Is your Product Dying on your Watch?


When I was a child in the 1970s if I had been ill my mother would buy me a bottle of Lucozade. It came in a glass bottle wrapped in yellow cellophane. With an advertising slogan “Lucozade aids recovery” it was generally purchased in a pharmacy, it was also a regular gift of hospital visitors for their recuperating friends and family. However even then the brand was in decline, the British population was becoming healthier, incidences of illness less frequent, annual epidemics of flu less and less common.

In 1978 the brand attempted to move away from illness towards being a healthy provider of energy to help people recover from the natural daily lulls in energy they might suffer during their day. However, this repositioning was still rooted in health and recovery and was of limited success.

In 1982 the brand repositioned again. Dropping the glass bottle and the cellophane wrapper and moving to a plastic (PET) bottle. They dropped the “aids recovery” slogan and replaced it with “Lucozade replaces lost energy”. Lucozade became a brand that could provide energetic, busy and successful people with the energy they needed to perform to their full potential. Brand decline was reversed and Lucozade went from strength to strength. In 1990 Lucozade Sport was launched becoming the UK’s first mainstream sports drink and creating a new market that is now worth about £110 million a year.

Although the repositioning from a sickness recovery drink to a sports drink is quite significant it should be clear to any observer (with the benefit of hindsight) that the emotional shift is the same. When I drank Lucozade as a child laying under a blanket on the sofa in my parents living room recovering from a bout of sickness I felt the energy flowing into me, I felt stronger, I felt better and more able to carry on. Now as I drink Lucozade Sport as I ride my bike up yet another hill, it may be a completely different product, but I can feel the energy flowing into me, I feel stronger, better and more able to carry on.

Brands such as Lucozade continue to face challenges as informed and public opinion move against high sugar drinks and the sugar tax affects product development priorities. Their challenge now, perhaps, to continue to deliver the same emotional messages while adapting their recipes and reducing the amount of energy actually contained within the product.

While other categories face a very similar challenge to the original Lucozade challenge:

Breakfast cereals are watching their market decline as parents question their nutritional value for their children and as breakfast continues to decline as an event that anyone feels they have the time or inclination for. What are the emotional messages of breakfast and of breakfast cereals, what are the brand values of the brand that they can deliver in a different way, maybe in a different format and at a different time that would allow them to reinvent themselves and maybe even create a new category and a new brighter future for the brand and the company?

Yellow fats (a category known to most of us as margarine or non-butter spreads) face a similar problem. A category that saw massive growth in the ’70s through to the 2000s as butter and saturated fats were demonised as being incredibly fattening and causing heart disease. In more recent years opinions have reversed somewhat. Butter is rehabilitated and yellow fats are in steep decline. Perhaps they have seen their day. If you are a product owner in this category what do you do? There is precious little investment in this market and Unilever have exited the category altogether. The answer appears to be to take as much value from these products as you can while they wither on the vine. Better to find a different job than to try your luck with this one.

However, the category is not dead yet. There are still many consumers choosing these products every day. While the same health messages may not be as strong as they used to be, many consumers are still getting a degree of emotional satisfaction from these products that keeps them coming back and away from butter and the other alternatives. What is the detail of the emotional message that these consumers are gaining from these products, what is it about their consumption experience that delivers these messages and how can we find a modern more relevant way to position that message that resonates better with consumers of today and tomorrow?

You may think that this is pointless and that society and consumers have moved on and these products have lost their relevance. If you do fine, give up and find a new job. However, the same could have been said of Lucozade in the 70’s – and some definitely thought it after their first repositioning. But GSK sold Lucozade (along with Ribena) for £1.35 billion in 2013. So they probably did not regret finding a renewed positioning for an outdated product.