The Hills Bros Red Coats ~ Brand Mix

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Hills Bros Red Coats

Tyler Cowan at Marginal Revolution posed an interesting question yesterday: Why is Tide so Popular?

The answers in the comments section are running neck and neck between product benefit (it smells better, it works better, it makes clothes feel better) and heritage/switching costs (it's what my mom uses, why change when you find something that works?). I added a comment which shows that sometimes, at least, brands can hold their share of the market for a very long time with no product advantage at all.

I was the brand manager of Hills Bros coffee some years ago. Nationally we had a 10% share of the market but, in Chicago, we had a c.40% share. All because, over 50 years before (I think it might have been in the 30s), the Hills Bros marketing team decided to hand out free 1/2 lb cans of coffee to a large number of Chicagoans. By all accounts, this was a spectacular promotion. They hired a whole bunch of drivers, dressed them up in red uniforms, had them hand deliver the cans door to door and backed it all up with flyers ("The red coats are coming..."). And, it turns out, so worth it.

Our product was no better/different from either Folgers or Maxwell House and we had little to no money for advertising. But, despite all their marketing smarts and all their marketing muscle, neither brand was ever able to make a dent in the market.

Sometimes (and probably especially when a category's products are very similar) one piece of well-timed marketing brilliance can have a dramatic and lasting effect.

1) "Why is Tide so popular?" Marginal Revolution

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