Monday, August 06, 2007

Further devaluation of the PowerBar brand?

a little bit ago i read a post from the Soiled Chamois (heckuva blog, by the way) on PowerGel's availability (on the cheeeeap) in Wal-Mart (i refuse to link). i was in the grocery store yesterday and saw the super-cheap gel packs and almost purchased a few. i didn't. for two reasons: 1) i don't like the product 2) i am a snob when it comes to mass brands, which PowerBar has become.

i don't use PowerGel for biking or running, but it's never proven as useful as the Hammer Gel, Clif Shots or Jelly Belly Sport Beans i normally use. anyway, i wasn't shocked to see that PowerGel was in big-box retailers, though i was slightly saddened for the brand. anytime a brand goes big box, especially Wal-Mart, a level of overall brand devaluation occurs. a second level of devaluation occurs within the minds of certain consumer demos. even if the product hasn't changed (and many times, mass distribution allows the product to be improved), there's a perception attached that it's the quantity upsets the quality.

Target (also carrying PowerGel) is at least a step up from Wally World...although Target's retailing of Eddie Bauer products didn't do as well for that brand as it's carrying of Mossimo, which has darn near revived and sustained the surf-tastic clothing company. it's always a risk for a brand. the PowerBar brand has been mass for quite some time. PowerBar has always been the standby at gas stations (not to say i haven't appreciated grabbing one when i've needed to refuel mid-route). think about the early days of PowerAde vs. Gatorade (which was available darn near everywhere). Now you can get PowerAde in vending machines, fast food joints, etc.

i'm sure PowerBar has a solid business strategy for it's distribution plan. it certainly does fill a certain market space by being available and cheap en masse. but, i would argue that it's losing its credibility among certain niche groups of athletes. product aside (gels are very personal, so i'm not going to get into an argument for or against PowerGel's ability to work - that's not the point of this post), placement defines the product's worth just as much as what the product is made of. i like having to go out of my way to find my Hammer Gel at specialty outdoor or multi-sport shops. on some level, it shows me that there's an exclusivity of which i want to be a part.

i agree with jason that there is merit in the cost (especially if PowerGel is your gel of choice - jackpot for your wallet!). mass placement increases the product volume and lowers the cost, while upping the opportunity to supplement a wider group of consumers' workouts with a nutritional strategy. and yes, i do dig the 4x sodium mixture PowerGel includes, although i prefer to get that sodium from pringles (those things taste so dang good mid-run). athletic supplements and gear are already so freakin' expensive that doing many sports right is a bit out of the realm for many athletes. the cheaper the better in many cases.

so the question is, where's the balance between growth and exclusivity? the answer isn't above, certainly, but i'd love to hear thoughts. at the end of the day, a brand must first know who its customer is and where to engage that customer. one could argue that PowerBar is simply being successful at creating a strategy based on those two insights. time will tell.

what brands have you loved until you found them at the mega mall? tales of brand infidelity? any stories of brand death or survival at the hands of big-box retailers?

on a different note, it's been too long since i've recommended some music: Devendra Banhart. so there you be.


Blogger Sara said...

Not a PR/branding whiz such as yourself, but I have to admit that I think there's a discrepancy between big-brand daily goods and big-brand designer labels. I don't think that mass-marketing a product like Power Bar strips its appeal for me like seeing Isaac Mizrahi on sale at Target. It's a massive disconnect to know that a designer sells $19.99 shoes at Target as well as $349.00 shoes on Vera Wang has created a line for Kohl's. Does the fact that you can get a $50 item at Kohl's by Wang (hee hee, sorry), but you paid $5,500 for a wedding dress diminish the "value" of the dress? Is one more effective than the other?

I wonder if another example of this would be Charles Shaw wine (aka: Three Buck Chuck here in Chicago - not two)? Does the fact that you can buy OK wine for $3 take away from the enjoyment of wine as a treat? It hasn't always been so popular, but I'd have to say no. Maybe I missed the point, but I think consumable goods are different. Thoughts?

2:20 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

I agree that there COULD be a brand loyalty fall out for PowerBar, but feel that there are WAY more Race Poor® folks (me?) out there who don't give two shakes WHERE it came from as long as they have enough dough to fuel their desire to compete.

I also agree that places like Wal-Mart are in bed with the devil BUT (as I've mentioned on my blog) my local grocery chain is in cahoots with oil companies (the REAL great Satan) by offering "discounts" on fuel that you buy at THEIR gas stations if you use a "discount" card at THEIR grocery store. SO if you spend X amount of dough on their food you can save 10¢ a gallon on gas. Wow! Do you feel the savings???

Meanwhile a box of pasta costs $2.00!!! Why not forget gas (after all you ARE a grocery store and offer a decent price on food. THEN I would not have to go anywhere else and NOT feel like I need to take a shower and call my therapist after I shop at Wal-Mart.

Good points though and great blog. Interesting topics. My wife and I discussed that there should be more "marketing" classes in middle schools and high schools to teach kids how companies can manipulate the consumer.

Oh well, keep it up.


8:36 PM  

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