Manage Your Portfolio through Brand Rationalization (aka. How to Kill a Brand)

This week I want to explore a topic that’s rarely talked about but crucial for the successful management of a business portfolio: killing a dying brand (brand rationalization). In fact, the topic has become somewhat of a white elephant: every good marketer knows it’s an option at their disposal but very rarely do any marketers go so far as to enact this strategy. Why?

Businesses typically reward marketing managers for growth and identifying new opportunities for growth. This is why we see a proliferation of new brands and businesses appearing every few years in our markets, as it’s much more exciting for a company to sponsor the introduction of a new product or brand than to sponsor the execution of an old one. The numbers speak for themselves: Roughly three-quarters of the Fortune 1000 consumer goods companies manage more than 100 brands each. From 1997 to 2001, the number of brands increased by 79 percent in the pharmaceutical industry, by 60 percent in white goods and travel and leisure, by 46 percent in the automotive industry, and by at least 15 percent in food, household goods, and beverages[1]. So what’s wrong with this proliferation of brands and growth? Doesn’t this simply translate to more money for the parent companies and targeting consumers more effectively?

Nope. Nirmalya Kumar, professor of Marketing at the London Business School, asked this exact question and published her findings in the Harvard Business Review, showing that “many corporations generate 80% to 90% of their profits from fewer than 20% of the brands they sell, while they lose money or barely break even on many of the other brands in their portfolios.” To support this she highlighted four major corporations falling prey to this extreme 80/20 rule:

Diageo, the world’s largest spirits company, sold 35 brands of liquor in some 170 countries in 1999. Just eight of those brands—Baileys liqueur, Captain Morgan rum, Cuervo tequila, Smirnoff vodka, Tanqueray gin, Guinness stout, and J&B and Johnnie Walker whiskeys—provided the company with more than 50% of its sales and 70% of its profits.

Nestlé marketed more than 8,000 brands in 190 countries in 1996. Around 55 of them were global brands, 140-odd were regional brands, and the remaining 7,800 or so were local brands. The bulk of the company’s profits came from around 200 brands, or 2.5% of the portfolio.

Procter & Gamble had a portfolio of over 250 brands that it sold in more than 160 countries. Yet the company’s ten biggest brands—which include Pampers diapers, Tide detergent, and Bounty paper products—accounted for 50% of the company’s sales, more than 50% of its profits, and 66% of its sales growth between 1992 and 2002.

Unilever had 1,600 brands in its portfolio in 1999, when it did business in some 150 countries. More than 90% of its profits came from 400 brands. Most of the other 1,200 brands made losses or, at best, marginal profits.

The findings speak for themselves – it makes no sense to maintain some of these brands and, if you are a marketing manager running a brand portfolio, it should be considered irresponsible to continue carrying the brands that are pulling down your portfolio. And the biggest and best companies have done just that: Colgate-Palmolive dropped 25% of its product offerings in the early 1990s, saving around $20 million on operating expenses; Procter & Gamble (the world’s biggest brand) eliminated about 25% of its brand offerings around the same time, simultaneously growing market share; and Unilever, in their famous Path to Growth consolidated (after their merger with BestFoods) 1,600 brands to about 400 brands in under five years, finding savings while maintaining rough market share.

But then why do managers fail to actively eliminate brands from their portfolio? As mentioned before, they are not incentivized to do so. In fact, historically speaking, brand deletion is incredibly hard, as Kumar points out:

several studies show that after companies clubbed together several brands or switched from selling local brands to global or regional brands, they were able to maintain market share less than 50% of the time. Similarly, when firms merged two brands, the market share of the new brand stayed below the combined market share of the deleted brands in seven out of eight cases (Kumar, 2003).

Irrespective of the challenges you will confront when trying to eliminate a brand (maintaining market share, keeping brand managers happy and gainfully employed, etc.) you will more likely than not reduce costs and improve profitability. So the question is whether to kill or not to kill and you need to follow the below steps before you can answer that question:

Step 1: Review the Portfolio

First, your organization needs to determine whether you have too many brands or not. This is a delicate process, ever since the advent of brand managers at P+G back in the 1930’s, when brand managers were spearheading the innovation and growth within their respective strategic business units as part of the overall portfolio. In short, brand managers have love for their brands and are not quick to relinquish the reins.

An in depth portfolio analysis should be conducted to really get a comprehensive understanding of what makes up and drives the performance of the entire portfolio. You should look at all the marketing components of each brand (the 5-P’s), the sales and distribution strategy, the local and regional (if applicable) context within which your brands operate, the competitive landscape, etc. Doing this in detail will provide you with a solid understanding of what you need to do next.

Once you have completed this review, you can do a quick gut test to see if brand rationalization (brand consolidation or simplification) is something you should consider. One that is fun and gives you a quick read on your portfolio is the “Do You Have Too Many Brands?” Test:

too many brands test

If you discover that your portfolio is in need of some brand rationalization, then you need to keep going down the path of brand rationalization to ensure your portfolio is brought back to health.

Step 2: Map Need States against Product Offerings

While many brands have gotten stuck thinking about their brands from a top down approach (our brand is a value brand) and where it sits on price, or based on basic market segmentation (our brand targets the youth), the real potential in effective brand positioning is to match up with what consumers want and how they want it (aka need states). Instead of saying, our brand is the value brand for the youth, we need to start saying “our brand is the brand of choice when our target wants something affordable, doesn’t care much about x, and can’t be bothered to think about or do y.”

Brand Needs State 1

Above: First, each portfolio manager needs to map out consumers needs in a need state assessment.

Below: Once you identify the need states, determine which ones have the most potential.

