Chobani Boldly Moves On

As another new year approaches, we ponder our predicaments, reflect on our actions and resolve to be better.

Marketers working on a traditional calendar year schedule likely started these reflections back in April or earlier, launching their annual strategic planning processes to set goals and strategies, and then give themselves enough time to prepare marketing content for the ongoing battle.

A question that is frequently asked, whether you’re a business planning way ahead or a person thinking about resolutions for the coming year, “Is it time to move on?”

Is it time to kill ad campaigns, logos, packaging and other marketing elements? To sever relationships with internal managers, external agencies or other consultants?

Larry David fired most of the Seinfeld writers at the end of each season. Most of the crazy stories in the show weren’t made up, but based on the real lives of the writers. David figured that all after a season, he’d have heard and milked all those stories, so it was time to bring in fresh faces with fresh stories.

CMO’s and ad agencies don’t fare much better. They get used up quickly, blamed for outcomes out of their control and are lucky if they last for two or three years. It’s just like Tinder. Don’t like this one? No matter. Swipe away, there’s always more. The Jerry Seinfeld character would break up with a woman if he didn’t like the way she ate her peas. It’s easy for a miserable guy to find fault with others to avoid any kind of introspection. So it seems to go with so many capricious firings of good people and marketing service partners.

On the marketing side, I’ll never forget the advice of one of my graduate school professors who held that when you’re completely tired of your ad campaign, run it for another year.

We can take that one-year period with a grain of salt as his exhortation was made in the exponentially slower, pre-digital age. But the essence of it is still true. As marketers, we are often impatient. We burn out on our own work because we live so closely with it and we don’t always appreciate the need for repetition in our messaging to consumers. There’s comfort in repetition, even when it may seem to be veering into the annoying. And since many marketers are all blessed (or cursed) with an innate creative itch, we often just can’t wait to start on the next initiative.

The guidelines to abandon any creative execution seem to be well understood. Put simply, change for the sake of change is never prudent. There should always be a clear, focused, market-based reason to launch a new ad campaign or redesign packaging. Still, these decisions are often very controversial due to the range of data-driven and emotional factors that put that “need” into question.

Which brings me to Chobani’s new packaging, discussed in this Adweek article, Why Chobani Is Reinventing Itself—and Why It Had No Choice.

I take some issue with the headline and the dire sense of urgency presented here.  “…One thing’s clear: Chobani had to do something.” This, despite the facts presented in the next sentence. “While the $2 billion brand is still very healthy—it overtook General Mills’ Yoplait last year to become the No. 1 yogurt brand in America, and its topline growth for 2017 is up by double digits.”

Yes, the novelty of the Greek segment has worn off and sales of all “spoonable yogurt have slipped 4.4 percent since last year.” But if Chobani continues to grow, so what?

From my experience with traditional packaged goods companies, I can say with confidence that anyone making a recommendation to completely revamp packaging in when business is so good would be deemed insane and shown the door. You’d hear all the clichés, like “what’s the ROI of that?” or, “If it aint’ broke, don’t fix it.”

But Chobani is not a traditional packaged goods company. Rather than play defense now that they are category leaders, they chose to forge ahead of competition with an bold offensive scheme which some might view as unnecessarily risky or irresponsible. They are demonstrating confidence – which consumers will certainly pick up on – by eagerly grasping the mantle of market leader and shunning competitive claims to focus on category benefits.

It’s difficult to quantify the “wear out” factor for marketing programs, just as it’s often excruciating to decide if a personal or professional relationship should end. As The Clash framed the issue in one of rock’s greatest love songs, “Should I stay or should I go?”

Chobani’s bold decision to dramatically change its packaging, arguably its most important communications medium, was likely not data driven. Rather it was rooted in a culture of leadership, vision and passion. Chobani may embrace marketing science, but they put more trust in their instincts and place a greater value on the art of marketing more.

They know when to move on.

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