Consumer Perception Feeds Brand Power

One of the best things about popular brands is that consumers can count on them. At least that is what most people perceive. For instance, it is a safe bet that Coca-Cola’s formula will remain intact for years to come. Therefore, when consumers reach for a Coke, they know how it will taste. As a result, consumers give Coca-Cola their trust. They trust particular brands because those brands have worked for them, they become enticed by brand advertisements, and/or they want what is popular. However, brands can instantly break consumer trust if they do not hold up to consumer expectations. For example, if Coca-Cola changes its Coke formula, those who have always loved the soda will be disappointed and will likely choose another brand.

Perception plays a huge role in a brand’s success. Therefore, companies often seek ways to update brands to attract different crowds, address new concerns, and keep up with the latest trends. However, when companies try to change a brand’s image, they may face strong resistance. For instance, when Gap tried to change its logo in 2010, its fans immediately protested. When Tropicana changed its orange juice package design, sales dropped. These instances prove that a fine line exists for companies that try to change brands to keep up with the latest trends, yet uphold the image that earned them success. Fast food restaurants are a prime example as they continually compete with ever-increasing obesity statistics. They must somehow keep the foods that made them popular to begin with, yet satisfy those who seek better and healthier alternatives without ruining their reputation.

Many times, companies make subtle changes to their brands. For instance, Unilever claims it changed its ice cream ingredients in an effort to better appeal to its consumers. However, its ice cream once touted as natural is no longer so. Breyers was well known for its natural products, consisting of four or five natural ingredients including milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla beans for its vanilla-flavored ice cream. Today, that ice cream now includes more than five ingredients including those considered unhealthy and/or unnatural such as corn syrup and tara gum. Due to its changes, some of the brand’s ice cream is now labeled as “frozen dessert” rather than ice cream.

Breyers ice cream was among very few in the industry that promoted natural ingredients. Today, finding ice cream without corn syrup, tara gum, and other hard-to-pronounce ingredients is very difficult and nearly impossible. While Unilever claims it changed the ingredients of its ice cream to appease its consumers, based on consumers’ online rants, many wonder if the ingredients were changed to save money. For a society that is trying to promote better and cleaner eating habits, Unilever’s changes do not fit consumer goals. Furthermore, the changes made to the ice cream were not advertised. If these changes were meant to appeal to consumers, wouldn’t the company advertise the changes? It seems the company hoped that consumers wouldn’t notice. After all, those who purchase Breyers frequently would assume the recipe remained the same. However, these are also the same consumers who began to notice a difference in taste and texture. While specific sales for Breyers ice cream are not available, it is a safe bet that Unilever began to lose consumers who specifically chose its ice cream for its natural ingredients.

The same has happened to other companies that made changes to their popular brands. Whenever companies fail consumer expectations, they place themselves at great risk. For consumers and companies alike, brand image means a great deal.