Brand Needs State 2Once you have identified the need states that make up the market, or the minds, of your target audience, then you can start to identify which ones you should target. Since needs states are in constant flux, it’s a balancing act amongst many trends (category, consumer, product, packaging, etc.) to determine which need states have the most potential. Then, once you have identified these strong potential need states, each portfolio manager needs to ask: where does my brand fit into this need state, or does it not address it at all?   This is what Toyota did back in the day when they launched Lexus – there was a need state that the Toyota brand couldn’t address and it didn’t make sense to try to transition Toyota into a luxury brand to reach that need state.

Brand Needs State 3

Above: Finally, identify where your brands fit into the mix – or if they don’t, where you need to introduce new brands and potentially get rid of old redundant brands that might be cannibalizing your bread winning brands.

Step 3: Prune the Portfolio

There are a variety of ways portfolio managers can then prune their portfolio. The Boston Consulting Group developed a matrix years ago, updated by McKinsey’s 9-Box matrix (see below), that essentially guides portfolio managers through the process of what to do: merge, sell, milk, or kill.

McKinsey 9 Box MatrixAbove: the McKinsey 9 Box Matrix

Let’s look a bit closer at your four basic options (the 9 box matrix explores a bit more complexity than necessary to review at the moment):


Merging brands together is a delicate process and involves trying to retain the consumer set from both original brands and bring them together to enjoy one product instead of two. This involves identifying the winning attributes from each brand (functional benefits, RTBs, value proposition, etc.) and trying to combine them in a coherent way. Unilever’s merging of Surf and Radion highlights this example well:

In 1999, for example, Unilever sold both Surf, which boasted a 6% share of the laundry detergent market in Britain, and Radion, which had but 2%. Market research indicated that consumers liked Radion’s strong sun fresh scent and that Surf might benefit from the attribute. That prompted Unilever to delete Radion and, simultaneously, to shift Radion’s perfume to Surf, launching “SunFresh” Surf. In six months’ time, the new Surf had a market share of 8%—the combined market share of the old Surf and Radion. However, merging brands is tricky because, as Unilever cochairman Antony Burgmans warned his marketers, “You are not migrating brands but migrating consumers.” In addition, migration is expensive, and smart companies deploy it sparingly (Kumar, 2003)

The stronger the two brands you are merging, the slower you should enact a migration like this to avoid frustrating your consumer base. Take the example of Vodocom’s expansion and its consolidation of more than 16 different brands throughout the world (each with a strong following and equity in their respective markets):

For instance, in 2000, the British mobile telecom service provider Vodafone wanted its joint ventures in 16 countries to switch to the eponymous brand to generate marketing synergies and encourage customers to use the ventures’ cellular services when they were on the road. The partner companies did so in two stages over two years. At first, all the country brands converted to dual brands such as D2 Vodafone in Germany, Vodafone Omnitel in Italy, Europolitan Vodafone in Sweden, Click Vodafone in Egypt, and so on. That allowed the joint ventures to take advantage of the strength of their brands to increase recognition of the mother brand. Vodafone tracked the brands to determine when recognition of the Vodafone brand was high enough that its partners could drop the double names. Over the two years, all 16 companies became Vodafone, the largest global brand in the mobile telecom service business (Kumar, 2003)


One solution that companies can consider is to sell off the brands that either 1) are no longer profitable for the company or 2) do not fit into their business objectives. For instance, my former client Procter & Gamble sold off their North American Coffee Business (Folgers and Millstone) to Smuckers right after I transitioned into the global baby care business. The sale was seen as a boon for Smuckers, and they immediately made the brand more profitable and increased the value to well over a $1 billion dollar brand. But P&G was happy to not have to be in the coffee business any longer.


Many companies opt to simply milk a brand to death – raise prices, cut costs, stop A+P support, etc. – until the brand is barely trucking along and the trade stops stocking it. It is a strange but common strategy amongst companies, and ensures you do not sell a brand to a competitor that can come back to win your market share – as happened with Wal Mart and their White Cloud brand.


This is pretty straightforward and should happen immediately, if it’s going to happen at all. In the absence of the trusted brand of choice, consumers will be left clueless where to turn next, so it’s up to companies to instantly fill the gap and help guide the consumers to the logical (or intended) alternative.

Step 4: Manage and Grow the Updated Portfolio

Now that you have a trimmed portfolio, you can’t sit back and relax. Whether you merged two brands into one, sold a brand, left one out to pasture, or killed one rather abruptly – you need to manage those brands left in your portfolio.

First and foremost, identify the savings you have now and reallocate back into the remaining brands. Unilever did this well with their Path to Growth strategy in the early 2000’s, although their growth projections fell short of expectations because they didn’t invest enough back into their marketing and promotion efforts (almost all critics agree this was a critical mistake):

First, Unilever reallocated the budgets from the 1,200 noncore brands to the 400 core brands. The company saved €500 million a year by stopping advertising and promotions for all the brands it planned to delete. Second, the brand rationalization program became the basis for a restructuring. Unilever decided to close 130 factories, of which 113 had been shut down by January 2003. The company also consolidated purchasing, developed shared services, and restructured supply chains for the 400 core brands.

Unilever has used part of the money to bolster the bottom line every year. However, the company has also increased marketing and promotion expenses from 13% to 15% of sales, which means an additional €1 billion a year of marketing support. Along with the €500 million advertising saving from the noncore brands, the company has spent another €1.5 billion a year on its core brands…By 2002, the company’s portfolio had shrunk to 750 brands. The top 400 brands, which brought in 75% of the firm’s sales in 1999, accounted for 90% in 2002. (Kumar, 2003)

Most importantly, the new management structure must be enforced from the top to the bottom, as the most resistance to any brand rationalization will occur at brand manager level and country level – so its crucial to get total support and buy in across the organization.

And that is how large multinational corporations can bring about a brand rationalization program to ensure that their portfolio performs to the best of its ability.

Next week, I will continue this conversation and explore whether it makes sense to revive a dying brand and if so, how to do it successfully.

