Finding a Band-Aid for Brands

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Finding a Band-Aid for Brands

By Peter Breen - 10/19/2017

My summer began unceremoniously this year with a thumb caught in a door that was slammed shut by a sudden burst of thunderstorm wind. (That, admittedly, is a far less seasonally romantic image than the ones evoked by Johnny Mercer and Frank Sinatra all those years ago.)

Once the first few seconds of screaming ended, there was no lingering pain or loss of functionality. In fact, the only problem caused by the injury was the need to keep my thumb wrapped so that others wouldn’t have to view the gaping hole that has been working its way up and out of my nail for the last few months. Regeneration truly is a biological wonder, but not everyone wants to see it in action.

So I’ve spent an undue amount of time this summer finding and applying Band-Aids to my thumb – or rather, sometimes applying Band-Aids and sometimes using “adhesive bandages” or “fabric bandages” from several other, mostly private-label brands. 

Depending on the exact uses to which I’m putting my thumb, I go through at least a few of those alternatives each day. I’ve even taken to employing a second bandage to keep the first one from losing its adhesiveness and falling off too quickly. However, when I put on a Band-Aid, it stays stuck until I decide to remove it, regardless of how much backyard dirt and shower water it faces. The product’s superiority to the competition is fairly dramatic.

Is this the reason that Band-Aid has become synonymous with its product category? The reason why most consumers ask for a Band-Aid when they really only need an adhesive bandage? To be honest, that’s probably only part of the reason.

At some point, back in the glory days of mass media product advertising, I’m sure at least a few consumers were won over (or at least conditioned) by Johnson & Johnson’s persistent branding activity, which for you ad historians included a Barry Manilow-penned jingle back in the 1970s (also a far cry from Mercer and Sinatra, by the way).

Product superiority has never guaranteed category dominance – and especially not now in an environment where extreme-value chains are outperforming every other retail format and where you never know what results you’ll get when you “Google” a brand name (literally or not). Although I still ask my daughter what she’s done with the “Q-tips” whenever they disappear from the bathroom cabinet, I’m usually looking for the Beauty 360 Cotton Swabs that we normally buy. They’re not as soft, and the cotton frays pretty easily, but they’re good enough.

And “good enough” is a critical consideration in purchase decisions that increasingly are driven by search position, delivery speed and other factors related far more to convenience and immediacy than they are to brand awareness and affinity.  

Product quality, therefore, is probably the best defense for national brands that are fighting to preserve rapidly dwindling market share. The historic focus on “branding” – taglines, jingles, culturally relevant (but sometimes self-indulgent) themes – that all too often has de-emphasized (or even disregarded) the actual product and its benefits has to end. 

Attention-grabbing advertising does still work: Dollar Shave Club’s success stems largely from the company’s ability to solve longstanding purchase barriers in the men’s grooming category, but the company likely wouldn’t have become anywhere near as successful (at least not as quickly) without a clever, trendy promotional video that became a social media – and business media – sensation.

However, that clever video spelled out the entire brand proposition, explained every point of differentiation between Dollar Shave Club and its more established competitors, listed every reason why consumers should buy. It built the brand by explaining its superiority.

Not all traditional brands were built for survival in this new consumer-driven marketplace. It’s become somewhere clear, for instance, that heavily processed packaged foods might someday become as relevant as a store that rents videos. Traditional brands that already recognize this are undertaking efforts to “rethink, reformulate and reinvigorate the brand promise,” as Mr. Schober noted last month in reference to Oscar Mayer’s recent activity.

Brands that have never had much of a strong proposition, the ones that merely have been playing the branding game all along and were never really much better than the competition (if it all), probably won’t survive. But brands that can re-emphasize – or even reimagine – the quality they deliver, that can continue to satisfy the needs of more discerning consumers, will.  

In that respect, Band-Aid should get a big thumbs-up.

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