What’s the Secret to Success? Learn From Past Mistakes!
By Robert McMath
People often ask me, “What’s the secret to success when introducing a new product?” And, without fail, I always respond, “Everything has to be right!” There is no simple answer—no magic bullet. There are so many things that can go wrong in a new product launch; it is a wonder any new product actually succeeds. But, in seeing the same missteps time and again, I have to amend that response and say, “Learn from other’s mistakes.”
In last month’s column, I referenced the lesson Colgate-Palmolive learned when it launched a detergent in packaging that resembled a gabled milk carton. The packaging raised so many complaints from consumers—who were concerned that children might confuse the product with milk—that the company had to remove it from the market, even after modifying the carton.
So you can imagine my amazement when my attention was called to the Canadian Iceberg Water Corp., which recently launched Iceberg Water and Iceberg Vodka in the U.S. market with virtually identical graphics, packaging and, even, brand names. Would I consider this a potential for confusion? You bet!
I concede that vodka and water are not usually sold from the same shelf—or, in some instances, even from the same store. And there is no question the manufacturer’s intent is to use the packaging and brand name to convey the purity of the products as well as their Canadian Arctic origins.
But it is one thing to maintain the master brand in the product mix and another thing to virtually duplicate package structure and graphic elements across largely incompatible categories.
The Iceberg water and vodka products both feature the same Iceberg logo running length-wise along the face of their bottles; they also share a similar, sculpted package structure (though one is PET and the other glass). The only attempt to visually differentiate the two products seems to be the generic descriptors “vodka” and “water” beneath the logo.
Now, I imagine the thought behind the strategy is primarily a budgetary one—a way for the manufacturer to save on design, advertising and promotional costs. But it’s a surprisingly risky move to extend the Iceberg brand name, graphic and structural elements to two products in categories that don’t really compliment one another at the shelf. More importantly, the lack of differentiation could potentially cause confusion and a mix-up in consumers’ homes where vodka is frequently chilled and stored alongside bottled water in the refrigerator.
I’m the first one to admit that product introductions are difficult to execute with any lasting success. Sifting through case studies of consumer product failures might be one way to expose some of the mysteries of a successful launch. But in this case, it’s no secret the branding and packaging of these two products creates a relationship that is confusing and, ultimately, just too close. BP
The author, Robert McMath, has been a marketing consultant for more than 30 years. Through  NewProductWorks, he has advised major companies. He is the author of What Were They Thinking, a book chronicling the whys of product successes and failures. Contact him at 607.582.6125 or rmcmath@cs.com. Visit www.NewProductWorks.com