Clive Sinclair’s C5, Coca-Cola’s new formula Coke and RJ Reynold’s
smokeless cigarette: the list reads like an epitaph to 20th century
marketing mistakes. Few PR or marketing people wish to be reminded of
the very public, and often financially disastrous, product launch
failures of recent years.
But those involved in the launch of a new brand should be aware that
failure is the norm, not the exception. New research recently presented
at the American Marketing Association’s New Product Launch conference
shows that only one in five new products succeeds. The number of new
products introduced each year has almost doubled, but 54 per cent of
these will make less than pounds 1 million profit.
While PR agencies are often not chiefly to blame for product launch
failure, their contribution is essential to the public and trade
perceptions of a product. Wendy Mair, a divisional managing director at
Hill and Knowlton, says good PR is critical to the success of a product
launch: ’PR plays a complex role. It can help shape the media
environment before a launch and educate the trade and consumers about a
product so they have a reason to buy. It also contributes third party
endorsement by encouraging celebrities or opinion leader to back a
Companies know they cannot rely on advertising alone. Tony Bilsborough,
media relations manager at Cadbury’s, agrees that PR is essential for
marketing a new product: ’PR plays a very important role in getting
people talking about your product. This is particularly important in the
very early days of a new product launch. Advertising only starts four to
six weeks after the launch in order to boost sales.’
Unsurprisingly, few PR agencies are keen to talk about the product
launch failures in which they have played a part. Launching a successful
product is not an exact science, and involves the co-operation of
several parties - the company which has designed and manufactures the
product, the new product development managers, the marketing department,
the PR and advertising agencies.
Steve Connors, managing director of Quanta, a marketing consultancy
dealing in new product development and brand equity, says products fail
for four main reasons. Firstly, those involved in the launch of a new
product often do not understand the brand’s core values. This, he says,
was the mistake made by Levi Strauss when it first tried to enter the
menswear arena with a new range of smart trousers and jackets: ’They did
not understand that the Levi’s brand value is rugged outdoor casualness.
So the new range wasn’t as successful as it could have been.’
But it is not enough for the brand values to be right, the product
should have some ’real added values’, special features which
differentiate it from other products. ’Everyone involved in the product
launch should ask ’What is it about this product that is new to the
market?’’ says Connors.
The third fatal mistake, according to Connors, is failing to support the
product with trials: ’Products no longer have years to prove
It took tea bags ten years to get off the ground but now retailers only
give products a few months to last. The trade has a lot of power. If a
product has added value, retailers will get behind it.’
The final death knell for a product is a failure to innovate: ’The way
qualitative research is treated is wrong,’ says Connors. ’It should be
used to validate. People go into research too early. Inspiration should
Even the most experienced PR agencies can make mistakes. In 1996
Countrywide Porter Novelli was involved in the launch of a set of
interactive computer games onto the home CD-ROM market. Nick Hindle,
director of the consumer group says the product failed because market
conditions were not favourable.
’There are not yet many people with CD-ROM capacity at home. 6,000
products were scheduled for release at the beginning of the year. The
marketplace was far too crowded, with all players responsible for
bringing too much new product into the sector.’
With too many similar products on the market, the trade was able to be
more selective about those it wanted to buy. As a result, it placed low
ceilings on the volume of product to which it would commit, making it
impossible for a single one to make an impression.
’When there is negative pressure on the marketing budget, the client has
fewer options,’ says Hindle. ’With limited time and money, PR couldn’t
make a success of the product.’
With hindsight it is easy to analyse why a product launch failed.
Predicting it is not so simple. Foretelling success is equally
difficult. Well-researched, innovative products have been known to fail,
while others have surprised market commentators with their unprecedented
Chris McDermott, director at Shandwick says there are some ingredients
common to all successful product launches: ’The product must have a good
price, unique selling points and stack up well against other products in
the market. The launch must have a news angle, which should be hooked
into the way the factual information is put across.’
He says it is vital the PR agency understands the product’s USP. ’If you
have a PR team which doesn’t understand the USP - sack them.’
Success also depends on co-operation between client, advertising agency
and PR agency. Hindle says integration is the key: ’We work together
best if the client is open-minded, recognises the contribution of each
party and gives everyone a common objective. There should be an open
environment and focused meetings.’
He says many launches suffer because of professional jealousies of the
agencies involved: ’You have to be prepared to keep personal issues
outside so you can contribute to the overall good of a product launch.
We find ourselves as the glue sticking various parts of the programme
Hindle believes there has been a shift in the client/PR agency
relationship: ’PR is working more and more closely with new product
development managers because marketing is now more in control of product
He adds that it is crucial for the PR agency to be involved at the very
beginning of the launch process: ’The level of influence and the
effectiveness of PR is quite often determined by the stage at which it
is admitted to the launch programme. If the PR agency does not take part
in formulating the brief and communications strategy, it can be
delivered a strait jacket brief by the advertising agency which cannot
always be fulfilled through PR.’
