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ZIBSForum: Scott Neslin on Procter & Gamble's Value Pricing Strategy
by Jenn Bollen and Greg Thomas

Scott A. Neslin, Albert Wesley Fry Professor of Marketing at the Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, delivered the February 2005 ZIBSForum at Emory University on how Procter & Gamble instituted a "value pricing strategy" in the early 1990's.

Procter & Gamble made dramatic and long-term changes in its pricing and promotion strategy during which it boosted advertising while simultaneously curbing its distribution channel deals (in-store displays, trade deals), and significantly reducing its coupon promotions.

The Scenario

In the early 1990's Procter & Gamble made dramatic and long-term changes in its pricing and promotion strategy. Procter & Gamble (P&G), a leading consumer packaged goods producer, instituted a "value pricing strategy" during which it boosted advertising while simultaneously curbing its distribution channel deals (in-store displays, trade deals), and significantly reducing its coupon promotions. This grand experiment leads us to a whole host of questions. What impact did the strategy have on brand loyalty? How did competitors respond? What was the "bottom line" impact on market share?

In response to these questions, Scott A. Neslin, the Albert Wesley Fry Professor of Marketing at the Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, enlightened us in his presentation at the ZIBS Forum held in February. Scott Neslin performed extensive analysis on the topic along with colleagues Kusum L. Ailawadi and Donald R. Lehmann. For our ZIBS Forum, Scott revealed the secrets of their investigation, and this report covers the salient points he covered.

The Details

What inspired P&G to initiate this value pricing strategy? First was logistical efficiency. P&G was concerned with the cost of administering promotions, and the effect of up-and-down swings in demand on the production system. Second, P&G was concerned with the impact of promotions on brand loyalty, fearing that on one hand they attracted "cherry-picking" bargain hunters who could care less about the brand, and on the other hand they weakened the loyalty of their core customers. It is also thought that one of the prime architects of the strategy, senior executive Dirk Jager, personally disliked coupons with a passion. These factors inspired P&G to break with standard marketing practices. As a result, over the course of six years (1990 through 1996) P&G reduced its coupon expenditures by over 50%, reduced its distribution channel deal expenditures by 20%, and increased its advertising expenditures by 20%. This was truly a contrarian strategy as during the same period general market trends showed an increase in promotion (deals and coupons) by 15% and a decrease in advertising by 20%.

What were the goals of value pricing? First, it sought to improve efficiency. The administrative and production costs for promotions, deals, and coupons were becoming increasingly expensive and cumbersome for P&G, distributors, and retailers. Second, since the theory was that coupons and deals only invited brand switching and destroyed brand loyalty, cutting back on deals should leave P&G with a stronger brand franchise. And to top it off, coupon fraud was also growing at this time with supposed nefarious links to organized crime and terrorist funding. Cutting back on coupons would obviously sever this link.

The Experts Microscope

Analyzing P&G's Value Pricing Strategy, Scott Neslin and his colleagues investigated how their strategy affected brand loyalty, whether their customer base increased or decreased, how the competitors reacted, and how the strategy affected market share.

To determine this, Neslin broke market share into three components: Penetration (PEN), Share of Requirement (SOR), and Category Usage (USE).

PEN is the percentage of category buyers who buy the brand at least once; SOR measures brand loyalty and is expressed as the percentage of category purchases in which the consumer chooses the P&G product, among those who purchase the P&G brand at least once;

USE is an adjustment for heavy and light users. In summary, PEN is basically how many customers you have;

SOR is how frequently these customers buy the brand (a measure of loyalty), and USE is whether the brand's customers are disproportionately light or heavy users.

Using the following formula you can equate market share:

Market Share = PEN x SOR x USE

One could conjecture that, with their new pricing strategy, P&G's PEN would decrease, but SOR would increase more than PEN and improve market share.

Neslin created separate regression models for PEN, SOR, and USE. To achieve this, he used P&G's price, promotion, coupon, and advertising expenditures and the competition's price, promotion, coupon, and advertising expenditures as independent variabes. He quantified these as the net price paid for an item, percent sold on deal, percent sold with a coupon, and media advertising dollars. Neslin was unable to include a specific measure for distribution but distribution is captured indirectly in the catch-all "error term" of the model. Neslin's analysis shows that although price, advertising expense, deals, and coupons (from both P&G and competitors) affect PEN, SOR, and USE, price has the largest affect on the three market share components. Most interestingly, advertising had little effect on all three components, and deals and coupons actually a slight positive impact on SOR. While this is contrary to the view that promotions destroy brand loyalty, it may simply be due to the fact that promotions keep consumers in the brand, whether because they love the brand or because they can buy it at a decent price.

The Impact

From 1990 -1996, the net price paid by consumers of P&G products increased 20.4% (due to the decrease of coupons use by 54.3%, and reduction in price cuts). Meanwhile P&G increased advertising by 20.7%, and decreased channel deals by 15.7%.

What was the competitive reaction? During the same time period, the overall competition's (including companies such as Colgate, Unilever, and Gillette) net price paid increased 10%, advertising increased 6.3%, deals increased 13.1%, and coupons decreased 17.1%. Of the three competitors, only Gillette lowered prices and it increased coupons use by 127.6% -- far more than Colgate. Overall, the competition did not completely cooperate with P&G, but neither did it take full advantage in a mad grab for market share.


