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How Long Can P&G Last?

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Piers Fawkes, PSFK
  • 13 june 2008

Travel through Europe looking at new ‘local’ brands made the team at PSFK wonder about modern brands and whether ‘holding companies’ like P&G and Unilever can really last doing business the way they are.

More and more consumers appear to be attracted to ‘real’ brands – brands with soul, history and substance – brands like Innocent Drinks or Method soap. These brands live because they reflect the values of the management and staff and the transparency generated by the web helps fuel the love of them.

Meanwhile over at P&G and Unilever brands appear to still be run from brand books by an army of brand managers who aren’t connected with the values each brand is supposed to contain. They sell faux brands that were created in an age of control – control of media and message.

Sure, P&G ‘got’ design recently but design is just lipstick – it might make a consumer look twice but the he or she is smart enough to work out whether that brand is truly pretty quickly.

What is the future for these companies? Well we could argue that there are plenty of products that just don’t need soul and that there will be no brand Armageddon. But what we will probably see is a war of attrition – as time goes on, new valued brands will come into Unilever and P&G’s duller markets and attack marketshare. Remember that Method changed a boring cleaning market just because no one cared.

Something that might be worth remembering is that while they will struggle building modern brands with soul, comapnies like Unilever will continue to wield great logistical power. Could they somehow support brands we consider authentic? Maybe they could take inspiration from the fashion sector: Recently H&M bought stock in hip denim brand Cheap Mondays – allowing the brand to grow fairly independently with the financial injection but offering a distribution network they didn’t have before.

It would be naive to think P&G and Unilever are in grave danger – but maybe the way they work may change from marketing organizations to distribution networks that support and even co-own real brands with the management and their consumers who believe in their values.

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