at 8:14, seven at 8:21, six at 8:43, four more at 8:56 and another four at 8:58. Click.

"Silly ads" are made even less effective by a clutter of messages jammed into a pod with minimal regard for any kind of effectiveness. Advertisers are stampeding to select media groups to "wisely manage" their spending. Outside of imagined cost efficiency, what is truly being managed? And how wise is it to separate that supposedly honed message by turning it over to placement in a demographically efficient but demonically jammed commercial pod?

Procter & Gamble Co. CEO Alan Lafley laments that "the bottom line is that we're not winning consistently with our customer. They're often voting for competitor's brands." Or buying private labels. I think Rance and I can see part of the reason why.

Herb Maneloveg

Maneloveg Marketing

& Media Consultants

Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Pepsi AM's rise and fall

Overall, I commend Rance Crain's "Is Gatorade the latest victim snared in line extension trap" (AA, April 23), but as the "parent" of the Pepsi AM concept I must correct his identification of it as just another "line extension."

Pepsi AM was developed to give consumers permission to do what they were doing anyway-drinking colas in the morning. Yes, it had more caffeine than regular Pepsi. It also had less carbonation and sugar to make drinking it in the morning easier on the taste buds. It was the agency that was smarter than the consumer was and made caffeine the reason to believe, but that was not the concept and not why consumers bought it in quantity in test market. Using a brand as permission to fulfill additional consumer needs is not all bad.

Peter J. Flatow

CoKnowledge.

Fairfield, Conn.

Rance Crain's illustration of Crystal Pepsi as a good example of "the difference between short-term stimulation and long-term depression" provides another perfect illustration of "Brand Surfing." My young-adult consulting firm coined this term for an article in 1997 to capture the notion that, within highly saturated, low cost, low involvement categories, today's consumers are likely to leap from one brand to another simply to experience something new. (This is especially true among young adults, infamous for their experimental inclinations.) Crystal Pepsi, similarly, is the victim of high initial trial followed by low repeat purchase.

As a closing thought regarding the Gatorade Energy Bar, [I believe] the company is undeniably late to the proverbial party. However, even the introduction of a "me-too" entrant into a crowded category is not automatically a poor idea, especially when you consider Pepsi-Co's distribution and marketing clout as well as Gatorade's powerful, transferable brand equities. Will Gatorade's energy bar become a victim of brand surfing (due to an almost "last mover" disadvantage based on timing), or can the company leverage its competitive advantages and create a winner? I humbly submit the outcome largely depends on the selected strategy and the success with which it is implemented.

David Ashley Morrison

President

Twentysomething Inc.

Radnor, Pa.

Correction

* In "Newspapers work e-beat to home in on consumers" (April 30, P. 26), Nextel Communications was incorrectly identified as a marketer that advertises on NYTimes.com's e-mail products. Nortel Networks, IBM Corp. and Tiffany & Co. advertise on NYTimes.com but not on its e-mail products.

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