It’s easy to talk about the associations of a well-known brand – be they positive or negative, really well known brands with a long heritage behind them elicit strong opinions and emotions. So, what happens when the product(s) which the brand is selling changes? We’re often asked to talk about our opinions on product reformulations and it’s a tricky area: should well known brands stick to playing up to a certain predictable expectation of a product experience and never change it for fear of rejection or should it always seek to improve, making tweaks and sometimes leaps along the way to ensure a continued relevance?
There are so many examples of hailed and hated product reformulations that there is no hard and fast rule to stick to – take Guinness, which has successfully made tiny tweaks over the years to great success and continued relevance vs. Coke, which reformulated its product to great success in blind taste tests but caused huge disappointment once on shelf for loyalists who had a specific (if statistically inferior) expectation in mind.
This is the problem: a well known and leading brand gives a guarantee of a specific product experience in its category, particularly in consumables - if it’s not that brand, it’s ‘just not right’. But products, like the brands which sell them, have to move on – ingredients, manufacturing methods, global taste palates and nutritional guidelines mean that no can of Coke today would or could taste the same as its ancestors but we’re still buying it anyway, believing it has ‘that Coke taste.’
So, we were delighted to recently speak on the radio with BBC about the re-formulation of HP Sauce and urge audiences to consider not just their own product expectations but the brand’s reasons for reformulating its products in the first place. It just can’t stay the same. HP Sauce has been reformulated, from a health perspective, for the better – it has less salt than before and is simply catching up with its already reduced-sodium family members in the Heinz portfolio.
Currently the consumer verdict is still out – but is this a reaction to change rather than the product itself? Only time will tell…