The 10 biggest marketing stories of 2015

It has been a tumultuous year for marketers – some winners, some losers and plenty of drama. Here are the 10 most significant marketing events of the past year.

January: Chinese baby formula

Cindy Chen, at home with her son and cans of Baby Milk Formula bought from Australia.  Shanghai, China Cindy Chen, at home with her son and cans of Baby Milk Formula bought from Australia.  Shanghai, China. 13th of November 2015  Photo Jonathan Browning

Shanghai resident Cindy Chen, at home with her son and cans of baby milk formula bought from Australia. Photo: Jonathan Browning 

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The biggest marketing stories of 2015

It has been a tumultuous year for marketers – some winners, some losers and plenty of drama. Here are 5 of the biggest in 2015.

Distrust of local manufacturers, parental care and good old-fashioned scale economies combined in 2015 to make baby formula the hottest Australian product of the year.

Of the 20 million babies born in China this year, 17 million will not be breastfed, so baby formula is a hugely popular product.

Poisoning scandals have meant Chinese parents will not buy local products and often don't trust Chinese retailers to sell them genuine international formula either.

Cue a 1000 stories of Chinese mums emptying local Australia supermarkets of their formula and local Chinese students making fortunes from parallel importing.


The big winners were dairy companies such as A2 and Bellamy's, the losers are Australian mums who can no longer find their favourite brand of baby formula.

China's abandonment of its one child policy means the demand, and the shortages, will only increase next year. Breast might be best.

February: David Thodey hangs up on Telstra

Former Telstra CEO David Thodey will chair the $190 million Jobs for NSW fund, aimed at funding employers in the state.

Former Telstra CEO David Thodey. Photo: Louie Douvis

Thodey was triply unusual. He was a market-oriented CEO who put customer research at the heart of his strategic thinking and was as likely to quote customer satisfaction scores as he was the bottom line.

He was wildly successful during his six-year tenure, transforming Telstra and its operations.

Best of all, he was humble and refused to defend his salary versus those paid to other employees.

His replacement as CEO, Andy Penn, admitted to feeling "a little daunted" to be filling Thodey's boots. Exactly right.

April: Coca-Cola Life

Coca-Cola Life

Coca-Cola Life is now more commonly known as 'Green Coke'. Photo: Supplied

Launched with much fanfare into Australia, Coke Green, as it became known, was meant to be a winning hybrid.

It had less sugar than regular Coke and, unlike Diet Coke, used natural sweeteners.

To Coke executives, that was a match made in heaven, but to consumers, who are rapidly exiting the carbonated beverage category, it just looked like an unattractive compromise.

Seven months on from a launch that Coca-Cola claims has been an unmitigated success, analysts point to barely 2 per cent of Coke's sales coming from the new product and remain sceptical of its long-term value.

April: NBN drops 'Co' and cops a battering

NBN roll out continues in Gungahlin.

NBN roll out continues in Gungahlin. Photo: Robert Peet

Every year there is always one sorry story about stupid rebranding and 2015 was no exception.

The news that NBN Co had spent $700,000 to rebrand itself as, er, NBN, was met with utter dismay.

"The new brand positioning is modern, inspiring and aspirational – it shows how the NBN network will help harness the full potential of everyone in Australia," explained one helpful executive.

The cost of the re-positioning work and new logo was so extensive that NBN decided not to apply its new identity to existing trucks and other collateral. Cue further head scratching.

June: No win for Woolworths

Woolworths' chain Masters has struggled.

Woolworths' chain Masters has struggled. Photo: Aaron Bunch

There had been whispers for years that the entrance of Aldi and the revitalisation of arch-rival Coles had left Woolworths exposed and under-resourced.

In June the combination of underperforming retail stores and the disastrous decision to launch the Masters DIY superstores across Australia finally hit home.

CEO Grant O'Brien fell on his sword and the company continues to seek a replacement.

A miracle worker might be the best bet, because the woes of Woolworths will worsen in 2016.

September: Volkswagen emissions scandal

Justice Foster made an order granting Maurice Blackburn leave to file and serve the documents outside Australia.

The diesel emissions scandal has been a massive blow to Volkswagen's reputation. Photo: Getty Images

It started with abnormal test results for two Volkswagen diesel cars at the University of West Virginia.