[1] Making brand portfolios work: Brands are proliferating rapidly. Companies must now bring them under control. McKinsey Quarterly, November 2004, Stephen J. Carlotti Jr., Mary Ellen Coe, and Jesko Perrey

South African Government Steps Up with a Real Choice

Due to declining rates of condom use in South Africa, the Government has decided to make some fundamental changes to their public-sector brand “Choice” to encourage uptake.  Coming out of recent research, they have decided to launch a grape-flavored variant targeting students at tertiary educational institutions around the country this year.  The hope is that with an actual choice, between Grape-flavored and smelly latex flavor, students will be encouraged to try and adopt them into their sex life.

Read the recent article announcing the launch from the Times Live website below:

Grab a bunch of condoms

Katharine Child | 13 March, 2015 00:36

What is purple, grape-flavoured and soon to be found at South Africa’s universities and colleges?

The new government “Choice” condom, which finally offer users a choice.

About 2million of the new condoms will be distributed to students at tertiary institutions in the coming months.

The Department of Health launched the flavoured condoms yesterday.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said if uptake was high, yellow banana-flavoured and red strawberry-flavoured condoms would be distributed next.

He said the department wanted to monitor the youth’s interest in the grape condom before spending money on new flavours or textured condoms.

Focus groups conducted by the government revealed that young people were not using the ordinary, free Choice condom, reporting that it was “not cool”.

Doctor Kevin Rebe of Anova, an NGO that runs clinics for gay men, has long criticised the Choice condom, calling it the “no-choice” condom.

He welcomed the “exciting” move yesterday. Anova clinics offer people condoms in different sizes and flavours, including black condoms.

“I believe condoms are more than just a prevention tool. They have the ability to be fun and pleasurable and enhance responsible sex,” Rebe said.

South West Gauteng College student Desmond Mudau said he was excited to “try the purple condom and see if it was better than the ordinary one”.

His friend, who asked to be anonymous, said he would prefer condoms of different sizes.

Motsoaledi said teens still in school were also having sex and risked pregnancy, abortion and death. “Parents do nothing and that is not an option,” he said.

Do Brands Matter in Africa?

Many people argue that brand awareness, and more importantly brand loyalty, is low in much of the African continent. Given the per capita GDP in particular of many African nations, academics and bureaucrats often argue that basic commodities, such as rice, oil, sugar, soap, clothing, etc. are all interchangeable and that those with the least means will inevitably purchase those products with the most affordable price. And this is often the case when it comes to certain products – evidence would suggest that many African consumers are still “switchers” for given basic commodity categories, and do not display what the West would categorize as classic brand loyalty.


Above: FanMilk is one of the fastest growing ice cream brands in West Africa, offering affordable cool treats in hard to reach places.

But this is not the whole story. In the past several decades, brand awareness and brand loyalty have become increasingly common, as per capita GDP creeps up across the continent and the proliferation of options intensifies. No more are the days where you can only find local soaps for sale in a rural village market – now we see soap brands from Turkey, China, Lebanon, USA, and the UK being sold in wheelbarrows in towns where there might be only two or three generators. And with this proliferation of new brands entering the market, they are finding the need to distinguish themselves more and more to capture the attention of the increasingly brand aware target audience.

1000x393_primus_africaAbove: Primus beer is a semi-regional African brand, with operations in both Burundi and Rwanda, achieving great success as part of the Heineken brand family and enjoying their distribution systems and immense marketing budget.

While before quality was denoted by the local source of a product, African consumers are now assessing the quality of their products based on their foreign place of origin (for instance, “Made in China” is always seen as inferior to “Made in the USA” or “Made In Europe.”) The story is not new, but our acceptance of the speed at which things are changing is often behind the times, and I want to explore how the dialogue is now being held locally instead of just amongst the ivory towers of the West.

A recent pan-African assembly of both public and private sector individuals, called the Brand Africa Initiative, is increasingly interested in understanding these trends throughout Africa. The group, founded in 2010, aims to achieve an “insightful, brand-driven approach [for] sustainable socio-economic growth,” with a chief objective being the “championship and recognition of global African brands and global brands in Africa.” Every year since 2010, they have published their independent ranking of the best brands throughout Africa, ranking them based on value and admiration.


Interestingly, only one brand in the top 50 was from Africa (#36, MTN, from South Africa), while the rest of the leaders in Africa are from the US (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Coca Cola, McDonalds, Nike, Cadbury, P&G, Levis, etc.), France (Orange, Gucci, Alcatel), South Korea (Samsung, LG), Japan (Toyota, Mitsubishi, Sony, Panasonic, etc.) Germany (BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Nivea, Adidas, etc.), Switzerland (Nestle), UK (Smirnoff, BBC, Dove), and China (Toshiba, Lenovo). What does this tell us?

For one, it tells us that brands matter to Africa. No matter what the indicators tell us – the per capita GDP is too low, awareness of key health and societal issues are frighteningly low amongst our target audience, behavior change is a slow and arduous journey to overcome ancient historical dogma, etc. – brands have broken through and captured the attention of one of the world’s most diverse and disparate continents. All in a matter of a few years for some. In my own research, I have asked about brands amongst even the lowest SES quintile and, despite not having the purchasing power to buy many of these popular brands, they are still ever present in their minds and aspirations.


Above: Huggies has taken the developing world by storm, successfully converting users from cloth to disposable.  While their prices are high, African consumers have adjusted their patterns to make the investment worth it: many lower SES users will buy one diaper at a time, and focus only on the sleeping hours, to ensure a good night, and refrain from using multiple diapers throughout the day to save money.

To support this thinking is a recent study conducted by Deloitte in 2013 entitled “Africa: A 21st Century View.” The statistics in this report often contrast what we see in public health reports and are informative for how anyone trying to conduct business in Africa: the economy is growing twice as fast as more developed countries; by 2017, Africa will be the 2nd largest market for investment among European companies; the rise of the middle class is growing at a shocking rate, with expectations that by 2060 half of the population will be considered middle class; and the list goes on.

