Subhas Warrier
Jan 15, 2013

Opinion: Why ‘Classics’, and not the ‘new’ and ‘improved’

Subhas Warrier, EVP, head of South, Initiative

Opinion: Why ‘Classics’, and not the ‘new’ and ‘improved’

We had the classic potato chips, and then came the flavoured ones. And we know that in India, flavours can take diabolic proportions. Besides drawing from our own diversity, we also imbibe foreign culture quite naturally. We now have our own brand of Indian-Chinese, and have innovated to the extent that we have a Schezwan Vada Pav that would surprise the Chinese. But a majority of us still love the classic Vada Pav, don’t we? Why is that?

Even as the ‘flavoured’ rose in eminence, the classic and the regular continued to remain favourites, with some even growing significantly as the peoples’ choice.

The ‘Classic’ and the ‘Regular’ keep coming back like in a renaissance of sorts every five or 10 or ‘N’ number of years. Where ‘N’ depends on the natural time scale for different types of products, history, and different stages of product innovation. The definition of ‘Classic’ might differ from one generation to the other. And, in relative terms, some will remain ‘Classic’ for generations. Some brands even manage to be contemporary, while remaining ‘Classic’.

In the CPG segment, a classic Coke will remain. Or, we can imagine that the famed Y-Front Men’s brief that was first introduced by Jockey in the 1930s may find a new era in a slightly tweaked, freaked out re-design in future. But do you think we can have a Classic Surf? P&G has done it with Tide and Downy with its packaging for interesting reasons.

A WSJ report from May 25, 2011, says the retro movement is driven, in part, by consumer-goods companies feeling pressure from retailers’ private-label products, which are generally less expensive. “Brands are saying, ‘Wait a minute, we invented that category!’ So they are now reminding consumers which brand came first,” says Steve McGowan, executive creative director at Landor Associates, a branding firm owned by WPP PLC that worked on the Tide and Downy retro designs.

The Pepsi experiment in 2009 with retro cans found a lot of success. Research from the same WSJ report claims that 50 per cent of people who bought the retro pack bought more than they otherwise did.

One is a Classic pair of shoes or the retro car or the retro music which falls in relative eras of classics. And then you have the experimentation with retro packs when it comes to CPG brands and then you have the ‘new’, ‘improved’ re-launch versions, which are used almost ubiquitously today. So much so that the ‘new’ label always says ‘NEW’ - just the advertising that supports it is refreshed.  When CPGs market their brands as ‘new’ all the time, consumers might just fail to see, or even want to see what’s new. By stating that the product now has a pro-vitamin, how long can one keep the label ‘new’? While that’s a challenge, the Classic might just survive the ‘new’ wave better, making something ‘new’ about it more interesting simply because it is a ‘Classic’.

For a consumer, the average number of ‘new’ or ‘improved’ range of products allows nothing ‘really’ new in terms of product offering. If there is no tangible difference in results, it becomes an obvious advertising and marketing ploy.

According to a US report, the number of new consumer packaged goods products introduced in 2011 was about 37,600 - a reduction of approximately 8.3 per cent from the 41,000 in 2010. The pace of new product innovation within the CPG category has been on a downward trend.
In India, I am not aware of a body like Symphony IRI New Product Pacesetter tracking launches, but a more recently study released in US, in April 2012, claims that of all new product innovations within the CPG category, only 16 per cent of non-food products and 23 per cent food and beverage brands met or exceeded the $ 7.5 m hurdle for year-one sales to qualify as a Symphony IRI New Product Pace Setter.

CMIE, Oct 2012, said that for US consumers, ‘new’ or ‘improved’ was less important than value relative to cost even in recessionary times. Yes, it is during this period that investment on ‘new products’ can gain momentum if it is designed for the value segment.

But I think I will still go back to my regular or ‘Classic’. As will several others. That’s the nature of value and pull if you’ve managed to build a ‘Classic’.

Campaign India

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