Limited edition, limited appeal?

Coca-Cola’s limited edition drinks have been slammed as a “waste of time” by retailers (MW last week), raising questions about the value of limited edition products as a marketing tool.

Coke came in for criticism for investing £2.5m in Coke Orange but the soft drinks giant is not the only major brand to pursue such a strategy. Nokia, Swatch and Nestlé, among others, have launched limited editions in recent years but the response from consumers has been mixed and some observers claim the products only serve to dilute the prestige of the main brands.

Nestlé, for instance, launched a string of limited edition Kit Kat products, including variants such as Blood Orange, which many feel have harmed the Kit Kat brand. Despite attempting to refocus on its core products, some argue the damage has already been done.

Andy Nairn, planning director at advertising agency Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, says: “Limited editions are an interesting tool as you get to have genuine innovation. Nestlé has taken one of its lead brands and bastardised it. It may have led to a short-term sales surge but in the long term it reduced its brand equity.” Sponsorship products Other brands have looked to capitalise on sporting occasions and popular television shows as a hook to launch limited editions. Nokia, for instance, launched a range of limited edition phones on the back of the ITV talent show The X-Factor, which it also sponsored. A Nokia spokesman says: “We had done some TV and sponsorship work with X-Factor and it represented a brilliant platform for us to offer consumers a new device.” Limited editions also work well, observers say, when targeting a particular demographic, such as style-conscious consumers. Coca-Cola has previously limited its designer bottles to particular stores, including Selfridges and a number of style bars. Some of them subsequently ended up being sold as collectors’ items.

Reinvigorating brand interest Industry experts say Coca-Cola’s limited edition flavoured variants are an attempt to reinvigorate interest in its flagship Coke brands. Coke Orange will be available for three months and follows the launch of similar limited editions, such as Diet Coke with Lime.

Retailers remain sceptical about the ploy but are stocking Coke Orange as they look to boost sales of Coke and competing brands. Arch-rival PepsiCo, meanwhile, is also getting in on the act with the roll-out of a number of different Pepsi pack designs. Daniel Bone, a Datamonitor analyst, says: “There is a lot of development in this area and it is a safe way of keeping up with trends.” Yet for those soft drinks companies with smaller marketing budgets, limited editions tend to be squeezed out. AG Barr, for one, says it prefers to concentrate its marketing budget on its flagship brands, like the £1m it has earmarked for its recently acquired Strathmore brand.

Britvic, meanwhile, concentrates on introducing limited editions with a view to launching the brands permanently, such as with its J2O Orange & Pomegranate drink which has recently been added to its adult soft drinks range following its launch as limited edition.

As one observer says/ “It is all about brands having the confidence that they can get the volume of sales and adequate return on investment when launching a limited-edition. If they can’t, it’s not worthwhile.” John Reynolds

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