Of the four countries focused on in the study, Kenya has the lowest per capita income at the moment by purchasing power parity at $2,180, Nigeria is second at $5,120, Egypt is at $10,600, and South Africa is the richest, at $11,970. But Kenyan youth, it seems, are the most image-conscious and consumerist of the four countries, who even run the risk of falling into debt just to keep up with the latest trends. In fact, one in three said that “buying well-known brands makes me feel good” – at 32%, the highest of the four countries surveyed. They also report the highest percentage agreeing with the statement “I would spend a bit extra to keep up with the latest fashion”, at 25%. This doesn’t automatically suggest that brands should, en masse, raise all of their prices; however, it does suggest that brands are increasingly having a strong impact on the purchasing patterns of youth in the continent and that (as we see often in more developed nations) the less your purchasing power, the more you need a brand to self-identify with a more aspirational quintile.

UnileverAbove: Unilever has introduced many of their global brands, and acquired several local brands as well, to develop a portfolio of over 400 brands sold throughout 190 countries.  Africa is a key growth market for them and they have found the formula (pricing, packaging, distribution, etc.) that works for them to ensure profitability.

But what I find most interesting in the Brand Africa 100 2014 findings is that there is actually an African brand on the list that has secured a spot in the top 50, showing that there is a lot of space for local and regional brands to win back consumer loyalty. MTN has done a wonderful job of this, pairing first class marketing efforts with emotionally-driven local insights, delivering work that helps their brands stand out not as another provider but a trusted ally on the path to economic and personal growth.

A new spot by MTN under their “Welcome to the New World” campaign has launched this past month throughout South and East Africa, called “Moon Campaign.” The commercial is simply wonderful and is a continuation of the work they did last year in Rwanda. Most importantly, this campaign has been aired regionally, contributing to their status as Africa’s most beloved local brand.

Above: MTN’s Recent “Moon” Spot

Above: MTN’s 2013 “Oh The Things You’ll Learn” Spot

What else can we glean from MTN’s “Welcome to the New World” campaign that other African regional brands can learn? First of all, they didn’t get mired in their eternal quest for localization – they found regionally-relevant insights and linked them to their product benefits. In a continent where education is widely praised as a path to self-fulfillment, but often expensive (at least for a quality one), MTN sets itself up perfectly as the answer to every proud parents worries in a developing context: they offer affordable access to a world of knowledge and expertise, from the convenience of a phone. This might not work so well in more developed western societies, where children can easily access this world of information from their local school’s library.

They also used English as the common denominator language, suggesting that you don’t have to localize to the point of making your brand a local name or using the local language for your promo or packaging – you can still have something uniquely “African” that people feel connected to while embracing a more global approach. This is true for all of the competitive set in condoms, such as Durex, Lifestyles, Moods, Ichi-Ban, Contempo, etc. not to mention most global brands being sold throughout the continent.

I will be sharing more African brand campaigns as I discover them and, if I think they can teach us something about how we market condoms to our end users, I will share them.

The New Trend in Condoms: Feel Good Condoms

When I say ‘feel good’ condoms, I am not talking about the sensation down in the nether regions.  No, I am talking about a trend that is more focused on the hearts and minds of end users and less on their genitalia.  I am talking about the emerging companies that are trying to introduce eco-friendly, fair trade, globally conscious condoms.

Obviously targeting only the most affluent segment of earth, these condoms are high priced and high minded.  But they seek to fit a niche of the overall category and the way they do business will likely have implications for the global condom business.  If nothing else, its interesting to see how they are approaching their business and take a few lessons from what they are doing.  So in a brief snapshot, let me give you the trends that are happening out there in the world of ‘feel good’ condoms:

I Buy, Therefore I Am:

Thorstein Veblen would be proud of all the conspicuous consumption happening these days, particularly if he were an environmentalist!  So who is buying these fancy condoms and championing their cause? The rise of the “socially conscious consumer” segment, often referred to as the LOHAS (Lifestyles Of Health And Sustainability) segment, in developed nations is staggering.


The LOHAS segment now represents 23% of the population (about 50 million adults) in the United States, and 29% of the population in Japan (about 37 million). What is astounding is the speed with which the group appeared, moving from less than 4 percent of the U.S. population in the 1960s to more than 23% percent in the 1990s, a new record for such a population trend.  And what many new companies understand is that this group has different drivers in their path to purchase, namely that if a product is either environmentally or socially friendly in its production, they will more than likely try it and, if they love it, wear it on their shirt sleeves.

If You Build It, They Will Come (and Probably Invest):

Instead of simply launching a new product in the conventional sense, many LOHAS-focused brands recognize the passion with which their target consumers purchase and have leveraged crowd-sourcing/crowd funding to drive their businesses forward, ensuring true consumer engagement and brand loyalty (there is no better way to ensure loyalty amongst your target audience than getting them to invest in your brand financially!).


Why is crowd-sourcing so popular?  Jeff Howe, the person who first brought it to common knowledge in Wired Magazine around 10 years ago, cites four main reasons for the rise of crowd-sourcing that can influence how we all think about our brands:

  • First, the renaissance of amateurs as a counterweight to the increasingly global division of labor and the decoupling of production with the established individual hobby movements and a high desire for creativity and participation.
  • Second, the Open Source Revolution: The Wikipedia example shows that the ability to participate in some aspect of something big can be enough motivation.
  • Third, the democratization of the means of production. Those who used AutoCad 3D Labs for technical drawings, which cost $200,000, can now make almost the same thing for free using Google SketchUp.
  • Fourth, the rise of communities: in the past, people were physically clustered into neighborhoods while today you are able to group interests digitally.

