Sunny D looks to a healthier route

P&G has announced it is repositioning Sunny D as a healthy alternative to fizzy drinks, despite the negative publicity it received at launch. Will such a move be able to revive the beleaguered brand? asks Branwell Johnson

Sunny D, the soft drink that was dogged by a spate of negative publicity over health claims soon after its launch, is to be repositioned as a healthy alternative to fizzy drinks.

A repositioning is not to be undertaken lightly and this could be the last roll of the dice for the Procter & Gamble product, launched in the UK in April 1998.

There is speculation that the brand has been given 12 months to restore its fortunes, denied by P&G. In the UK sales were down 12.2 per cent to &£38m for the year to February 23 2003, compared with the previous year (Information Resources), while volumes in the take-home market dropped 14 per cent in 2002 to 68 million litres (AC Nielsen). This is a far cry from the product’s peak when annual sales were worth more than &£140m.

The brand initially fell foul of health watchdogs and the Food Commission, which attacked P&G for trying to present the brand on a health platform. And tabloid tales of children turning yellow after drinking 1.5 litres a day further damaged the brand.

But P&G, after making changes to the Sunny D formula, is fighting back with a &£7.5m marketing campaign that will “focus on nutritional issues and the role of Sunny D as a realistic alternative to fizzy drinks”. The campaign will include television advertising, educational advertorials in women’s magazines and outdoor activity. In the past 12 months, Sunny D’s juice content has been increased from five to 15 per cent and four of its six flavours have been made available as no-added sugar variants.

P&G believes it can win over mothers by positioning Sunny D as a relatively healthy drink and hopes to make the most out of the reality that parents find it difficult to coax children to drink the sharper tasting pure juice or water all the time.

Sunny D brand manager Jon Lear claims: “It’s a different positioning from the original launch. It’s a more realistic approach. There were elements when we originally launched that could be interpreted as over-promising and under-delivering. This might have caused some confusion, but what we are talking about this time is a clear positioning. We are not saying Sunny D is an orange juice or that it is super-healthy, but it is a good healthy alternative to fizzy drinks.”

Jack Winkler, a food and beverages consultant and former chairman of the now defunct lobby group Action & Information on Sugars (AIS), says that some progress has been made on the part of P&G, which has taken steps to modify the product and clarify the literature. But he believes the marketing and packaging still sends mixed messages that could lead to Sunny D being mistaken for a pure juice. “P&G continues to put the product in clear transparent packaging next to chilled juices and claims that this is to preserve the vitamin C, which is rubbish,” he says. “Vitamin C is present in all sorts of non-chilled products.”

He adds that, while the increased juice content is laudable, P&G is still over-hyping a product which it started from a very low juice volume of five per cent. Coca-Cola’s Five Alive by comparison contains 42 per cent juice, Robinsons Fruit Shoot made by Britvic Soft Drinks has ten per cent and Waitrose’s own-label orange drink has 25 per cent.

Repositioning a brand is a risky business and failures abound. For example, the Daily Mirror’s circulation has plummeted a year after it was repositioned as a serious newspaper. There is also the well-documented case of British Airways’ tailfin redesign implemented to give the brand a more global feel, which was later jettisoned when the airline was criticised for ditching the heritage and assurance bestowed by the Union Jack.

Positioning on health grounds can backfire spectacularly, as Tetley GB discovered when it ran campaigns last year suggesting drinking tea had proven health benefits. Both the Independent Television Commission and the Advertising Standards Authority upheld complaints against the advertising (MW October 24, 2002). Now the brand has unveiled an advertising campaign that says drinking tea can provide “motivation”, and is supported by the strapline “Ready Tetley Go”.

GlaxoSmithKline’s Ribena Toothkind brand also gained unwelcome coverage after its advertising suggested that the product did not encourage tooth decay. The ASA upheld complaints from the AIS. The product still carries an endorsement by the British Dental Association.

Examples of successful repositioning must include GSK’s Lucozade. Originally depicted as a treat for sickly children, Lucozade has moved to become an energy-boosting drink for all ages, after a relaunch fronted by athlete Daley Thompson. Its value in the take-home market increased 16 per cent in 2002 to 97 million litres (AC Nielsen). Of more recent vintage is Nestlé-Rowntree’s platform for Yorkie, which claims “it’s not for girls”. This was introduced in April last year (MW March 28, 2002) and helped sales rise by 28.7 per cent for the year to February 22 compared with the previous year (Nielsen).

The success of a repositioning can also often depend on fundamental factors such as distribution. This is particularly important if a brand wants to move from being a luxury, “treat” item to an everyday buy, as Terry’s Chocolate Orange managed to do in the highly competitive impulse market.

Interbrand chairman Rita Clifton says that companies would consider repositioning a brand once it has reached a sales plateau and faces decline; when it finds the market has moved on, due to changing social trends; or that a competitor has done something dramatic that threatens to depose a brand.

Michael Levy, director at Corporate Edge, points out that the optimum time to move to a new platform is “when you are in a position of strength, but aware of changes in your market and you know that you will be left behind if you don’t move.”

He points out that poor repositioning occurs when it’s done “because things are going wrong and the company is thinking ‘let’s go somewhere else'”. He adds that it’s vital that a new platform does not jettison all of the elements that attracted consumers to the brand in the first place

But Jamie Lister, former Coors European marketing director and now director at consultancy Drink Works, says Sunny D could be a victim of changing trends as the consumer is now better informed about nutritional issues and the market has moved on with the development of smoothies and functional mineral waters.

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