Harvard Business Review

Making Cool Brands Hot

Making Cool Brands Hot

What do Boca Breakfast Links, Oreo cookies, and Old Spice deodorant have in common?

  • min read


Making Cool Brands Hot

What do Boca Breakfast Links, Oreo cookies, and Old Spice deodorant have in common? They all belong to an elite group of brands that grew faster than their brand categories each year from 1997 to 2001. In our study of 524 brands in 100 consumer-product categories during that time period, these winning brands—90 of them in all—dramatically and consistently outpaced their packs. They posted average annual-revenue growth rates above 10%—more than triple the average rate.

Conventional wisdom holds that performance hinges on a brand’s size, maturity, category, or leadership within a category. Unlike nimble, little brands, the thinking goes, big, old leaders in slow-growth categories are hard-pressed to post impressive growth rates. But our research found no correlation between these factors and a brand’s success. Winners were evenly split between large brands like Huggies diapers and small brands like Softsoap. And almost two-thirds belonged to slow-growth categories like dishwashing detergent. Category leaders, like L’Oréal in hair coloring, accounted for just a quarter of the winners, whereas followers, like Mountain Dew, accounted for three-quarters.

What did distinguish our winners from the pack were innovativeness and aggressive advertising. Brands that drew at least 10% of their 2001 sales from products introduced during the study period (our innovators) were 60% more likely to win. That held true whether they were mature, like Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice, or new age, like Boca’s meatless “meats.” In addition, winners were 60% more likely to outspend their category average on advertising. This doesn’t mean that innovating and advertising guarantee profits; we’ve all seen heavily promoted new products fail. But these tactics, done right, clearly improve a brand’s odds of sustained revenue gains. And, for most consumer-product brands, double-digit revenue growth four years running will fatten the bottom line.

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