Restraint is the new buzzword

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Readers perusing these pages for takeaways they can learn from package-goods marketers will have noted a common theme emerging of late: Less is more.

From Anheuser-Busch paring back its media outlays to Hershey lopping off a full 25% of its product line to Kellogg's "small ball," restraint is the order of the day. Given today's razor-sharp focus on return on investment for marketers and moves by retail titans like Wal-Mart to closely manage inventory, the days of stuffing warehouses with me-too, limited-edition and one-trick products are over. And while there's always room for big new ideas, the smart marketer is focused on true innovation, tailoring products and approaches to its consumer rather than pushing concepts on them.

"We're acknowledging it's a new world," said Marlene Coulis, VP-brand management at Anheuser-Busch. "We're trying to be more nimble, to respond more quickly, and to manage a lot more brands."

For the country's largest brewer, that meant eschewing media support entirely for some brands and rethinking the industry's traditional tenets: For example, it's sampling its female-targeted malt, Peels, at spas and salons. It's also trying out cellphone ads and Internet plays to augment its tried-and-true TV and sports marketing approaches.

Changes, too, have been brewing in Battle Creek, where Kellogg has managed the admirable feat of a successful acquisition of Keebler Co., producing uncommonly good results. The reason: Kellogg, the master of costly big-splash product rollouts, is now adopting the more measured steps of Keebler with what one analyst called "high-probability, low-risk hits."

That's a philosophy learned the hard way at Hershey, which choked retail shelves with a host of "limited-edition" line extensions that didn't sell. Enough, in fact, that it's slashing its portfolio by 25% and leaving behind the simple line extension to focus on fewer, bigger and better. Now the challenge for Hershey-and others-is to establish what is truly new and worthwhile for the consumer. And that sometimes means offering less, not more.
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