Recently a national trade magazine asked me to comment on how 'marketing
psychology' could help manufacturers better estimate whether a product
would succeed or fail -- before they spent a lot of money on its production
and marketing roll-out.
Without a Web connection to the future no one can predict that with much
confidence. There are over 33,000 new products introduced each year,
mostly grocery and health/beauty products. And nearly all of them -- over
85% -- fail to meet their sales goals! Many of these products are just
"new and improved" versions of current products; few are
But all have marketing budgets to convince consumers 'this is a product
you can't live without!'
The failure of most new products proves that money can't buy success.
There are some products with tiny marketing budgets, like tasty
made by the family-owned Good Health company, which can't keep up with
demand. Then there's Crystal Pepsi. Consumers didn't care that Pepsi had
spent $100 million. They looked at it on the shelf, then reached for
"real" carmel-colored Pepsi.
Robert McMath and Thom Forbes wrote a fascinating book about product
failures called "What Were They Thinking?" which lists some
marketing disasters. For example, did you ever buy rabbit jerky or
cucumber deodorant? How about Hot Scoop Microwave Ice Cream Sundae? Or
Clairol's Look of Buttermilk Shampoo? Of course, the legendary
New Coke and McDonald's Arch Deluxe, despite multimillion dollar
advertising budgets, are so staggering that we use them as case
The lesson here is best summed up in an aphorism we've all known since
childhood, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make
So the real question the magazine editor had asked me was, "How
do you get
the horse to drink?" That's the question most companies ask. Its the
Marketing Psychology tells us that the more productive questions are, "Why
does the horse drink?" and "What would keep him from
drinking?" The first
question focuses on the buyer's "needs," "wants"
and "desires," while the
second is concerned with the buyer's "fears."
Those two questions are key to a realistic prediction about any new product.
Look at Go-Gurt, for example, which some of my grad students in Buyer
Behavior analyzed. What they found should be enlightening for any marketer.
General Mills' Go-Gurt is yogurt in soft plastic tubes. It comes in a
variety of flavors like Chill Out Cherry, Berry Blue Blast, and Banana
Burst. Its target market are active grade school children and, of course,
their moms. The packaging features cartoon character kids having fun
skateboarding while gripping several colorful Go-Gurt "portable
Go-Gurt is so successful that Time Magazine reported, "It is the
fastest-selling yogurt product ever released . . . The company has sold
$340 million worth of Go-Gurt . . . dethroning Dannon as the nation's
leading yogurt maker."
The Go-Gurt marketing campaign naturally has two target groups of buyers
-- the kids who eat it and the moms who pay for it. Both have distinct
sets of psychological buying motivations. For example, kids want a
good-tasting sweet snack that's simple to eat, easily carried without
spilling, and has a 'cool' image. Moms want a healthy snack that will
please her child, won't spoil or spill, doesn't take any time to prepare,
and has good value.
Underlying these surface motives are deeper, unconscious buying
motivations -- ones buyers are striving to satisfy. Children certainly
want a sweet snack, but they also want adventure, to feel admired by peers,
to feel special by using products especially designed for them, to
like a 'little kid,' etc. Sweet snacks which feed their psyche as
their stomach will have the marketing edge.
How does Go-Gurt feed their psyche? Look at the packaging. Its sweeping
pattern of strong red, blue, and yellow primary colors says its exciting,
not a "namby-pamby" snack. The edgy cartoon, a grinning boy
with a modern
haircut slashing through red space on his skateboard says this snack
cool, active kids who others admire. Its unstated promise is that a kid
will never be embarrassed by eating it in front of friends. The blond boy
is squeezing purple yogurt out of a big plastic tube, showing how
is to eat, and that it comes in cool food colors grown-ups would
blue and purple. Finally, the whole image says this is a kids' product,
not one which grown-ups might also like. Even the product name and flavors
are cool, different, and active.
Go-Gurt's entire marketing message for kids is visual. It zips by the
higher-order verbal processing centers in the brain and shoots right into
their emotions with a powerful message -- "This is a cool
you'll look cool if you use it." Sound familiar? Its the same emotional
message cigarette makers have used for decades.
On the other hand, Go-Gurt's message for mom is mainly verbal. While the
visuals tell her that its a snack for cool kids -- and what mom doesn't
want to think her kid is cool? -- its the words that satisfy her underlying
buying motivations for protection, love, self-worth, and time.
She reads that Go-Gurt is made by trustworthy General Mills and
Yoplait, a proven
leader in high quality yogurt. She knows the product and package look so
cool that her child will like it, which will make her feel loved and happy.
She knows yogurt is a healthy snack, one which a Good Mother would select.
And the "portable yogurt" label suggests this product won't
demand any of
her scarce time to prepare, so she'll save time without feeling guilty.
Go-Gurt's advertising and marketing all play on these same deep
psychological themes. The manufacturers haven't tried to make the horse
drink, but created a product that satisfies an existing
"thirst" so the
horse wants to drink. That's why Go-Gurt is a great example of
How about your products? The key to predicting product success is hidden
in your buyer's mind. So look there first. After all, who wants to be
remembered for trying to sell Toaster Eggs or edible deodorant?
(c) Gary Witt, 2001