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Snuffing Fan Favourites

The ‘death’ of products or brands is a natural occurrence in portfolio management. Whilst it’s more exciting to discuss innovations, underperforming brands and products are also constantly being laid to rest.

In recent weeks in Australia, many consumers lament the end of an era when Allen’s (Nestlé-owned confectionery manufacturer) discontinues Fantales: a much loved brand of confectionery in Australia. By mid-July, the final batch of Fantales will be rolled out to the Australian public. Fantales is named for the various biographies of film and pop stars that are written on the wrappers. It’s the type of candy (sweets or lollies, depending on where you live) that you wouldn’t want to pop into your mouth before a conversation. Your jaws are likely to be glued shut as the caramel softens. One of the reasons cited for the demise is the decline in sales across shoppers in Australia.

Another Australian brand also bites the dust when Coca Cola discontinued its coffee beverage brand – Barista Bros – in May. Coca Cola has been actively pruning its brands across the world – by culling Tab (US, 2020), Lift (Australia, 2022), Lilt (UK, 2023) with perhaps more underperforming brands to be rationalised. This strategy is indeed mentioned by Coca Cola’s CEO, James Quincey in his interview with CNN in 2021. In the interview, he mentions about 200 brands that only contribute 2% of the sales. He likens these brands to the fat that fur up the arteries.

I followed the discussions on LinkedIn with bemusement when Coca Cola discontinued Lilt. Many British professionals bemoaned its death by recalling the times they had the beverage when they were young, when they went to university. The nostalgic moments of past summers. It’s a similar mournful sentiment when Tab was discontinued in the US – and the same sombre mood here in Australia with the death of Fantales.

Well, let me ask a sobering question to those who are mourning the death of brands. When was the last time that you bought the brand? Was it last week, last month, … or back in your childhood? This is the cold, hard facts about dying products or brands. There are not enough buyers out there who buy them – let alone think about them when the category need arises.

I have no doubt that there were American households who stocked cans of Tab in their fridge, or Australian families who enjoyed Fantales as an after-dinner tradition. Unfortunately, these heavy brand buyers cannot carry the weight of the brand alone. The brand needs many more light brand buyers who buy them occasionally — and how would the millions of households out there know and be reminded of these dying brands, if they were never advertised broadly? This examples alone exposes the weakness of narrow, targeted advertising when brands only speak to those who love them already.

Even when the fans manage to convince the company to resurrect a particular product or brand, ultimately it’s a futile exercise if their survival and growth are dependent on the fans alone. Its long-term growth still relies on growing its penetration beyond the fans and across all sorts of category buyers.

Some brand deaths are preventable – if the company also continuously manages the physical availability and mental availability aspects of the brand. Ensuring that the products are continuously advertised so consumers are constantly reminded of the brand existence throughout the year — and ensuring that whenever they are ready to purchase, they can find the products through any channel, store, or outlet that they prefer. It’s another example why the Laws of Growth as researched in the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute are really vital for a brand’s survival and growth.

So, when I see brands on shelves without adequate support, I fear the worst. Especially when there are many alternatives that are equally as good in satisfying the category needs. Maybe these brands are meant to live a limited life on shelf for strategic reasons known to the company. However, if they are meant to be a permanent addition, perhaps their days are numbered already. Only the fans will mourn them, while the rest of the consumers are oblivious to their existence – or have forgotten.

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