Unilever – Pop-up Shops

Unilever, the fast-moving-consumer-goods giant, recently contributed to an increasing retail trend: short-term, pop-up outlets. These temporary stores can be open for as little as a day, a sign of creativity and risk-taking within their company’s culture. This may also be an indication of the firm adopting marketing guru Seth Godin’s theory of ‘Purple Cow’ marketing, which argues target markets no longer are won-over through traditional marketing, such as above-the-line promotions, therefore the only effective marketing is truely remarkable; hence, the ‘Purple Cow’ motif is an unusual image. But, despite being remarkable is it effective?

Marmite recently had a temporary shop in London’s Regent Street that was open seven days a week to take full advantage of the cheaper rents available during the recession – the best strategy is to invest in marketing during a downturn, not cutback. As well as selling Marmite, 100 spin-off products were sold including artwork and clothing; these, unlike the store, are not short-term and will provide more and highly unusual brand exposure. When was the last time you saw someone wear a Marmite T-shirt? Never? Well, when you eventually do, you will remember the moment for days and perhaps tell your friends about the odd sight too. Despite being hated by some – remember, however, there is no such thing as bad publicity – the high-margin, exclusivity of the stores will also develop customer-relations by giving Marmite lovers a vested-interest in the brand and bragging rights.

However, these pop-up shops will never replace Unilever’s unfavourable supply chain distribution that ultimately results in its products stocked along side supermarket own-label products. Having said that, the core objective of the Pop-up shop strategy is purely a marketing entity; it does, actually, differentiate Marmite from generic competition by focusing on high-value and firm branding – a strategy advocated by Michael Porter. Moreover, the paradox of targeting a ‘niche’ of hardcore Marmite lovers through mass market distribution encourages a sales boost after the early adopters have bought their merchandise, thereby working as an extension strategy to some extent.

Ultimately, in the short-term this has achieved their primary marketing objectives, despite not transforming Unilver’s long-term operational problems of high-customer power. But Matt Burgess, managing director of Marmite, plans to open more pop-up stores in 2011; they risk no longer being creative nor effective: if all cows were purple – according to Seth Godin’s marketing theory – then they would not be remarkable.

© Joshua Blatchford author of Manifested Marketing 23/08/2010

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