I met Andy Warhol in the dressing room at Paul Stuart on Madison Avenue. I was trying on a suit and he was trying to disappear into the woodwork, while giving a friend some fashion advice as he was having his pants cuffed. Last Sunday was the 22nd anniversary of his death, and knowing Andy as well as I do, its my impression that he would be very interested to see how two of his iconic packages, Chanel No5 and Campell’s Soup, have evolved in the 22 years since his death.
Also last Sunday there was a great piece written by Alice Rawsthorn, in the Spring Fashion issue of The New York Times Style Magazine. Here is the link. She talks about Coco Chanel, the perfume bottle’s introduction in 1921, and the rich history of the brand. It reminded me of how a classic brand can remain fresh in spite of all of the fragrance counter activity in the last several decades. Virtually no change in look while competing in a category that lives on constant innovation and the latest “it” thing.
Now a category not known for constant innovation and the latest “it” thing, is the soup aisle. While the Campbell’s Tomato Soup itself has changed very little in the last few decades, other Campbell’s soup flavors have changed markedly. The cans have become filled with product photography, prominent sub brands, color coding, and your usual over rendered funky logotypes for some of the soup targeted at kids.
My sense is that the amount of change reflected in the two brands has something to do with the positioning of the brands, certainly. But it has more to do with the shopping patterns of the very different retail venues where the products are found.
If you walk into the ground floor of Saks Fifth Avenue, pause for just a second in any aisle, and just listen. The next sound you are likely to hear is the voice of a well trained professional sales person, just aching to get your attention, and bring you up to date on the latest stuff behind their counter. If you stop, virtually all of them are intimately aware of the products, their use, and how they might be just right for you. In two words this is called, personal service. This has been the retail model for Saks since it was founded by Horace Saks in 1924, and it hasn’t changed much in the last 85 years.
When was the last time you got personal service in the soup aisle. What Campbell’s began to realize was that this aisle is always self-shopped, and their customers are typically in a hurry, distracted, and were having a tough time reading the labels for any number of reasons. This meant time waisted, or mistakes made, finding the flavor. So now we have a few icon flavors like tomato that have remained classic, while most cans in their new display have clear signals to help the consumer. I’m not sure what this will do to long-term brand equity, but my suspicion is the folks at Campbell’s have their eye on this.
So you have two classic packages, both dating from the early decades of the twentieth century. A time when both the department store and food store offered personal service. Chanel is a brand sold primarily in the department store, a retail model that hasn’t changed much in the last century. Campbell’s is a brand that was designed in a time when you knew your grocer, and he personally helped you fill each bag. Times have changed in food store retailing and Campbell’s has had to adapt, even if Andy would be disappointed.
Rawsthorn, Alice. 2009. Message in a Bottle. The New York Times. Spring Fashion Magazine
For more articles by Alice Rawsthorn, click here.