Kraft Foods has released a new product that contains a combination of the beer slops that Australians lovingly call Vegemite, and another product in their brand “family”, Philadelphia Cream Cheese.
Similar to when they first released Vegemite, Kraft had a nation wide competition to find a name for their new product, and announced the name, iSnack 2.0, during the quarter time break of the AFL Grand Final last Saturday.
The name was the inspiration of web-designer (surprise, surprise), Dean Robbins, and even my initial response was to recoil in horror, and turn away from the television (or maybe that was later, when my Sainters lost). Despite being completely involved in the game, I could see the name was a tad ridiculous and already quite dated - the first use of the little “i” was when the iMac was first released in 1998. According to some reports, Robbins says that he was having a bit of fun, and did not really take the name seriously, so he was just as surprised as many others that his name was chosen.
I can see why - iSnack 2.0 is simply not at all relevant to the product: the little i prefix is said to have originally meant to denote the internet, but has evolved to be attached to anything technological and is most commonly attached to most Apple products. What also needs to considered is that although the name came about as a result of a national competition, it was the Kraft marketing group that made the final decision on the best name, which might suggest that they were smoking the yeasty spread, rather than putting it on their toast.
So, on Monday, lots of people in the blogosphere, twittersphere, and mainstream media came out and declared the name ridiculous, calling for Kraft to reconsider (in so many words). One of the most frequent arguments was that Vegemite was an Aussie iCon and the name iSnack 2.0 was not consistent with its iconic status. Others simply said it was too American (although I am sure I have seen some Australians with iPods). Some of the commentary was considered and thoughtful, while some of it generated yet another opportunity for nutbags to vent (this is the internet, after all).
The thing that a lot of people were missing was that Vegemite wasn’t always an Aussie iCon. It was first released after a competition to name it back in 1922, then had an attempted name change (to Parwill) in 1928, but didn’t really take off until the late 1930s, once the product started to be endorsed by Doctor’s Associations, health bodies, and even the British Medical Journal, as a good way for young children to get a dose of vitamins B1, B2, and niacin. This is a mistake that many pundits, marketers, and business people make when talking about brands - most of these iConic brands have a history and it is rare for a brand name to be taken to the hearts of a loving public when it first released - think Westpac or Tim Tams.
So, on Thursday, Kraft responded to consumer “outrage” by withdrawing the name, and re-visiting the competition to name the new product. They announced that this time they will provide a selection of options, and customers will be able to vote for their favourite- in the style of Australian Idol - another opportunity to raise the profile of the new product.
Of course, iSnack 2.0 was a dumb name, but the energy expended on this issue has been extraordinary. Obviously Australians feel very strongly about this particular brand name, and I was surprised that Kraft responded in this way, and so swiftly. To some degree, a smart marketer would have been watching how sales of the product went once the newly named product hit the shelves, rather than responding to the outrage on the internet and twitter. So much of this campaign has been ill-conceived and poorly managed, but my suspicion (contrary to many) is that this was not a publicity stunt. I just can’t imagine any marketer being able to conjure up and then convince a company to pursue such a risky strategy.
Kraft have said that they have about 500,000 jars of the iSnack2.0-labelled product in warehouses in Sydney and Melbourne, and that they will start arriving on supermarket shelves today. Kraft predict that this is about two months supply. What Kraft have been able to do, albeit accidentally, is to create a potential collectors item, and also generate extraordinary publicity for the new product, something that a single advertisement on national television was never going to do.
So, while Kraft are saying that this was not their intention, they will benefit in a number of ways:
- as a result of the outrage, the product is now very salient in the minds of consumers;
- Kraft are seen to be responding positively to consumer feedback by changing the name, which will help increase perceptions;
- they are having another competition, which is likely again raise the profile of the brand and its salience; and
- they have saved huge amounts of money in advertising.
Most importantly, the whole furore has created brand salience, which is the FMCG marketers dream. Long after the wrath dies down, the brand will remain present.
But I don’t think it signals the end of Vegemite. In the end it will be sales of the product and whether people like it, rather than consumer outcry about the brand, that will determine its success. Yes, I realise that some consumers have said they will boycott the product because of the whole fiasco, but it is questionable how significant that boycott will be, when weighed up against the potential new customers that have been generated by all this publicity.
The thing with any brand name is that the company needs to own it, run with it, and promote it, and create a situation where their target market remembers it, tries it, likes it, and rebuys it. But in this era of instant success, iSnack 2.0 was never given the freedom of the life cycle of the original Vegemite product.
My hope is the new name will take the technology idea and run with it even further. Names such as Snacintosh, or Vistamite spring to mind.