In the early 1960â€™s, I was a participant in one of the classic branding failures of the era. No, not Edsel. Not nearly as glamorous or as expensive as that one, but equally embarrassing to the brand owner, duPont.
The brand was Telar, the never-drain anti-freeze. I was an assistant account exec on that account while at BBDO. Hereâ€™s the story.
For many years the sale of anti-freeze was falling. Why? Because the â€œnew and improvedâ€ anti-freezes of the day, and especially the Prestone brand, kept getting better. People discovered they neednâ€™t drain their anti-freeze every spring even though the â€œexpertsâ€ and the anti-freeze companies admonished everyone to do so unless they wanted their radiators to rust out.
Dow Chemical developed a new product they called Dowguard, a full-fill anti-freeze. It contained distilled, corrosion-retarding water and anti-freeze mix. Folks had to completely drain their cooling systems and fill it completely with Dowguard and they were told they wouldnâ€™t ever need to drain and refill their cooling systems again.
This worried duPont, and so they developed and introduced Telar.
Now theyâ€™d done some research concerning sales of anti-freeze. They found that about 35-percent of respondents did not drain their anti-freeze annually. Another 30-percent drained their own.
Remember, this was circa 1960. Discount stores were just becoming popular. This was a trend anticipating Pep Boys, Checker and NAPA toward do-it-yourself auto servicing.Â Â â€œTraditionalâ€ outlets like service stations, garages and auto dealerships were feeling the pinch.
duPont had a strong relationship with the auto servicing industry. Their entire distribution system for all their automotive products was as strong as any in the industry. Their relationships were very tight and DuPont thought the best way to market Telar was through this strong network and not through discounters and chains. So they only sold through their traditional chain and advertised as such, both to consumers and to the trade. And to make the deal even juicier for dealers, DuPont priced Telar at about 30-percent higher than their regular Zerex anti-freeze.
But dealers, knowing this was a â€œnever-drainâ€ product, feared they would lose sales (especially from the 35-percent who were still visiting their facilities to have radiators drained yearly). So they werenâ€™t enthusiastic partners, stocking only token amounts of Telar, not promoting it and only installing it if customers asked them to.
Consumers who came in asking about Telar (the ones who rely on their mechanicâ€™s advice) were not getting really enthusiastic endorsements. Thus, because of no dealer support and a product that flew in the face of many years of tradition (drain every year), Telar failed.
What duPontÂ had not considered were industry trends and consumer behavior. There was some arrogance involved. Mighty duPont, management thought, could buck the trends toward discounters and maintain a viable network of servicing dealers. Based on past innovations, they believed consumers would embrace any new product from the duPont labs, even if priced above comparable performing products.
The moral: be sure to scan and interpret industry trends and consumer behavior before branding new products.
That is why I encourage branders to build a branding platform with one of those planks being industry/product category trends, and another being complete descriptions of market segments and supply chain participants, and the factors that motivate members of those groups.
Quite often these planks are overlooked by smaller organizations because of research costs and the time it takes to gather critical information.
But I believe itâ€™s just as essential to the success of a brand as positioning the product or creating the brandâ€™s identity.