What’s In A Name? Examining The Value Of Ovi O’s and Flutie Flakes
BY ADAM GROSSMAN
One of Shakespeare’s most famous passages comes from a soliloquy in Romeo and Juliet where Juliet says, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” While it has been used in a business context as a frame to analyze everything from baby names to books, this passage arguably applies best to asking what is the importance of a name to company or product success in brand differentiation and revenue generation.
The announcement of a new cereal called Ovi O’s featuring the name of Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin by Giant Foods earlier this is a good example to answer this question. Giant is “the leading greater Washington D.C. regional grocery chain and official grocery sponsor of the Washington Capitals.” Giant is releasing Ovi O’s on the NHL star’s birthday on September 17th and will continue to sell the cereal “while supplies last.”
Supplies may not last long. In 1998, PLB Sports introduced Flutie Flakes named after then Buffalo Bills quarterback Doug Flutie. This seems to be a fool’s errand. Flutie Flakes had many similar qualities to Kellogg's Frosted Flakes and likely had a much smaller promotional, marketing, and advertising budget. As then general manager of Marketing Intelligence Service, Ltd. Tom Vierhileat said at the time, “Not only is the cold cereal market a mature market dominated by a handful of very large companies, there's also been a general decline in sales of ready-to-eat cereal.”
Yet, Flutie Flakes sold over three million boxes at Wegmans, Tops, Wal-Mart, Kmart, Walgreen and “dozens of independent retailers.” This vastly exceeded the original expectation that 50 thousand boxes could be sold. The cereal was so popular that two brand extensions were created - Flutie Flakes Chocolate Bars and Flutie Fruities. Flutie Flakes Chocolate Bars demand exceeded its 150 thousand bar initial production run causing the manufacturer to make 350 thousand more bars.
So why were Flutie Flakes so successful? We have shown in past posts and using our Intellectual Property Analysis Platform that business-to-consumer (B2C) companies operating in mature markets can use sports intellectual property (IP) to drive business results. Flutie Flakes further demonstrates this point. A significant differentiator from a product perspective between Flutie Flakes and Frosted Flakes is the name of the cereal and likeness / image of Doug Flutie on the boxes. Yet, this difference appears to be a driving force for Flutie Flakes to achieve success in a mature market.
Giant Foods likely hopes for similar results with Ovi O’s but with a new twist. In this case, Giant Foods operates in two mature, highly competitive environment markets – cold cereals and grocery chains. Ovi O’s are a “honey nut cereal” that has a similar look and flavor profile as General Mills Honey Nut Cheerios as Flutie Flakes had with Frosted Flakes. The Ovi O’s brand should differentiate the product in the cold cereal market in a comparable way to Flutie Flakes.
However, Ovi O’s will likely only be sold in Giant stores rather than in multiple different retailers like Flutie Flakes were in 1998. This gives grocery customers a new reason to shop specifically at Giant rather than other chains in that operate in the D.C. area such as Safeway, Whole Foods, or Walgreens.
To be clear, it is not solely name that is likely driving sales of these products. Both had (with Flutie Flakes) or will (with Ovi O’s) feature limited releases of the products in markets where the players competed. In addition, portions of the proceeds benefit charitable causes (autism and children’s cancer, respectively). These factors had or will have an impact on sales.
However, limited releases and charitable contributions are likely not the main factors that drive revenue. The imminent release of Ovi O’s is particularly notable because of Giant’s decision to partner with Ovechkin over a season removed from when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup. One could argue that Giant missed its window to work with Ovechkin on this type of product.
Research from our Revenue Above Replacement (RAR) model, however, has shown that star power is a more consistent variable than on-field performance. Essentially, once athletes become stars that audiences see them as stars even if on-ice, on-field, or on-court performance declines.
Flutie Flakes success reinforces this idea as sales remained strong even when the team was losing in large part because of Flutie’s star power. As Melissa then director of marketing for PLB Sports (the company that produced Flutie Flakes) stated, “When the Bills lose games, we expect the sales to die off, but they don't. The retailers keep placing orders and the calls keep coming from people who are looking for them.” Flutie Flakes were also re-introduced in 2008 for a 10th anniversary special given the product’s popularity even though Flutie had retired in 2005 after multiple non-descript seasons primarily as a backup quarterback.
Obviously, Shakespeare did not have cold cereals in mind when he wrote Romeo and Juliet. However, Juliet was “wrong” that a “rose by any other name would smell just as sweet” at least when it comes to using sports IP in targeted contexts. Names, particularly of star athletes, have the power to help the right companies and products generate increased demand through brand differentiation.