Every recent LOHAS-targeted condom launched in the past has leveraged crowd funding (and it’s not only happening in condoms, its happening with millions of small start ups).  From Einhorn Condoms (sustainable, fair trade, open source, and delivery service) to L Condoms (socially friendly – Tom’s Shoes/Warby Parker model – one hour delivery service, when the need arises), Sustain Condoms (fair trade, sustainable, and empowering to women), and Love Letter Condoms (EU certified fair trade or “fair play” and sustainable).  Not to mention the countless complimentary brands marketing eco-friendly sexual enhancers, lingerie, toys, etc.

I am Woman, Hear Me Roar!:

Many of the LOHAS-targeted condom brands are placing women front and center in their business plan.  Whether they are targeting women specifically (Sustain and French Letter Condoms) or targeting men who are concerned about satisfying their female partners (L Condoms), condom brands are wising up to something the cosmetics brands discovered a while ago: LOHAS-female consumers are cognizant of what they put on, or inside, their body and want to know that its 1) safe and 2) not coming at the cost of someone else’s well being.

The co-founders of Sustain (a daughter and father team, he was the founder of Seventh Generation) aim to appeal to sophisticated young women to help change attitudes about women proactively carrying condoms and feeling empowered to behave intelligently when it comes to protection.  They have found that a rather high figure of condom purchasers in the United States are women (around 40%), despite the predominance of male-targeted campaigns from the likes of Trojan and Durex, and that only 19% of sexually active single women aged 22-44 use condoms regularly.

Front_Product_Hero_R3Above: Sustain Condoms is paving the way for female empowerment amongst the LOHAS-female segment, offering attractive packaging and products at PoS and for delivery.

Their website (check it out here) is very clean, modern, and tailored nicely for their target audience.  The packaging is heavily focused on sustainability, with everything from the gift bags to the condoms themselves being made from fair-trade and renewable resources.  And the products will also be available at some more fashion-centric retail outlets like American Apparel (although not the brand I would call the epitome of female empowerment!) and Urban Outfitters.

Check out a recent video interview here they conducted with Business Insider for a brief snapshot of the condom development process, some interesting statistics about condoms worldwide, and a brief intro into how they see their contribution in the fight for a world of safe sex.

l-condomsAbove: L Condoms are fair-trade, sustainable, offer a free condom to someone in need for every one you purchase, and last but not least – they deliver to your door when you need one in a hurry.

And while L Condoms seems to be targeting men directly, it recognizes the driver behind a lot of LOHAS-male consumers purchasing patterns: an earnest female partner who has certain expectations of him.  Check out their hilarious and provocative commercial (very reminiscent of Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign):

So the take aways here are as follows: conspicuous consumption is not going anywhere and more and more people are identifying with brands that champion their beliefs (the list is endless, think about beers and football clubs if you are struggling to connect this logic to a developing context); true consumer engagement is a key driver of success (and something we can all apply to our business models, irrespective of who our audience is); remember the driving influence behind your target audience’s behavior (behind every man is a powerful woman, no matter what country we are talking about).

Some Thoughts on Nudge Theory

PSI has been in the business of behavioral change ever since its inception, leveraging identified determinants of behavior to influence behavioral outcomes in our target audience. Hence why we entered the field of social marketing, because it taps into behavioral change theory. And it works.

More recently, there has been a dialogue in academia around “nudge theory” and behavioral economics, which is basically a new label for what PSI realized over 40 years ago. But since we rarely engage on these topics of “heuristics” or “nudge marketing,” likely because we feel we understand them completely already, I wanted to share a few notable observations on the discussions being had around nudge marketing, since I think the discussion has evolved to a point where we can start applying some of the lessons learned – particularly when it comes to influencing shoppers behavior.

615 lottery decision hands money exchange

Origins of Nudge Theory:

So everyone is on the same page, nudge theory is all about encouraging individuals to make better choices (as understood in the context of public health, economic well being, etc.). The craze started around 2008, when former Obama administration regulatory affairs administrator Cass R. Sunstein and the University of Chicago professor Richard H. Thaler published their book “Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness,” which was a popularization of the work done by Nobel Prize-winning psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky back in the 1970s (around the same time PSI adopted this thinking).

Thaler-Sunstein think of nudge theory as follows:

“…A nudge, as we will use the term, is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates. Putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not…”

So you can see that nudge theory is not about enforcement but about persuasion. It’s about creating an environment, or offering subtle queues, that encourages individuals to make better decisions.

And if you think about it, that’s what social marketing is – the science of persuasion. For a fun video on the science of persuasion, check out the below from Dr. Robert Cialdini, Professor of Marketing and Psychology at Arizona State University:

In the video, you will see that the author writes about 6 key universal shortcuts that guide people’s behavior and that can be leveraged to influence the behavior of others:

  • Reciprocity – social obligation to give when you receive
  • Scarcity – people want more of what they can have less of
  • Authority – people follow advice of experts
  • Consistency – people usually stick to things after a small commitment has been made
  • Liking – people prefer to say yes to those people they like.
  • Consensus – people look to the action and behavior of others to determine their own.

Now these fundamental channels for persuasion can easily be used by marketers to influence people’s decisions, and they have been for years. And the video does a good job of highlighting some of these campaigns, such as the one done for the British Airways Concord Flight and how waiters can increase their tips.


Nudge Theory and Behavioral Economics

You may ask why the need for nudging at all. That is, couldn’t we simply tell people what they need to know and hope that they make a rational decision with the information at hand? This is something that governments, donors, and even a few of our own PSI staff often suggest. But the problem is that behavioral economics shows that people are not rational when it comes to choices. If they were, we could simply state the facts and expect people to make better decisions.

