| January 14, 2013
I first learned about Blue Moon, a Chinese brand of laundry detergent, on a recent trip to China. I had seen the brand name in our BrandZ database but had not really known much about it. Blue Moon turns out to be characteristic of a new crop of Chinese brands, those willing to take on the multinationals and charge a premium price for their product, and they are not averse to adopting aggressive marketing tactics to do so.
Launched in 2008, Blue Moon targeted the segment of consumers who prefer to wash clothes by hand. Multinational brands like Unilever’s Omo, the long-standing detergent category brand leader, focused on laundry powder. In contrast to other Chinese brands’ images, Blue Moon is not thought of as cheap; it is seen as different and desirable. Moreover, Blue Moon is not afraid to invest in marketing. In 2011, Blue Moon doubled its ad spending to more than $500 million, a 30 percent share of voice, far in excess of its overall category market share. As a result, the brand’s market share has grown rapidly over the last five years.
When Blue Moon suddenly stopped spending on above-the-line media early in 2012, marketers responsible for the multinational brands breathed a sigh of relief. They thought, “That’s it, Blue Moon has run out of money, it is on its way out.” In China’s frenetic marketplace, where brands need to ensure they remain salient, the lack of advertising seemed like a death sentence for the brand. However, nine months later, Blue Moon was still going strong with no sign of eroding attitudinal equity or sales.
So what was going on? It turned out that Blue Moon had taken a radical step indeed. The money that had been invested in above-the-line media had been redeployed to in-store activation. But this was not the typical in-store display and price promotion. Instead, Blue Moon was offering consumers a completely different and meaningful brand experience. While other brands were investing in TV advertising and reaching out to consumers online, Blue Moon promotional girls were busy engaging people at the point of purchase and encouraging them to smell the brand as if it were a fine perfume.
What a fantastic way of engaging people with a brand that they might not have paid attention to otherwise. In China, people are eager to learn more about brands and are used to seeing promotional girls in-store, but Blue Moon’s approach sidesteps the usual explanation of functional benefits and price promotion to get people to interact with the brand directly.
The big question, of course, is whether this approach will be effective over the long-term. Competitors are bound to respond in some way. While retailers may baulk at having multiple brands competing for peoples’ attention in-store, competitors will do their best to blunt Blue Moon’s advantage. It seems likely that having created the disruption, Blue Moon may choose to return to above-the-line investment until it can figure out a new way to side step its competition.
So what do you think of Blue Moon’s strategy? What should competitors do? Please share your thoughts.