10 September, 2012

Marketing to millions, one by one

Melbourne Herald Sun, Friday 7 September, 2012

In a world of mass production, the customer gets lost in the flow. Can a brand that numbers its products in the millions ever manage to reach an individual? This thought has spurred some of the world's top marketers into searching for ways to touch us one by one.

The most ambitious attempt I've ever heard of will happen this October - with a product displaying four million individual package designs.

Four million bottles, each one different
The idea is Swedish, with that most Swedish of products, Absolut Vodka. They have devised a system where the manufacturing process generates a unique pattern for every single bottle on the line.

They are calling the system "orchestrated randomness", achieved through a combination of 51 patterns, 35 colours and a battery of splash guns.

"It feels a bit mad scientist, a bit street art," says Absolut's Jonas Tahlin. "When the bottles first appeared on the conveyer belt, we cheered. By that point the production line looked more like an artist’s studio than a bottle factory."

How consumers react to their colourful bottles will be thoroughly tested - the promotion will be released world-wide including America, Europe and Australia.

I'm sure over the years you have noticed the little ads for "Hong Kong bespoke tailored suits". The tailor who sets up in a city hotel each year and produces tailor-made suits for our business folk.

Well Nike have their own version of that now - NikeID. You can design your own shoes, based around some of their more popular models, cobbling your thoughts together on their web site and then waiting a month for delivery.

I have no understanding of the fashions or intricacies of runners. A little study has led me to discover that if you are keen you can design your own Life Dunks, Rifts, Air 180s, or whatever you favour. You can select colours for the base, swoosh, collar, laces and midsole, and compose a 'tongue top caption' of up to eight letters. We learn something new every day.

This personalising has evolved its own genre, called Kustom Kicks, and has become an industry in itself. Of course there is now also a web site called MyAdidas.

Another company that's always ready to try something new is Domino's Pizza. They have just launched an iPhone app that allows you to order your pizza as you like it. In their promotion they claim that you can make more than 1.8 billion pizza combinations. Who would have thought there were so many ways to combine cheese, tomato and anchovies?

And of course when there's pizza the Coke can't be far behind. Last summer Coca Cola issued their cans and bottles with 150 different names on them. So you could have a Coca Courtney or a Lola Cola. The prospect of half a dozen teenage boys rummaging through a fridge looking for the "Shane" can troubles me but I'm sure they had their strategy around that.

As an exercise to get their target 12 to 20 year olds talking it worked a treat. I don't know whether the "Share a Coke with your friend" angle as a peace and love activity worked, but it certainly got them talking in the school yards and on Facebook.

Mostly they seemed to be debating about which names were not there, and whether the list was too "Anglo" in its ethnicity. But hey, they were talking about the product and drinking it, so chalk the promotion up as a great success.

Yes you can bring individual personality to a product. But you need lots of money and nerves of steel.

Blog: themarketeer-raybeatty.blogspot.com

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