The problem is that making decisions sucks. It’s frustrating for people and actually causes physical discomfort. So when it comes down to making decisions, they need to rely on shortcuts or quick tricks to help them make decisions quickly. This also applies to shopping, where we have to engage in an economic trade and could potentially lose out. Daniel McFadden, a Professor of Economics at Berkeley who recently published “The New Science of Pleasure,” (view it here) puts it this way:

“Trade is a contest, with a chance of coming out on the short end. Animals in “fight or flee” situations often find it safer to flee. Similarly, people in situations where trade is possible, or even promising, may find it safer to turn away. It takes trust to trade. McDonald’s is successful because it has created a brand people trust – they know what to expect. A “30-day free trial” or “satisfaction or your money back” or “bring us a better price and we will refund the difference” are offers by merchants intended to promote the idea that they can be trusted, and that the risk of an unsatisfactory trade is low.

Real estate agents take advantage of people’s discomfort with decision-making. Since buying a house is highly consequential and difficult to reverse, rational people should look at a great many options and think them through very carefully. A good agent will show you a few houses that are expensive and not very nice, and then one at almost the same price and far nicer. Many buyers will respond by stopping their search and jumping on this bargain. Our susceptibility to “bargains” is one of the cognitive devices we use to simplify choice situations, and one that companies are conscious of when they position their products.”


Lessons from Nudge Theory

So you might be asking yourself, what does all of this have to do with selling condoms? Well, a lot actually. Because people rely on cognitive devices or shortcuts to simplify their decision making and behavioral choices, it’s important for social marketers to understand how to leverage these devices and shortcuts to improve our impact.

A few key takeaways from recent applications of, and discussions about, nudge theory:

Nudge marketing calls for applying just the right amount of pressure to persuade: not too little, not too much.

In one early test at a store in Virginia, grocery carts carried a strip of yellow duct tape that divided the baskets neatly in half; a flier instructed shoppers to put their fruits and vegetables in the front half of the cart. Average produce sales per customer jumped to $8.85 from $3.99.

Here in El Paso a few months ago, the researchers focused on the floor, laying down large plastic mats bearing huge green arrows that pointed shoppers to the produce aisle. The outcome surprised no one more than the grocer.

“In retail, the customer tends to go to the right,” said Tim Taylor, the produce director for Lowe’s, Pay and Save, a regional grocery chain that let the scientists in to experiment with their arrows and mirrors. “But I watched when the arrows were down, pointing left, and that’s where people went: left, 9 out of 10.”

With those same guinea-pig customers, the scientists tinkered again with the cart, creating a glossy placard that hung inside the baskets like the mirrors. In English and Spanish, the signs told shoppers how much produce the average customer was buying (five items a visit), and which fruits and vegetables were the biggest sellers (bananas, limes and avocados) — information that, in scientific parlance, conveys social norms, or acceptable behavior.

By the second week, produce sales had jumped 10 percent, with a whopping 91 percent rise for those participating in the government nutrition program called Women, Infants and Children. Lowe’s was so excited that it now plans to put the placards in every cart at its 22 stores in El Paso and nearby Las Cruces, N.M., and perhaps later at all 146 of its stores.

Nudge marketing calls for applying just the right amount of pressure to persuade: not too little, not too much. In the El Paso grocery trials, using both the green arrows on the floor with the green placards in the carts caused produce sales to fall.

“It nudged too hard,” Mr. Payne said.

(Excerpts from NYTimes, “Nudged to the Produce Aisle by a Look in the Mirror,” 8/27/13)

Social Networks Matter:

Economic demographer Hans Peter Kohler (2001) has investigated the effect of word-of-mouth communication from friends on choice of contraceptive. He studies Korean peasant women, who have access to relatively little public information on efficacy, costs, and side effects of new contraceptives. Choices within villages show little diversity, but there is substantial, persistent diversity across villages.

This pattern not explained by income, education, or price differences. Word of mouth communication from friends was found to be the important explanation of most women’s choices. Lack of inter-village mobility explained multiple equilibria, with persistent inter-village differences. Thus, some apparent taste heterogeneity is due to the boundedly rational practice of imitation in balkanized social networks.

The moral is that any complete measurement system for consumer behavior must account for social network effects. Suggestions for measurement are that stated perceptions and preferences should be conditioned on the behavior of members in an individual’s social network, and the distribution of consumption in social equilibrium should be modeled as the (often non-unique) solution to a game in which choices of peers matter.

(Excerpts from “The New Science of Pleasure,” by Daniel L. McFadden, January, 2013)

Grocers are Already Applying Nudge Theory to The Shopping Experience

THE SWEETEST ITEMS are sold at eye level, midway along aisles, where shoppers’ attention lingers longest.

THE ENDS OF AISLES are huge revenue generators, especially for soda, which makes 45 percent of its sales through racks there, according to the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council.

IMPULSE PURCHASES (60 percent of purchases are unplanned) can be encouraged by placing items next to checkouts.

FREE-STANDING DISPLAYS are also effective toward the rear of the supermarket and on the left side of aisles. Research cited by the Coca-Cola council shows that shoppers move through the store counterclockwise, from the back to the front; in the aisles, they buy items mostly from shelves to their left.

SPRINKLING THE SAME PRODUCT throughout the store, rather than grouping it in one spot, will boost sales through repetitive exposure.

GROUPING THE INGREDIENTS for a meal in one spot can attract home cooks pressed for time.

POSTING HEALTH-RELATED INFORMATION — online, and on kiosks and shelf tags — can link groceries to good health in shoppers’ minds, even though only 23 percent of them say they always look for nutritional information on labels.

(Excerpts from NYTimes, “Nudged to the Produce Aisle by a Look in the Mirror,” 8/27/13)

Social marketers should leverage the identified cognitive devices (in addition to our internal behavioral determinants terminology) when thinking about new social marketing efforts and trade marketing efforts

(Excerpt from “Nudge Theory,” on, 2013-2014)

Happy Valentine’s Day – The World Cup of Sex

From what seems the dawn of time (really the Middle Ages), lovers have been celebrating the day of St. Valentine or Valentine’s Day. And why stop such a rosy tradition? Affection shown in the form of symbolic confection (chocolate is the golden ticket), roses expressing the purity and rarity of the love shared, handwritten notes pouring one’s heart out for their significant other – it’s an alluring and deeply human holiday, where two people can let it all out with the hopes of affirming their eternal bond.

