The fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry seems to be on steroids, as far as new product developments are concerned, over the last five years. There are ever-increasing launches by some very traditional FMCG giants in hitherto unexplored areas. And variant propagation is on perpetual overdrive. So much so that it’s impossible to pick a humble bar of soap, bottle of shampoo or your favourite ‘cool’ drink.
FMCG majors, who took years to launch a colour or flavour, now take just a few months to launch a whole new category. And they are willing to invest in these new launches. Retail placements. Launch promos. Innovative print ads and large scale sampling.
FMCG bashers would gleefully rub their hands and say, I told you they will have to do it. After all, tech products are taking their pants off. Ummm. I wonder: Is this right? Is it being done right? Is there genuine innovation? More importantly, is the consumer better off?
I am at my wits’ end trying to buy basics for my household if ever I hit a supermarket. Many new brands. Many new variants. Do I need so many options? Is there any one of them offering me what I never got before? Sadly, the answer to these questions is a big “No.”
What FMCG company gave me what a smartphone today offers vis a vis the old bar phone? Who has done to potato chips what tabs are doing to computers and human life in general. Which soap giant offers the benefits that a hybrid car does vis a vis a petrol car?
To my mind, a lot of these efforts are driven by two primary instincts. One, because everybody is doing it, we must do it too. Two, and more important, the need to survive. Today, competition to FMCG products comes from not just competition in the industry, but unseen competition. Technology. Social networks. Entertainment. New experiences.
With limited budgets, consumers are trading categories. And a lot of needs are being fulfilled by completely unrelated categories.
The fact is that despite all the money and effort made by so many gurus of marketing — after all, FMCG companies invented marketing — they are not a patch on new-age companies in brands. Sure, some of the noise and excitement sticks. But despite all this new creativity and innovation, not one of these FMCGs can grow as fast as the icons they are trying to emulate.
So what seems to be wrong? I believe that they have forgotten the basics. They no longer worry about finding the best solution to consumer problems. Instead, they try to offer the maximum variation within all the parameters of production, logistics, distribution and more importantly, the traditional mindset.
Don’t get me wrong. I laud the effort. I think it’s taken these brands ages to break the shackles and mindset of best practice. However, to really make a dent, they need to go back to consumers and understand how they can find better ways of giving them a superior bath experience rather than just explore a million fragrances. How can they excite consumers to explore more about their new offerings — of their own will — and not force ‘tamasha’ sampling. I would love to see long term sales trends of a widely sampled new variant.
Meanwhile, I will continue to ask my maid to shop on behalf of our household. She seems more adept at picking just the right brand with just the right variant for our morning routine.
The writer is COO, Cheil Worldwide, South West Asia