“Coke Life will soon be dead”
In 2014, as consumers began to turn their backs on sugary carbonated soft drinks, Coca-Cola launched Coke Life. It marketed it as a more natural alternative to other Coke variants as it was partially sweetened with stevia extract.
The brand was seeing sales for its regular, Diet Coke and Coca-Cola Zero Sugar varieties dwindle and wanted to tap into the rising trend for healthier, naturally sweetened drinks.
But, as Ritson pointed out, Coke Life was a “half-way house” that failed on both fronts given it was neither low calorie nor natural.
“Pepsi tried something similar back in 2008 with Pepsi Raw. Made from kola nuts, sparkling water, apple extract and cane sugar, the new product was meant to be a more natural Pepsi. But the sub-brand was pulled within two years for the same reason I predict Coke Life will soon be dead: consumers who opt for a more natural beverage are, by definition, going to switch categories to find it,” he explained.
And he was right. Less than three years later Coke axed the Life brand. During the year to 18 March 2017, Coca-Cola Life’s, volume sales fell 73.1% and dropped 74.6% in value terms. Over the same period, volume sales for Coca-Cola Zero Sugar rocketed by 81.2% and value sales by 56.6%.
His later assertion that the launch of Coke Life marked the beginning of the end for Coca-Cola is yet to be proven, however. But he was right when he said Coke Life “cannot and will not save the day”.
“Tesco’s venture brands will fail”
Do you remember ice cream brand Chokablok? Probably not. It was the first venture brand to be launched by Tesco back in 2011, but along with other brands including Halo and New York Soup Company it was given the chop less than three years later.
It came as little surprise to Ritson, who said from the start Tesco should stick to what it does best.
“Does Tesco have the core competence to actually launch Chokablok and the other venture brands that will follow it? It might seem like an odd question to ask of Britain’s most successful supermarket but when you examine Tesco’s core competences and set them against those required to launch a series of FMCG brands from scratch, I am not so sure,” he said.
For starters, he pointed out that Tesco has no core competence in the type of branding needed for a brand like Chokablok to succeed.
“While Tesco has successfully launched billion-pound brands like Tesco Finest and Tesco Value, they have all been derivations of the branded house approach. Venturing from this format to the alternative approach that is the house of brands strategy is just about the hardest migration a company can make,” he added.
While he wished Tesco well and admitted he was “fully aware of the foolhardy nature of betting against Britain’s most successful brand”, he said “my money says its venture brands will fail”.
“They will fail for the same reason that a supermarket launched by Häagen Dazs would fail. Not because of a lack of commitment, or drive or investment but something much more simple. I just don’t think they can.”
“Marketing theory suggests we are heading for Brexit”
Despite numerous polls ahead of the EU referendum suggesting the Remain camp would win, Ritson used his marketing skills to predict that we were in fact heading for Brexit.
“The current poll of polls has the difference between the leave and stay votes within the margin of error. But if you look more closely at the central arguments of both sides, it’s clear which one will gain the greater popular support and win the day,” he said.
He suggested that the more the Leave campaign pushes a reduction in immigration while Remain promotes the economic advantages of staying in the EU, the more sentiment will swing towards Brexit.
“This whole decision, arguably the most important one in recent British history, will come down to the benefit ladder and who can play the emotional advantages better than the other. My money, if not my heart, sides with Brexit,” he concluded.
“RIM failed because it didn’t know who it was targeting”
Ritson called the demise of Blackberry-maker Research In Motion (RIM) in 2011, shortly after it launched its Playbook tablet. Rather than its failure being down to poor product he said it was the lack of clear targeting that would be its undoing.
“By failing to address the issue of who RIM is going after, and by definition who it is not, the Playbook has fallen between two very large stools. In a classic marketing muddle, the Playbook failed because it was a device that was aimed squarely at everyone and, as a result, became one that appealed to no one,” he said.
“Others will soon ascribe RIM’s decline to bad products, lowered profitability or disappointing sales figures. But the real story is simpler and more fundamental than that. The reason RIM failed is that it never managed to answer the one question that all marketers have to be able to answer: who exactly are you targeting?”
RIM changed its name to BlackBerry in 2013, but even with its new, more familiar identity, the once powerful brand never returned to its lofty position in the mobile market.
“Leicester will win the Premier League this year”
It was a bold statement with three months to go in the 2016 Premier League season, but Ritson predicted Leicester would win the competition despite being close to getting relegated the previous year.
“It is a remarkable story and one that marketers should pay special attention to. I am opposed to the typical horseshit analogies that derive extremely tenuous marketing insights from current cultural ephemera. You know the stuff I am talking about: What can marketers learn from the Kardashians / Lego / the North Korean missile crisis,” explained.
“But in the case of Leicester City and the remarkable [then manager Claudio] Ranieri there are genuine lessons to be learned.”
From diagnosing the team’s problem and the subsequent strategy he devised, to implementing the right tactics to deliver results Ritson hailed the achievement “extra-ordinary”.
And as a result, he said “Leicester will win the Premier League this year. Of that I have no doubt.”