Of course, some see the holiday as just a way of getting lucky. It’s akin to New Year’s Eve, where even if you are single, you probably are going to get some sugar when the clock strikes midnight. Even single people live it up on Valentine’s Day, as evidenced by the special bar events and wild parties thrown around the world to help single people light a spark.

But whether you are single or not, you probably are in the business of man and woman business on Valentine’s Day. And if that’s the case, you better use a condom (unless you are planning on having a baby). But it’s easy to see why we should all consider today to be the Super Bowl, nay the World Cup, of condoms.

Sitting here on the shores of lovely Lake Malawi, amidst couples spooning and strolling the beach hand in hand, I realize that condom brands probably don’t take full advantage of this holiday. And why not?


For the past week, I have been listening to either Ugandan or Malawian radio, both heavily promoting the holiday almost on a full time basis. In Uganda, radio talk show hosts were gabbing about everything sex related – Kim Kardashian’s new full frontal nude shots in some lusty magazine in the states, which devolved into a comparison of Ugandan super models fashion sense and sex tapes versus the sex tapes and low cut brassieres we see donned by the Kardashian clan (somehow these were seen as “classy”), which turned into a heated dialogue about how Ugandan women should prepare for the holiday, which translated into a discussion on what kinds of expectations there were for men in the form of gifts, etc.

In Malawi, the radio hosts were joking all day today about what color the man needs to wear for the evening, recommendations about good gift ideas (pizza made the list, not sure why), and they even shared their number for callers to dial in and send voice greetings to their significant others.

So where are all the condom brands for this holiday? I noticed at least 3-4 massive night club parties being promoted by the countries’ respective beer brands and cellular networks, each with a love-related theme, special guest artists, and ways of engaging (in Uganda, Uganda Waragi was holding a singles party where each woman received a lock and each man received a key, and at the end of the night, the men would go around and “unlock” their new sweetheart – imagine the condom promotion that could have been done!).

thai condomsAbove: Thai Teenagers think of Valentine’s Day as the perfect day to lose their v-card, adding to the countries out of control teenage pregnancy rate.

Instead, we see governments and religious leaders leveraging the special day to promote abstinence – a failed and unrealistic approach that never works in cutting down unplanned pregnancies or preventing the transmission of HIV. In Thailand, due to the escalating rate of teenage pregnancies, the government has urged teenagers to go to dinner tonight instead of losing their virginity (Media surveys indicate that Valentine’s Day is the most popular day for Thai teenagers to lose their virginity). And in nearby Indonesia, a few angry Muslim clerics are about to issue a fatwa against the sale of condoms because of recent cross promotions of condoms sold with chocolate.

A few condoms companies do see the potential and are cashing in (and yes, saving lives in the process). In India,, an online retailer of condoms, reported that condom sales rise about 10-20% each year around this time.   And they support it by doing special value-added promotions, like free lubricant. Durex reports their global sales rise about 25% around Valentine’s Day. And in New York City, NYC Condoms (the world’s first municipal brand) has launched a Condom Finder App (download it here) to help you find condoms on your way to tonight’s festivities (or if you don’t live in NYC, you can use the website for anywhere in the US).

condom finderAbove: The NYC Condom Finder can help you locate the free NYC Condom on your way out tonight.

Condom brands in Africa, as far as I can tell, are not tapping into this holiday. And this feels like a huge missed opportunity. The biggest condom brands in East Africa are in the business of public health, but ignoring something so obvious seems absurd, since today is – as I mentioned – the World Cup of sex. Can you imagine Nike or Adidas not advertising at major sporting events? What if Red Bull didn’t sponsor sky diving events? Or if Coca Cola didn’t promote itself at major summer events to remind people to cool themselves down with a drink? Those companies would be called insane – and probably would see a huge loss in sales.

I invite anyone who is reading this blog to share stories in the comments about brands that have tapped into this Valentine’s Day holiday anywhere in the world, let’s learn from each other how we can leverage this holiday to improve our impact in the prevention of HIV and unplanned pregnancies.

And also, I hope everyone gets lucky tonight…so here is some Lucky Dube.

Introducing the World’s First “Fairstainable” Condom!

While the condom category is dominated by a few large players, really just about a handful if you count, a German start up is trying to squeeze into the mix. They go by the name of “Einhorn,” which translates to “One Horn,” or in their case a Unicorn – the brand identity (probably based on the internet meme Charlie the Unicorn). But why a Unicorn?

I suspect the Unicorn-based brand is done tongue-in-cheek, in that they hope to bring about a never before seen way of doing business. Their business model is one that is completely transparent, whereby they will divulge their entire process online, with every decision made, to ensure there is 100% visibility on their supply chain to show that their product is truly sustainable. In fact, they coined a term for this mission: “fairstainable.”

“Right now, we’re 10% sustainable. Our goal is to have an 80-90% sustainable product in five years. Every time we improve, we’ll put it online and you can see what has changed. Even if people say something isn’t possible, we’ll aim for the best-case scenario and if we don’t make our target, we’ll get close and say so. But we won’t go round saying its 100% Fairtrade or whatever … this is all bullshit and people need to realize that.”

The brand hopes to bring about a revolution in the condom world, producing the first ethical, sustainable, and fun condoms ever. The packaging is also something new, reminiscent of what we have seen with Jeito, the package comes in the form of a chip-bag (see below).

packaging 2

Above: While still in the design phase, Einhorn’s packaging is playful and highly targeted to a sophisticated, Generation Y target audience (25-35 years old).

Chip packagingAbove: If you donate a certain amount to their crowdfunding efforts, you can require personalized condom packages with your company’s logo!

