In the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, the reusable space plane that takes Dr. Haywood Floyd to the space station, the Orion III, was branded with a Pan Am logo. That seemed a safe bet as the international carrier was the nation's largest in 1968 when the film was shot.
Tragically, Pan American Airlines didn't make it to 2001. The airline went belly up in 1991, a decade before its supposed rendezvous with the future. It was probably unthinkable to a writer in the late 60's to believe the largest company representing the most progressive travel mode would barely last a generation. Through our deep recession and our slow recovery there are a number of venerable brand names like Kodak and Sears on the ropes but there are other big shifts happening across the big brand-name landscape. None as significant and surprising as Coors Light which is poised to unseat Budweiser as the number two brand behind Bud Light and fast food restaurant Wendy's passing Burger King as the number two fast food chain behind McDonalds. Why are so many well-known brands losing ground?
For Wendy's and Burger King the past five years have been tumultuous. Obesity concerns, the recession and the slow pace of improvement in the U.S. economy have taken their toll. When you add the management changes and internal issues both have faced, it is no wonder that McDonalds with its consistent advertising and marketing strategy, low costs and strong supply chain lead both by a wide margin.
But Burger King before now has always managed to stay ahead of Wendy's. Wendy's has long been regarded as somewhat quirky with its square burgers and a weak menu of side items. But last year, the chain all of a sudden got more focused retooling its buns and burgers to be more conventional, introducing new fries with sea salt, making its salads…well…salads and resurrecting its very successful "Where's The Beef" advertising campaign.
Burger King, on the other hand, after a management change, banishing the increasingly unpopular Burger King and a change in its advertising agency seems to be struggling to define itself. Both Wendy's and Burger King have stated they are focusing on the food, but Wendy's change is significant and unmistakable while Burger King seems to be trying to convince us and themselves that the food we are familiar with is somehow different and that what we didn't understand is how much care they take in preparing it. I'm not sure consumers are buying that explanation. So now, after last year's dollars are all tallied up and accounted for, Wendy's despite having nearly 1,400 fewer stores is expected to have earned more than $53 million more than Burger King with an increase of 1.1 percent to Burger King's 3.9 percent decline.
For both Coors, now merged with The Miller Brewing Company and competitor Budweiser, the marketing challenges have been many. Loss of sales to the growing popularity of spirits and smaller craft breweries have hurt the domestic beer business but that does not entirely explain why Coors has prospered while the wheels have fallen off at Budweiser. Coors has benefited by being in the stable with Miller and some of Coors' sales have come at the expense of Miller but you have to credit the company for clear positioning in its advertising, It's tagline --The World's Most Refreshing Beer— makes a compelling and easily understood consumer promise and its unique cans where the mountains turn blue when the beer is ice cold help deliver when it counts most, when the product is in the hands of the consumer.
Its run as the official beer of the NFL, a contract that ends this year, has also contributed to its success. For Budweiser, the bloom has been off the rose for some time. The brand has seen declining share for the last two decades, shrinking by more than 29 percent in the last five years alone. Its lackadaisical tagline --It's What We Do--is lazy and reminiscent of Chevy Runs Deep, lines that both try to tap into whatever reserves might exist from their legacy positions as category leaders.
One way to look at the decline of these large brands is to consider that while aging boomers are spending less on fast food and beer –- their spending created the current rankings, Millennials are not locked into their parents' brands, are spending their dollars differently and will ultimately create a whole new slate of top brands as their influence continues to grow. Many argue that explanation is too simplistic and that putting the blame on new consumers whitewashes the many internal business and external marketing mistakes that Budweiser and Burger King continue to make.
Pan Am went out of business because it couldn't compete in a deregulated marketplace where their routes weren't protected by the government. In the current environment with our ever-present media and the ability consumers have to be heard and to share their opinions broadly; companies who can't make clear promises and deliver on them will be passed by their faster, smarter, better communicating rivals.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Larry Woodard is a director on the Advertising Week board and chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies' New York Council.
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