Friday, September 25, 2009

of potato chips and tomato ketchups

"Even if you are not interested in marketing, go to the Marketing Forum. The Frito Lay guy is a terrific speaker."

He indeed was. For an hour, as Dave Skena (VP Marketing) spoke about the latest Potato Chips ad campaign, I sat in amazement - somewhat in awe of the art of marketing.
He started with how they set about reaching out to the consumer with a very simple strategy. That the chips are made of three things - potato, vegetable oil and a dash of salt. To dispense the image of an unhealthy, junk, fat filled diet, they launched ads which showed the farmers from across the country who supplied potatoes to the Frito Lay plants. The simplicity and uniqueness of the whole exercise took the audience by surprise and yes, revenues started showing positive trends. So there I was - an Indian, listening to an American talk about a snack which I'm not particularly crazy about, watching ads which showed farmers from Florida and Texas and Michigan - and yet I could somewhat identify with it. As much as there are numbers and market share and consumer lifetime value, maybe marketing is indeed a lot about knowing the pulse of the consumer.

Heinz followed next, carrying on the theme of Ketchup = Tomatoes. Noel Geoffroy, Director of Consumer Products Ketchup and a Darden alum, talked about changing the label in front of the bottle. About how replacing the pickle with the tomato and increasing the font size of Tomato had so much research going into it whereas the consumer was not really bothered about it that much. As a guy who has almost zero brand loyalty when it comes to CPGs, it was a revelation to get a peek into the minds of people who have and what goes into deciding what to buy and how much to buy. Like mothers who want to give their 10 year olds a 'healthy' ketchup and thus need to be absolutely sure what the ketchup is made of.

The DuPont presentation, to me, was the least exciting of the lot. It might have got a little to do with the fact that I was feeling sleepy by that time but apart from the bit where he talked about how Teflon sticks to the pan, I was bored.

MarketBridge was next and Katrina Lowes, SVP Marketing Services talked about Social Media and how Humana was using its social media portal to foster collaboration among users. She pointed out how, everybody, in the race to capture the youth population (25-35) have forgotten about the Baby Boomers aged around 50-65 who form the bulk of the world population. Never ever in the history of mankind have there been more people of this age and that represents a huge market if you are ready for it. She talked about how these are people who are nearing their retirement. About how these are people who are sustaining their families and have, in a lot of cases, both parents and children to take care of. She talked about how, they want to talk to others about things ranging from sex to healthcare, from emotional stresses to the changing world around them. It was funny that Katrina mentioned the stupid war that CNN had with Ashton Kutcher in Twitterland and how Social Media is Not about getting a million people to follow your tweet or blog. On the other hand, if you are FlyLady, you do have control over the minds of millions of people!

4:00 P.M. and it was time for Dan Holler, Product Director - Johnson's Baby to talk about the "Olympics Campaign - Thanks Mom". Particularly engaging was the bit where he talked about how they signed in Cullen Jones even before he was a part of the US Olympic Swimming team. A shortage of funds meant that they couldn't sign in big names like Phelps so they decided on this approach and shot the ads in very less time, using the training grounds of the athletes as the backdrop as they talked about how their mothers have influenced them throughout their life. Novel, inexpensive concept. But here's the magic that happened after it. Jones made it to the Olympic team. He then somehow made it to the six who formed the relay team. But only four were to make the finals. Against all odds, he makes it and is the last man in the relay. If you haven't already, dig out the YouTube link and watch how he beats the French guy to win the Gold (thus helping Phelps get his 8 medals). The story doesn't end here. By a rare mix of luck, forecast, science and add what you want, the first TV ad slot after the 4x100 relay is the Johnson & Johnson one where Jones says "Thanks Mom".

General Mills came up next and with no disrespect to them, the emotional high of Johnson & Johnson was tough to better. I listened to them talk about targeting the Hispanic market even though none of the guys presenting spoke Spanish. We laughed out loud at the part where they talked about how Latina women only want slim waists and don't really care about anything else!

After more than 4 hours of sitting in Classroom 50, I came out of the 2009 Marketing Forum feeling good and a lot more informed about the science (& arts) of marketing. The speakers were great. The subject matter was even better. And although I still don't want to get into marketing, yet, I feel I more than had my time's worth.

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