The trail then led to several hundred thousand "clean diesel" VW cars that were clearly cheating the American emissions standards and, ultimately, ended with more than 11 million cars being identified worldwide.

The scandal cost VW CEO Martin Winterkorn his job and initially wiped more than $120 million off VW's share price.

The company has subsequently attempted to paint the scandal as a result of a desperate band of rogue engineers.

Expect 2016 to see billions in fines and an investigation to reveal who knew what and when. This crisis is far from over.

September: Bieber Island

SMH News. Justin Bieber performs on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour
. Photo Peter Rae Wednesday 30 October 2015

Fans at the Justin Bieber concert on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour.  Photo: Peter Rae

Take the world's biggest pop star, put him on an island 10 minutes from Sydney and then ferry 1200 eager fans (plus two girls in a kayak who gatecrashed the event) to watch an early morning performance of some of the Canadian celebrity's biggest hits.

In a changing world of digital media, it was comforting to note that sometimes the old-fashioned approach of a big event and some radio promotion still works wonders on modern youth.

It's almost half a century since the Beatles caused delirium at Shea Stadium in New York, but the essential power of pop music to stop the clock remains exactly the same.

October: The biggest beer merger of all time

An Anheuser-Busch InBev NV branded Corona beer, along with SABMiller Plc branded beers, are displayed for a photograph in Cape Town, South Africa, on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. Anheuser-Busch InBev closed in on the biggest corporate takeover in U.K. history after proposing to pay almost $106 billion for SABMiller to create a brewer selling one in every third beer worldwide.  Photographer: Halden Krog/Bloomberg

Anheuser-Busch InBev owns some of the world's best-known beer brands. Photo: Halden Krog/Bloomberg

AB InBev struck a deal with its former rival SABMiller to acquire the company for $144 billion back in October.

Both companies are under threat from a new generation of independent micro-breweries and the deal creates a global mega-brewery with brands such as Budweiser, Miller, Becks and Stella Artois to name but four.

Conspicuously absent from the list are the brands operated by CUB – brewers of brands such as Carlton Draft and VB – which was acquired by SABMiller in 2011.

Concerns that the newly formed mega-brewer will have too much market dominance in Australia could well see CUB spun-off and floated on the ASX in 2016.

Good news if you want Australian brands to be owned and run by Australians.

November: #yourtaxis

A huge legacy of bad regulation remains atop the taxi industry.

The taxi industry's attempt at social marketing fell woefully short.

It was undeniably the biggest marketing fail of the year – and it came in six delicious episodes. First, the initial campaign, which encouraged Victorian taxi customers to tweet about their experiences using the hashtag #yourtaxis.

Then the predictable backlash started as thousands of customers hijacked the campaign to express their disgust with the state of Victorian cabs.

Next, the lame attempt by the Victorian Taxi Association to claim that the campaign was "working" because they were getting so much customer feedback.

Then there was the infamous "Rememberence Day Tweet" [sic] in which the campaign managed to offend pretty much everyone by linking its services to veterans and misspelling one of Australia's most hallowed annual events.

Then the agency responsible, Ellis Jones, was fired.

And finally, in a testament to the enduring power of stupid marketing, the hash tag has lived on, continuing to damage the brand it was designed to rescue, on an hourly basis.

Epically, epically bad.

November: Coles streamlines private label

Coles supermarket. generic groceries, shopping, food, trolley, retail. Wednesday 7th May 2008 AFR photo Louie Douvis  AFR USE ONLY SPECIALX 84381

Coles has consolidated its generic brands.Photo: Louie Douvis

The highest-profile marketing hire of the year was Coles' recruitment of Michael Lovsin from Canadian retail giant Loblaw.

Loblaw, along with Tesco, pretty much invented private label strategy and Lovsin has wasted no time in advancing Coles' approach to its home brand. While the range will expand, Lovsin has killed off sub-brands such as Coles Smart Buy and Simply Less to allow 99 per cent of home brand products to be sold under the single Coles brand.

In a country where we battle with too many brands and too little focus (Pacific Brands, Billabong, Treasury Wine Estates), Australia's leading retailer is showing the way by killing brands to drive profitability, quality and growth. Another good year awaits.

Mark Ritson is an associate professor at Melbourne Business School and consultant to several of the world's leading brands. Follow him on Twitter @markritson



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