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Interview: Bob Platkin, Director of Marketing
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Bob Platkin is perhaps best known to the American public for having repositioned two major brands in the 1980s. He turned A.1. Steak Sauce into a condiment for hamburgers. He also developed the marketing strategy for the famous Grey Poupon mustard TV commercials, where two wealthy men in a Rolls-Royce pass the Grey Poupon. Bob has held senior marketing positions at Nabisco/Heublein (A.1. Steak Sauce, Grey Poupon mustard, Smirnoff), Stanley Works, Colt Firearms, the American Can Co. (Northern Tissue), and Ted Bates Advertising (Colgate-Palmolive). Bob founded Urbina Design, an electric appliance company, and continues to consult with companies in marketing strategies.
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Q: What was the story behind Grey Poupon Why did you take that approach A: Grey Poupon mustard was a sleepy niche item on the gourmet shelves at supermarkets. They advertised in the three leading high-end gourmet magazines. It was sold as an ingredient for gourmet recipes. The product had a nice 5% 10% growth every year. We found we had 90% distribution in supermarkets but only reached 30% of households. My strategy was to sell Grey Poupon mustard for sandwiches and hot dogs. This was very bold. They had an extremely profitable product, but I was telling them to mass-market it. We relaunched the product as a condiment. Don t talk about white wine. Don t show French recipes. We made it into an everyday spread for sandwiches. We even did ads with haute dogs. To get the public familiar with it, we put it in airline in-flight meals. Grey Poupon took off at about 20% annual growth and didn t stop growing for a decade. Q: How did you grow A.1. Steak Sauce A: We forced distribution through advertising to create a demand for A.1. Steak Sauce. Normally, you don t force distribution through advertising. A company would first get their product distributed and then do advertising to sell the product, not the other way around. We put coupons in the Sunday papers. By creating demand, supermarkets had to stock it. By tracking each coupon s unique ID, we could calculate the marketing costs. We used the data to tune the numbers to reflect reality. We didn t have computers. We didn t even have spreadsheets. This was all done by hand with pocket calculators. To keep things manageable, we started in one city. After two months, we had revenue. We used the profits to expand to the next city. We also used our data to calculate customer lifetime value. We compared customers who bought a second time to those who only bought it once. By knowing the volume of repeat business, we could sell the product to stores in the next city. We used data to continuously improve our process and grow big in a very short time. A.1. Steak Sauce had been known as a steak sauce, so we repositioned it for hamburgers. People put it on hamburgers and felt like, Hey, I m eating steak! Another company was Stanley Tools. Stanley tools were sold in Wal-Mart. Every Monday morning, Wal-Mart gave large spreadsheets to the executives, including myself. I would analyze why a product didn t do well in a region. On the converse, products that did sell well were quickly replenished. We looked at the variables, isolated the leading causes, and tried to solve those. We used Wal-Mart Retail Link, which was their analytics and sales performance tool. It used SKU numbers and checkout scanner data. Q: What is the difference between marketing then and now A: Back then, if you had the money, you were king. By creating TV road blocks (i.e., buying up all of the ads on prime time, which forced everyone to see your ad and also kept your competitors out of the picture), the retailers had to stock you!
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