The gentai art of cucumber cool?
I read an interesting story in BusinessWeek magazine. In Japan Pepsi launched a line extension called Pepsi Ice Cucumber. Unlike the usual flavoured cola drinks the cucumber variant isn't brown. It is a pale green. While gaijin palates might find that a perfectly revolting concept but the Japanese chug-a-lugged 4.8 million bottles of the stuff in two weeks. Stock sold out. You'd think that with such a hit on their hands Pepsi would be shouting 'Banzai!' and going for broke…
Nope. They killed it. According to a Suntory spokesperson "The value of Ice Cucumber is that it's gone already." The product was a marketing ploy to create buzz. The Japanese have a name for this: gentei (limited edition). For Pepsi the buzz around the variant helped to invigorate interest in the brand in a cluttered and hotly contested market.
The Japanese are obviously very receptive to novelty but the obvious question is how the gentei phenomenon affects the core brand. What does Pepsi 'mean' to consumers who don't know what happens next. It seems to me something akin to retailers who are always in Sale mode (Briscoes homewares for example). Do we become conditioned to wait until deep discounts are offered before committing to purchases?
For Pepsi to generate an intense buzz then withdraw the product obviously impacts on traditional ideas about 'loyalty'. The Businessweek article quotes a Mars Japan spokesperson "If you do it too much, [consumers will] forget why they are purchasing the brand…"