The simplicity of Product of the Year is its strength, says its UK CEO, Mike Nolan.
Q] What have been some of the highlights of 25 years of Product of the Year? What are the defining moments?
The defining moment was when we realized that Product of the Year (POY) was resonating with consumers, when we started getting figures of 90% awareness in France and 70% awareness in the UK, that felt like a breakthrough… the whole reason for POY was to represent housewives and when we began to get numbers like that, it meant housewives were looking for the logo, trusting the logo and buying products. There have also been some key ad campaigns where people have taken POY, integrated it with their communication and used it as a reason to sell. So rather than saying here is a lovely shampoo, it makes your hair stronger, they say it has been voted Product of the Year. We have had some campaigns that started off by saying tens of thousands of people have voted our shampoo as the best shampoo, it also strengthens your hair when the communication was turned around to focus on the 30,000 people voting… that felt like a big moment for POY.
Q] Quite a few brands have come up over the years in a similar space... What has been your experience of working on this property?
We don’t believe we have competition. We are the only mass-marketed voted award. In a funny way, where some people have tried to copy what we do, it’s always been very difficult. So where we have competition, it is not direct competition and by definition has to be something else. There is no one else out there, surveying 30,000 Indian people, to ask what the best new products are, because they just wouldn’t work. So we believe that POY can co-exist with other existing awards… we don’t take a particularly strong view of them. But internally, we think it is fine that awards should co-exist; we think ours is the best and most representative of what housewives think and most independent. What we have on our side is 25 years and 32. For us it is about the physical presence of the product as opposed to the brand, so POY is more immediate, much more direct, hopefully you can walk across to a local shop and buy it. That is the difference with other awards, which talk about brands and ad spends.
Q] What are some of the plans to grow POY in the years to come?
Our focus is on new products and always will be. If you look at the number of new products being launched in India, there is plenty of scope for growth.
Q] Please take us through the genesis of this idea…
The idea was evolved in Paris 25 years ago, by Christian Le Bret, with the belief that there was not enough interaction between the consumer and manufacturer, and the need to have dialogue beyond sales data, and provide a forum for innovation. The strength of the idea is its simplicity.
Q] What does a typical POY calendar looks like?
The first stage entails talking to a manufacturer, saying ‘Why don’t you get involved?’ They choose the product, not us. It is not up to us. We then put the products in front of a jury, which comprises important and senior figures. We filter the products at this stage, and run the research that takes three to four months because it is a 100% face-to-face. India is the only country in the world where every single interview is face-to-face, interviewing 30,000 people is a logistical triumph we manage. A very significant part is also our research, which is in two parts. We recognize the best innovations, second, we ask the respondents a lot of questions about their interaction within the category and since we cover so many different categories, we are able to correlate one to the other and identify some trends on where brands need to take their next level of innovation. Companies like Levers and P&G do their own R&D, but because we talk to such a large database of consumers, we are able to go back and tell them what the consumption patterns are likely to be in the next few years. By the end of February, we get the results and the winners can start getting their campaigns ready, in some award shows we have also had campaigns break on the night of the award show itself.
Q] Which are some of the successful chapters and moments for POY?
We did an ad for Pantene in the UK with a lot of pictures of women on a Polaroid, which was swirled around to make an image, the voice-over said thousands of women have voted Pantene Product of the Year. It was such a successful ad that sales increased by 130% for Pantene, a big P&G brand. We did a hugely successful ad for M&M’s as well in the US. What also happens as a result of POY is distribution increases, and the fact that people keep coming back year after year is because of the value POY provides, in most countries 90% of the people who win come back. I am also very excited to be in India, when you are trying to take a concept around the world, some markets seem more challenging than others. India certainly seems more challenging. To be sitting here four years later with a successful business, it is validation that we have a global concept on our hands. Our presence in 32 countries is our highlight.
Q] Did the slowdown have any kind of impact on POY?
Yes, it resulted in the freezing of marketing spends, and introduction of less products. But I think the fact that we are still here and helping manufacturers and consumers through arguably the toughest five years of economic downturn, means we have something good on our hands. We have some anecdotal feedback from some countries where they have had to cut the price only marginally and leveraged the POY stamp on the product, which gave it extra edge and credibility.
Q] What are some of the steps inbuilt in your process to ensure credibility of POY?
We don’t choose the products, the products are put forth by the manufacturers. We have a press review jury which does the review of the products independently. The key factor is we have 30,000 housewives and that research is run by AC Nielsen, one of the biggest research companies in India.
Q] There are some people who will still challenge the credibility of an award such as this – how do you view this?
Everything can be open for challenge… we believe what we do is credible, independent. We have been around for a long time and in a lot of countries, we would never say we get everything right and I don’t think anybody does. The concept of what we do is very clear - it is a mass vote and we put our logo on the winner and don’t charge the shopper any money for it. We are happy with what we do, and we always strive to do better and make our methodology better; we are comfortable with what we do globally.
Q] How have brands benefited from being awarded POY?
One of the difficulties is that people are reluctant to share sales data with us. We are pretty clear that the average increase is between 10-15% for a winning product. We have had documented examples of 120-130% increase in sales when they do particularly big media campaigns. People see a huge value attached, so companies keep coming back, yes it is about sales, but it is also about internal buzz, motivation, excitement that leads to other things. Some companies even have a team day out celebrating their product winning POY.
Q] What is the kind of marketing activity involved?
We work with Croma and also have tieups with Future Group and Star TV since the beginning; this helps in creating a lot of awareness. The fact that we don’t go out there and say we are POY, so look for us as a symbol of consumer validation, works in our favour as we are not an FMCG stamp. We also spread awareness through consumer contact programmes which say the best products have been chosen by people like you.