Saturday, 22 October 2016
BACK in early 2000, my company was the official distributor of Lycia personal care products for Artsana Group, Italy. As we were selling cosmetics, Lycia personal care products for ladies was a good fit in our product portfolio. We started off selling feminine hygiene wash which did pretty well in pharmacies and we subsequently launched Lycia hand cream.
After importing the launch quantities into Malaysia, we approached Guardian Pharmacy to register our products and to get shelf space for Lycia Mani hand cream. The buying manager was Mrs Wong Mei Chun who guided me through my early years of selling cosmetics. Sometimes with friendly advice, most of the time admonishing me for my poor marketing skills and lack of promotion budget.
Anyway, Lycia Mani was listed and placed on the shelves in Guardian stores throughout the nation. Sales was poor at launch and when I enquired with my promoter girls, our top selling Malay girl told me that no Malay ladies would buy our Lycia hand cream as the product name was called Mani. “Mani” in Malay means semen/sperm. Imagine my horror when I realised that my biggest market by population thought that I was selling semen in a tube!
In defence, I was schooled in an all boys environment at a time when biology was taught in English. I had never knew the meaning of Mani until the debacle. This is just one of the many branding mistakes I have made which I blame it on carelessness. It was definitely the most embarrassing.
So you can imagine my concern for the Aunty Anne local franchise owner when they were asked to change their product name – Hot Dog Pretzel to Hot Sausage Pretzel. As this is an American franchise, surely the franchise agreement will not allow the change of the product name. Furthermore, hot dog is as American as you can get.
My concern also goes to A&W franchise holder, KUB. I have eaten A&W Coney Dogs and drank Root Beer since my school days. I will feel strange eating a Coney and drinking RB. There is no faster way to lose long standing loyal customers when you change product brand name or description. Remember Coke Classic which was quickly changed back to the original Coca Cola?
Despite my appeal to Artsana boss to print a different name for Lycia hand cream, he refused to entertain my request as 99% of his business was in non-Malay European markets. He made his choice and stood his ground. So I made my choice and stopped importing Lycia Mani hand cream. Easy come, easy go.
In business, every entrepreneur has to decide on many issues all the time. Sometimes you have multiple choice solutions, sometimes you only have one choice. You are in deep trouble if you have no choice.
Aunty Anne’s dilemma is unique in the sense that the halal certification is tied to the condition that they must change the word hotdog. It is not even a brand name. Is Hot Dog Pretzel a product name? Or it merely describes the product like root beer?
Aunty Anne has to make a choice in this case. Assuming the franchise owner allows the change of name to Hot Sausage Pretzel, then the natural choice would be to go for halal certification as this is food business in an Islamic majority country. Assuming the franchise owner says no to the name change as the franchise agreement should be consistent all over the world, then the local franchise operator have to decide. Choose continuity of the franchise without halal certification or close shop and just walk away? Tough choice.
Always remember that consumers do have a choice too. The knowledgeable consumers will not boycott Aunty Anne over a product name if their pretzels taste as good always. In fact this halal certification episode has garnered tremendous amount of goodwill amongst Muslim and non-Muslim consumers. Free publicity is never bad if handled properly.
When we launched Silkygirl, we were up against Hollywood inspired Revlon, Asian megastars Loreal and Maybelline was New York glam with our golden girl, Siti Nurhalizah as its ambassador. The best selling brand at that time was direct selling Avon from US which was dominating the Malay market. Their ambassador then was a sizzling Erra Fazira in leather tights and jacket on a motorbike, a very memorable advertisement still etched in my memory.
Sexy beautiful image was the way to go for cosmetic brands. So what choice did we have?
Knowing that our brand cannot be sexier than all these imported top brands, we decided to take a wholesome branding approach bearing in mind that we operate in a majority Muslim market.
Silkygirl was the brand for the common girl and using our cosmetics will “unleash their confidence.” They will look prettier, never sexy. Our high profile ambassadors were always properly dressed with a beautifully make up face.
To our surprise, not only did the Muslim consumers take to our brand, the non-Muslim mothers found our brand suitable for their daughters. Silkygirl became the top cosmetic brand for first time users which is quite a feat considering young schoolgirls are easily influenced by famous western role models. In this case, their mothers made the choice.
When halal certified mass skin care and personal care grew tremendously some 10 years ago, halal cosmetics was a major topic for discussion.
Due to the tremendous amount of products imported by every player in town, it was an impossible task to go for a full halal certification by Jakim.
Then some six years ago, a local cosmetic brand was launched with full halal certification and heavily advertised. It did get some minority share in our markets but it has since stagnanted and in fact been declining the last two years. That shows that a paper certificate alone is no guarantee for successful brand building.
If your business revolves around Asean market, I would recommend that your products should eventually be halal certified. With half the Asean population being Muslim and growing, it makes commercial sense not to delineate such a big customer base. Just be careful in naming your products and not make the same mistakes like the Americans did since 1870 when the word hot dog was coined.
I might have to rush over to Aunty Anne’s tomorrow to probably grab the last hot dog in Malaysia. Failing which I will have to travel 300 km over the causeway to taste the original named sausage lying dead within a bun. #NoChoice