V shows risk of picking a fight with the wrong brand

I wasn't surprised at all to read in Marketing Week that Danone UK is planning to put the gun to the head of its V energy drink and put it our of its misery.

The latest re-vamp was backed with a pretty hefty £3.3 million campaign by RKCR/Y&R. The idea was that V invigorates the mind. Mmm. Sounds familiar? Isn't that Red Bull, the brand that "gives you wings?"

The demise of V is a good example of how hard it is to make a dent in the share of a dominant brand leader. Dominant means a brand that IS the category. In the UK if you say "energy drink", people think "Red Bull". The brand has a huge 89% market share. And in a world where there is just too much stuff to worry about, brands like Red Bull are a godsend, as they mean there's one less decision to make.
-> Energy drink? Red Bull. Bang. In the basket (or in the hand in a garage/convenience store). Next.

[Interesting aside is that V is the leading energy drink in New Zealand, with Red Bull tiny]

To have any chance at all of taking share from a dominant market leader you need a combination of at least 4 things:

1. A decent bit of product/pack "sausage": you need some sort of product or pack innovation to make yourself worth considering.
=> V lacked any product differentiation [1/10]

2. Bravery to break codes: you also need to be brave enough to break some codes and stand out
=> V has the same type/shape/size of can as Red Bull. As far as I know, its sold in the same channels [1/10]

3. Loadsamoney: you need some big bucks to fight the big boys. Re-wiring peoples' brains so they think "energy drink?->V" instead of Red Bull is REALLY hard. [2/10]

4. Stamina: its one thing to launch. Its a whole different challenge to keep up the battle for 2, 3, 4 years and longer. Be ready for a long, hard and bloody fight. Energy drinks are just not key for Danone, who is focused on health, especially dairy [1/10]TOTAL 5/40 = No chance

I have to eat at least 1/2 of my words regarding one other brand who took on a dominant brand: Trident taking on Wrigley's in the UK gum market. I commented that Trident's smaller in-store presence was like "putting a tent up in front of a skyscraper" that is the Wrigley's brand blocking.

The 1/2 of my words I'm eating now is that after 18 months they have managed to take an c. 11-15% share of the UK market, which ain't bad. With 18 months worth of learning, let's do the check vs. the new brand criteria above:


1. Product/pack: I didn't give Trident enough credit here. They did have a different pack shape, and a different product format (tabs and liquid filled chews) [7/10]

2. Breaking codes: as mentioned, pack shape was different… and they tried to do some wacky online stuff…but could have been more innovative in the mix [5/10]

3. Loadsamoney: they have spent quite a lot…launch alone was £10 million [6/10]

4. Stamina: what helps Trident is that it is a priority, billion dollar global brand for Cadbury. So, it has a good chance of sustained investment [9/10]

Total score: 27/40

But, the 1/2 of my words I'm sticking to is that i) I still think they will struggle to get a business that is
profitable in the long-term, as they are still small and will now have
to battle it out with a Wrigley's brand backed by the might of Mars,
who are buying it. ii) they still don't have a great and proven mix. The original campaign, "Mastication for the Nation", with a dub poet, didn't work. They are now on a new campaign with a bloke taken off on a surreal taste journey and the endline "Mess with your head". This is better, as it tells a product story. But is it enough?

We'll check back another year down the line!