Quanta’s Steve Connors says all parties involved in a product launch
should adopt a new marketing paradigm: ’You must think from the
consumer’s point of view. The consumer builds up a picture of a product
from many different sources and contact points. The traditional method
of planning separate budgets for promotion, PR and advertising is wrong.
Instead, when the campaign is being planned, you should think about
everybody involved as a contact point for the same communications
CASE STUDY: BABE VIDEO BRINGS HOME THE BACON
Babe, the story of a talking pig, was the surprise cinema hit of 1996,
taking pounds 20 million at the box office. With a video launch date in
late November and the product’s appeal to a broad range of ages and
socio-economic groups, Countrywide Porter Novelli knew that if the
campaign was handled wisely, clients CIC could have a big hit on their
The launch was a totally integrated marketing campaign. Countrywide
worked in a single team with CIC, advertising agency Focus, sales
promoters IMP and media planners, Optimedia. The main spearhead of the
campaign was to be advertising, with TV, posters and buses proclaiming
the arrival of the video.
During the summer prior to the launch, Countrywide targeted the trade,
selling Babe’s huge potential to the major grocery retailers, high
street video stockists such as Woolworth and WH Smith and the record
With the assurance of a high volume of videos available in the shops,
Countrywide targeted the consumer market. Focusing on Babe’s ’cuddly and
affectionate feel’ Countrywide came up with the idea of a Babe advent
calendar, guaranteeing that the film would be in people’s minds right up
until Christmas Day. It arranged a media tie-in with the Daily Mirror
and its Scottish sister, the Daily Record. For the first four days of
launch week, the papers printed advent calendar tokens, which could be
redeemed for a free calendar at Woolworth stores nationwide - where, of
course, Babe videos were on sale.
The calendar was branded with the Daily Mirror logo and with the logo of
Puffin Books, who were publishing the book of the film and Dick
Kingsley-Smith’s original book Babe the Sheep Pig.
The video of Babe sold over a million copies. In addition to the Mirror
tie-in, it received coverage in 16 national newspapers, 60 regionals and
20 lifestyle magazines and was featured on 50 regional radio stations
and 11 national TV spots. Every one of the 200,000 advent calendars
printed was claimed.
Nick Hindle, director of the consumer group at Countrywide Porter
Novelli claims the launch as an example of an almost flawless campaign:
’It was a great product, and there was realism about the true role of PR
in relation to advertising. The advent calendar was a great idea and we
had a very open, co-operative relationship with the Mirror.
’We covered all areas - trade, consumer, kids and adults and worked
constructively as a single team, adding value to the work of the other
agencies. The PR programme and sales promotion were able to build on the
advertising and plug the gaps.’
CASE STUDY: CLEVER COMBINATION FOR FUSE
The launch of Fuse, a new chocolate snack bar from Cadbury’s, proved
that a media relations-based campaign without high profile stunts could
be hugely successful. It also showed that the sweet tooth is alive and
well in Britain.
Fuse, ’a fusion of milk chocolate, raisins, peanuts, crispy cereal and
fudge pieces’ was launched onto the fiercely competitive snack market on
Tuesday 24 September 1996. Charles Barker’s brief was to create maximum
awareness for the bar from day one.
With no supporting advertising for a month after the launch, the role of
public relations was a particularly important one.
Following extensive product research, press releases were prepared for
various audiences - general consumer editors, business editors and the
regional media. Press releases were strictly embargoed, so that maximum
impact could be achieved on the launch date, dubbed ’Fuseday’.
Charles Barker focused on Cadbury’s strong heritage, the rarity of a
chocolate launch on such a high scale and the pounds 10 million
investment and five years of research behind the launch. Press releases
were also sent to the Breakfast Show disc jockeys of all regional and
national radio stations. Fuse bars were distributed to radio stations to
offer as prizes in on-air competitions. The agency set up BBC television
and radio interviews with Cadbury’s marketing director, Alan Palmer and
spokesman, Tony Bilsborough.
Retailers were informed of the launch in August at a trade press
briefing timed to coincide with the announcement of Cadbury’s
sponsorship of Coronation Street. The trade campaign was extremely
successful. In just one week, a record 40 million Fuse bars were sold
into the trade.
In addition to the media blitz, Charles Barker arranged Fuse sponsorship
of cable television’s Live TV for a whole day - the first time that an
entire television station had been sponsored. It co-ordinated a fleet of
30 Advans to blanket the country on ’Fuseday’ and generated internal
staff interest by visiting Cadbury’s factories around the country.
Within two months of its launch, independent sales figures showed that
Fuse was outselling Mars bars by 25 per cent, knocking the country’s
second best-selling bar off its perch. The release of these sales
figures to the press generated renewed media interest, with full-page
articles in the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror and features on the
Big Breakfast and the BBC’s Working Lunch.
Ross Williams, account director at Charles Barker believes that the
launch was a success because the agency made it a media event.
’We identified interesting media angles, making it into a big business
research investment story - the confectionery launch of the decade,’ he
’For a fee of only pounds 5,000 and a tiny budget we showed that a brand
can be launched using only PR and still achieve a high profile.’