Code Words & Secret Meanings

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

When Procter & Gamble lowered its sales outlook in the middle of last month, it offered up the most traditional, generic excuses for what was wrong…and what it intended to do about it. The one novel item in the announcement garnered no more media scrutiny than the lame rationale that surrounded it.

The company is suffering from pantry deloading.

No, I’m not kidding. According to the Wall Street Journal‘s investigative reporting on the subject, pantry deloading is a common term in the consumer products industry, and it refers to the syndrome of consumers actually using the stuff on their cupboard shelves instead of simply adding to them.

It never occurred to me that consumer products marketing was dependent on an ever spiraling upward escalation in the items stuffed in pantries. Did you?

It seems that consumer consumption of products is a bad thing for P&G’s premium brands; when the caps need to come off, the boxtops torn, and the packages otherwise opened, folks are opting for lower-priced brands and store brands (called "private label"). Perhaps P&G brands are purchased more as prized possessions, meant to be preserved and enjoyed…perhaps prominently displayed for family and friends to appreciate?

Pantry deloading. What an intriguing concept. So what is P&G going to do about it? 

  • Coming out with new permutations of its premium brands (and new ones altogether)
  • Beating up the media to get better advertising rates

Just how these actions address the issue of pantry deloading, the company hasn’t said  If consumers don’t feel the need to buy premium brands currently, what makes P&G think that they’ll want more choices? And getting better ad rates might lower the cost of marketing, but it has no correlation to its efficacy; brands that don’t compel people to purchase don’t get more compelling if the advertising cost less.

I’m sure that I’m missing a lot on this one. P&G has driven brand marketing in consumer packaged goods for a long time. It effectively invented the idea of a soap opera, and has recently won awards at Cannes. 

But relevance and utility are drivers of consumer purchase these days (I’d wager that they always were, only less obviously so when times were more flush). Premium brands can’t just offer to make you feel better…but rather, they must do things better, faster, more often, longer, etc. "Need is the new want" in this networked economy of ours, and a price surcharge for a brand name without some substantive, survive-the-light-of-day benefits just won’t cut it any longer.

It sure won’t combat that nasty pantry deloading going on.

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