Market Performance Framework

What was the total impact on P&G? P&G's Value Pricing Strategy showed no change in share of requirements or category usage, but it did end up with a reduced penetration rate, which declined 16%. This was because the cut in promotions resulted in fewer consumers buying P&G brands, and neither the cut in promotions nor the increase in advertising had any appreciable effect on SOR. Overall, P&G's market share decreased 16%. Although P&G lost market share, it is possible that its profits remained stable or even increased. It lost 16% of share, but made up for this through increased prices 20%, a lower cost of good sold, and efficiencies in production. However, the increase in advertising expenditures may have wiped out most of the cost savings. Despite gain or loss in profitability, P&G lost their strategic and esteemed position as the market leader in the consumer packaged goods industry. Traditionally, P&G had a sharp focus on market share leadership as the ultimate metric of success, and yet for the first time since the 1950s, Colgate overtook P&G's Crest as the market leader.

What happened to P&G's theory that price promotions reduce loyalty? Was this myth or fact? Analyzing P&G's value pricing strategy shows that promotion cuts decreased penetration but did not dramatically increase loyalty. So, P&G's initial beliefs were myths indeed. Additionally, increasing advertising had little effect on market share. Why? When you are the market share leader the effect of advertising is diminished. Market share leaders already have high awareness levels, and unless your advertising provides new compelling reasons to buy (usually rooted in innovative product differentiation) there is little upside beyond maintenance advertising.

What was the effect of the competitive response? The competitors reacted to P&G's strategy in a way that cushioned P&G's loss - the competition could have destroyed P&G, but P&G's losses were mostly self-inflicted. Of the competitors, Gillette was the only one to take a contrarian strategy and was fairly successful. What do you do about sharp competitors like Gillette? As we saw recently, P&G decided to buy this one.

In sum, sustained cuts in promotion result in lost share in the long run. Sustained mass advertising expenditure increases for mature, high share brands do not pay off in the long run. Mass advertising is better suited for immature, low share brands. Finally, competitors may not "eat your lunch" if a company chooses a strategy that makes them vulnerable. The competition likely faces the same challenges as your company and may follow suit with policy changes.

Market modeling is a powerful tool. Response modeling entails using mathematical models to translate the rich market environment into mathematical equations in an effort to quantify the impact of marketing initiatives. Modeling competitive market response to major policy changes is important to understanding the long-term results of those policy changes. The next major challenge for marketers is predicting, in advance, how the market will react to future policy changes. When a major policy change is implemented, it fundamentally changes the market; the rules of the game are changed. Therefore, it is inherently inaccurate to predict the results of major policy changes based on historical data because appropriate data does not exist.

It is interesting to note that P&G's value pricing strategy is quite a misnomer. During this period many stores were switching to EDLP (every day low pricing) policies, which meant that consumers would save on their overall purchase without having to deal shop. In contrast, P&G strategy essentially was a disguised price increase; coupons were cut by 50%, which contributed to an increase in the customer's price paid by 20%. It is possible that P&G lowered their wholesale price, but the retailer only enjoyed higher margins and did not pass the savings on to the customer. Another possibility is that retailers lowered retail prices consistently, following P&G's decrease in wholesale price, but once promotional trade deals are factored in those everyday lower wholesale prices did not result in a lower total price paid. For example, if P&G's old price was $20, but gave deals of $15, at which price 90% of purchases were made, the wholesale price equaled $15.7 (.90*$15 + .10*$20). If P&G set a "Value Price" point of $18, but 100% of purchases were made at that price, the retailer enjoyed no cost savings-only a cost increase. If P&G had truly offered price cuts, their results may have been much different.

The Big Picture

The insights into P&G's grand experiment demonstrate to us the importance of promotional pricing, and the diminished power of mass advertising for high share players. Analysis of P&G's value pricing strategy allows us to see how major long-term policy changes, not short-term marketing mix changes, affect market share and competitors' reaction. Studying P&G's value pricing strategy offers the unique opportunity for marketers to analyze major policy changes, obtain clearer understanding of how marketing mix changes affect brands, learn about long-term impacts of marketing changes, and inform future policy decisions. And it is also important to note that success can be measured more than one way. In essence, the P&G grand experiment may have been successful when measured by profits, and at the time those profits were being used to invest in new innovations. However, for a company that traditionally measured success by volume (market share) its value pricing strategy truly had a large enough adverse impact on share that it was eventually abandoned.

Acknowledgements and References:
Ailawadi, Kusum L., Donald R. Lehmann, and Scott A. Neslin (2001) "Market Response to a Major Policy Change in the Marketing Mix: Learning from Procter & Gamble's Value Pricing Strategy", Journal of Marketing, (January) 44-51.

Sun, Baohong, Scott A. Neslin, and Kannan Srinivasan (2003) "Measuring the Impact of Promotions on Brand Switching When Consumers Are Forward Looking", Journal of Marketing Research, (November) 389-405.

Ailawadi, Kusum L., Praveen K. Kopalle, and Scott A. Neslin (2005) "Predicting Competitive Response to a Major Policy Change: Combining Game Theoretic and Empirical Analyses", Forthcoming Marketing Science.


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