You’re Doing It All Wrong Capitalist Populism and Consumer Packaged Services

At 88 Brand Partners, we pride ourselves as experts at marketing service brands. We recently launched a Trend Tracking series about how some brands traditionally thought of as consumer packaged goods have begun behaving more like services, or consumer packaged services. For more context, check out the kick-off post from earlier this month, and see how subscription models are winning over consumers, or dive in now, as we take a look at how these newly created service brands treat the product category they left behind (hint: not very nicely).

Consumer packaged services (CPS) don’t just say their product is crunchier, tastier or more reliable. They call out the industry they exist in and say it’s corrupt, that everyone is doing it all wrong. And their new brand/product/service — it’s the solution. As part of their strategy, they manifest an honest and transparent voice. It’s the sense of a promise that they’ll do it right. This voice is critical of the category, and it promises a new way forward for customers. It’s what I call capitalist populism. And I believe it’s a key ingredient that takes a CPG and makes it a CPS ‚éØ a consumer packaged service.

Populism appeals to everyday people and proposes a solution to issues that are believed to be overlooked by those currently in power. Populism offers something new, something fresh. So does capitalist populism. But instead of offering solutions to political issues, it offers solutions to product issues. So let’s explore how some CPS brands are using capitalist populism to get people to switch from getting a product off the shelf to getting a product in the mail.

We’ll start with the two most famous examples — Dollar Shave Club and Blue Apron. Dollar Shave Club launched as an affordable alternative to the razors sold at stores. It all began with a video. What stands out to many people, as intended, is the humor in the video. But let’s take a look at the messaging from a key point in the video: “Do you like spending $20 a month on brand name razors?” and “Stop paying for shave tech you don’t need.”

By criticizing the standard practices of its unnamed major competitors, Dollar Shave Club was participating in capitalist populism. While that video’s sense of humor is memorable, what’s key is the message that things are not as they should be, and that only Dollar Shave Club has the solution. It’s a message that’s resonated profoundly. Want proof? How about Unilever buying Dollar Shave Club for $1 billion. Not bad for a company whose calling card is a dollar.

Next up, Blue Apron. Blue Apron, like Dollar Shave Club, is delivered right to your door. But whereas Dollar Shave Club challenges its entire marketing category, Blue Apron sets its sights on something even bigger ‚éØ the way we approach food. Their vision begins with these very words, “We’re building a better food system.”

Like their partner in capitalist populism, Dollar Shave Club, there is an air of transparency that traditional CPGs don’t usually share. There’s a “Here’s the problem, and here’s how we’re going to fix it” kind of messaging, where the CPS brand plays both arsonist and fireman. For instance, “This is the food system, but what if it didn’t have to be?” is a how a key video for Blue Apron begins.

Now onto some smaller players ‚éØ Ollie and GOBY. Ollie delivers dog food directly to your door, and promises to “keep it real,” a nod to their all-natural ingredients. Ollie positions itself as the alternative in a pet food industry that puts profit over puppies. And they’re not afraid to say it, either. In an April 2017 interview in Forbes, Ollie co-founders were asked about the allegedly unhealthy foods of their competitors, and said, “The food is heated to over 300 degrees, cooked to essentially cardboard, then artificially flavored, artificially supplemented, and injected with added preservatives. Additionally, the quality of raw ingredients are abysmal.” Shots fired.

CPS brands use a “Here’s the problem, and here’s how we’re going to fix it” kind of messaging, where the CPS brand plays both arsonist and fireman.

Last but not least, GOBY, an electronic toothbrush company. In a Business Insider interview this spring, co-founder Ben Goldberg said, “I was feeling like I was getting ripped off by the cost of replacement brush heads.” A lot of these companies articulate that feeling of getting ripped off, and they assure potential customers that they offer something different. GOBY seeks to “eliminate markups” and “offer premium oral care products at a fair price.” While less fiery or sardonic then some of their contemporaries, they nonetheless call out the category as broken and promise that they have the hammer and nails to put it back together. For GOBY, time will tell how its messaging pays off, but it’s certainly in line with its successful capitalist populist relatives.

As consumer packaged services take on consumer packaged goods, criticizing their practices and entrenched ways, a day will come when the consumer packaged services themselves face fresh competitors. And these new competitors will have their own compelling critiques and unique offerings. In fact, it’s already begun happening. GOBY alone has several competitors ‚éØ BOKA, quip and 365 Oral Care, to name just a few. And it’s not just new competitors; entrenched brands are finding it necessary to evolve. Goliath doesn’t often copy David, but Dollar Shave Club has achieved enough success that Gillette now offers Gillette On Demand, their own version of a delivery shave club. So, with so many new challengers in this space, can capitalist populism last? Likely not, in my opinion. I predict politics as usual, as the category criticism stops and the competitor comparisons begin. So, it’d behoove any CPG considering turning itself into a service to do so, fast.

But for now, the consumer packaged services are the populists. And people are hearing what they have to say.