Brand Awareness in the Candy Aisle

With the Easter holiday approaching, it is nearly impossible to ignore the abundance of pastel-colored Easter candy lining the aisles at the supermarket. There is a certain excitement brought on by the familiar colors and flavors of a seasonal food or drink, like the Gingerbread Latte during the winter at Starbucks, or Sam Adams Oktoberfest. Products like these are anticipated each year because of their association with a season or holiday, and suspense and excitement are maintained simply because of their exclusivity.

But as Americans we thrive on choice, and exclusive seasonal items alone are not enough to satisfy our collectively enormous sweet tooth. There are hundreds, if not thousands of items that are sold all year long, but repackaged, or reshaped, to match whichever season or holiday comes up next. M&M’s, Hershey’s Kisses, and Oreo Cookies, all have products for just about every holiday on the calendar.

Do these products garner the same elite status as their elusive competition? Kind of, but not really. Almost everyone is familiar with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. They are available year round, and are delicious. But during Easter, the company also sells Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs. What makes them different from the original? Absolutely nothing, except the shape.

But the Reese’s Egg works as a brand extension because the core values of the product and the brand do not change. The customers are able to follow from Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups to Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs, with the knowledge that they are still purchasing a product they already love, albeit dolled up for the Easter season.

While Reese’s Eggs work with the brand, other products like Life Savers Bunnies & Eggs seem to fight the brands they represent. While this product undoubtedly increases Life Savers’ sales for a few weeks in the spring, it is ultimately damaging the Life Savers brand. If not for their shape, Life Savers would be nothing more than a hard candy available in a couple of colors and flavors, but the brand equity of the donut shape makes them instantly recognizable and helps them to stand out from their competition on the candy shelf. While the Life Savers Spring Mix of pastel colors and fruity flavors does not stray too far, once they move into the territory of gummy bunnies and eggs, they completely lose everything that makes the Life Savers brand so unique. There’s no way for the customer to recognize the candy out of its package, or to rely on the taste and texture they may be familiar with.

Like Reese’s, other companies are able to allow their brand values to permeate through their blatant holiday packaging, for example, M&M’s Halloween Collection, Hershey’s Kisses Christmas Holiday Collection, and York Peppermint Pattie Valentine’s Hearts. These limited editions are, of course, only available at certain times of year, and despite their appearances, are virtually the same product that is available year-round. So, why would these manufacturer’s bother to spend the time and cost to make holiday editions of their standard product? The answer is brand awareness.

We’ve all seen the immense displays of themed items in retail stores, and there’s no denying that impulse purchases are made based on visibility and price. Seasonal items always seem to be marketed as being on sale, and of course, are always placed in prime locations. And that is what these companies are really after. M&M’s are always available in the candy aisle, or near the registers, but for Easter, the only way people will buy them is if they are pastel-colored, and right next to the Cadbury Crème Eggs. This keeps sales up, and even more importantly allows you to associate a brand that you already love, with a holiday that you are celebrating. It gives continuous year-round brand presence to items that would otherwise be overlooked until a time between holidays.

Now, I would never suggest that this plan would work for every company or every product, as in the Life Savers example mentioned previously. In fact, it can definitely dilute a brand message if not done correctly. Companies without a strong sense of their own brand’s place in the consumer mindset often over-extend themselves, in an attempt to move product during a time when profits have the potential to go up. The other products mentioned here have managed to keep the core product similar enough to the original that they do not turn away loyal customers, but different enough that people will purchase the holiday branded item over the original more often than not.

And, I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to seasonal products. I’ll buy anything that is orange or Pumpkin flavored when the fall rolls around, and nearly everyone has a similar weakness. Why are we so enamored with such slight changes to such common products? And is this something that will continue to grow into other industries or does the sheer volume of seasons and holidays confine this practice to perishables? Feel free to leave us a comment and let us know what you think!

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