NEW YORK -- If you want your private-label advertising to work, keep the message simple and direct, said consumers on a focus group panel.
The consumers -- 10 women ranging in age from the 30s to the 50s -- were assembled by the Private Label Manufacturers Association for its Consumerama conference.
The panelists reviewed actual commercials and then offered their reactions. They also discussed what in general they considered to be private-label's hits and misses.
One of the most effective advertising messages of all appears to be specifically stating the price savings of a given private-label product compared to national brands.
The two television spots that drew the most praise and appreciation from the group were hinged on such simple comparisons. Both were from drug chains.
The first from CVS simply told viewers that its product is just as good as Sudafed, but priced $6 less. "You got us!" raved one panel member after the commercial ran. "Six dollars is what we want to hear."
A similar ad, from Phar-Mor, elicited the same response. "I don't need to be entertained. They treated me like an intelligent consumer," said one panelist.
The women also appreciated an A&P America's Choice spot that showed consumers shopping at the store and using the private-label products at home.
"It was very patriotic and wholesome. It gave you a good feeling about the store. And I would try their products," said one consumer. Another panelist, however, raised the point that, while the commercial moved from American household to household, it featured no blacks or other minorities.
A "feel-good" spot from Western Family, touting its frozen vegetables, showed an old-fashioned farmer's market with a young mother and a child shopping for vegetables for the evening's dinner. "This was the way mealtime began," said a voice-over narrator.
"I remember learning how to shop," responded one enthusiastic consumer panelist. The women said they learned that the products were fresh-frozen right away, and microwavable; and that the company had been in business for a long time. More importantly, they all said the commercial would motivate them to try the products.
A Ralphs commercial, aimed at selling its Private Selection ice cream, met with mixed reviews. The spot started as a cooking show, with a host who first touted the healthy benefits of strawberries, and then proceeded to mix the fruit with sugar, cake and ice cream for a quick dessert recipe.
While some found it informative and interesting -- "I didn't know you could only keep strawberries for two days," said one shopper -- others felt it was too long and confusing. "I thought it was a commercial for strawberry growers," said another. Nonetheless, they all at least thought the name "Ralphs" came across loud and clear.
Other commercials were met with thumbs down. For instance, a Kash n' Karry commercial, with a camera panning across dozens of products, was also labeled "too confusing" by the group.
"I was waiting for a focal point," said one. "It was too quick; I only saw cans flying by."
While, again, they all remembered the retailer's name, they also agreed the commercial wouldn't get them in the store to buy private-label products.
Copying national-brand marketing styles didn't seem to work either with these consumers. Case in point: A Wegmans soda commercial that was fast-paced and featured a nerd who turned cool on the beach after sipping the pop. The spot was complete with bikini-clad beauties, old men dancing and other hip images familiar from a certain style of soft drink ads.
While the women said it was catchy and might appeal to younger people, they thought the commercial wasn't innovative enough to motivate them to buy the soda.
"It was too much like Coke and Pepsi. There has to be something different. Besides, we need realism," noted one shopper.
Besides critiquing commercials, the focus group was asked generally about perceptions of private label.
The women agreed that they considered the best private-label products to be frozen vegetables and juices. By contrast, they steer clear of paper goods and cleaning products, fearing inferior quality. They said they also tend to stick to name brands in the detergents category.
Price is the primary reason they buy private label, but they remain wary of huge price differences. "If it's too much cheaper, I'll think there's something wrong with it," observed one participant.
When asked what it would take to make them realize a private-label product is just as good as a national brand, the group vociferously said, "Free trial." Low introductory prices and buy-one-get-one-frees also were recommended.