The condoms themselves will come in two basic sizes, 54mm and 56mm, are transparent, and come with a slightly wider top to enhance the feel. Since one of their observations is that buying condoms is embarrassing, they will offer them for sale through mail order – with a weekly (7 units) or a yearly option (52 units, which seems kind of low for a year!). The target audience (25-35 year old Gen Y’ers) are likely to get a kick out of the brand identity online, and initial responses are very strong: Einhorn has launched a crowdfunding site and have raised €50,000 within 48 hours.

The team, led by a capitalist-turned social entrepreneur Waldemar Zeiler, started out this effort with basically no knowledge of condoms:

“We had no clue what we were doing,” he says. “But we worked together with a university in Germany [who are] experts on sustainable rubber production. We’ll go to Malaysia with German scientists and go through our plantations. Then we’ll test the soil and stay over there analysing stuff and make things better. This includes making sure the minimum wage is paid to workers and knowing what’s in the condoms.”

The entrepreneurs have started a scheme called the Entrepreneur’s Pledge based on the philanthropists’ equivalent, the Giving Pledge. They’re asking “serious entrepreneurs” and “kick ass CEOs” to fund at least one social business and give 50% of the profits to a good cause, as they are. Zeiler argues that charity giving isn’t an efficient way to spend money and suggests that a social business dollar has more impact. “If our business grows, the more revenue we make. And the more we can give back.”

Check out their teaser film below:

Check out their website here.

First Taste of Kampala

Even from the drive in from the international airport, I felt a buzz. It was Sunday night, in the wee hours of the morning, well after all the church goers had called it a day. And as I drove along the smoky highway, I kept passing bar after dukka after bar with neon lights and the rhythmic thump that signals a good time throughout Africa. The nightlife here in Kampala is alive, no matter the time or the day, and it’s like nothing else I have seen in East Africa yet (very reminiscent of West Africa with a dance party every 20 feet).

With all of this late night commiserating, it’s no surprise that this city of over 2 million (not to mention the other 35 million individuals living outside of the city!) buys a lot of condoms. Current estimates place the total market value of condoms around $5 million annually, which has remained fairly constant since 2011. And the good news is that most of these condoms are heavily subsidized, helping users have access for a very low price – approximately 2300 UGX for a 3-pack of condoms (or about $0.75).

But there is trouble in condom land. Despite the best efforts of social marketers over the past decade or so, the practice of making condoms incredibly affordable has created an expectation economy amongst wholesalers and retailers, where they take for granted the ability to purchase incredibly cheap condoms that offer massive margins (over 200%). Of course, there are very few private sector brands entering into the market place as well, priced much higher than the socially marketed brands, and they seem to be gaining some traction albeit statistically minor. But for the social marketing agencies, times are proving difficult as they try to balance their objectives of reaching those most in need (the lowest two SES quintiles) while recovering some of the necessary costs to operate such an operation. With donor support becoming less frequent, it’s becoming increasingly important for social marketing organizations to fill in the gaps and try to find their own streams of revenue to support their socially marketed condom programs (often from these very same programs).


In Uganda, there are about 19 condom brands, with three main players in the social market space: Protector, Life Guard, and Trust. Protector takes the lion share of the social marketing share, selling in 2013 over 23 million units, while Life Guard and Trust own respectively less and less of the market. But a new player has entered that has me intrigued and is potentially the solution social marketers have been looking for: O Condom.

Launched by Uganda Health Marketing Group (UHMG), O Condom is a black, contoured, and studded condom designed to be a mid-tier compliment to UHMG’s Protector base brand. Its heavily promoted as a classier condom, an affordable aspirational brand in the category, to encourage trade up from the 3 “commodity” condoms (Protector, Life Guard, and Trust) that dominate the bottom of the market. UHMG launched the program to help support their social marketing efforts, as they lose money on every Protector sold, and thus far their strategy seems to be working: since the launch in 2010, they have grown market share steadily to a reported 14% as of 2014. Their price point is 150% of what the bottom three condoms are sold at to consumers, and in so doing the organization is able to generate some program income to cover their operating expenses.


On day one, aside from the other wonderful things I noticed, this resonated: there is room for a mid-tier condom that 1) improves sector sourcing, ensuring those who can afford it trade up to the next tier brand and 2) can ensure sustainability of our big picture objectives, by providing an alternate means to support our heavily subsidized brands so that we can meet the entire market’s needs.

Keep following the story, more developments sure to come as I spend the week in the field learning how PACE Uganda works and what the plans are for the future…

Now You Can Have It All: Pizza and Sex


Inspired by a scene from the hit TV-series Friends, wherein Joey has to choose between food and sex, Russian-based designer Marina Malygina has introduced the perfect condom: the pizza condom.

Aimed at taking advantage of the cultural dilemma many individuals face – sex or food – Malygina has designed a beautiful condom package that is sure to delight many people’s appetites for both.

Trojan Jumps on “50 Shades of Grey” Bandwagon With Parody Ad

Jumping on the band wagon of the upcoming launch of 50 Shades of Grey, Trojan has recently developed its own parody commercial entitled “50 Shades of Pleasure.”

As Valentine’s Day approaches in the US, the debut of the film 50 Shades of Grey, based on the incredible popular erotic book series, is creating a lot of buzz. And Trojan is the only notable condom brand leveraging this movie launch to cash in on the potential increase in sales.

In the online short ad, apparently done in house at Trojan, a couple recounts their sexual misadventures to a therapist in couples therapy. Several entertaining stories emerge, such as the man’s never actually reading the book, self-injury at the hands of a whip, a bizarre “safe word,” and a misunderstanding involving a ninja costume. At the end of the spot, we see the tagline “Get out of the grey area, into 50 shades of real pleasure,” hero’ing Trojan’s line extensions of vibrators and lubricants – all expected to see a boost in sales over the romantic holiday.

A 15-second version of the video will be played in select AMC and Regal theaters starting next week. Trojan shared the longer version with its social media audience and on its YouTube page here.