“Products are made in factories, but brands are born in people’s minds. » my mother used to tell me when I forgot to empty the dishwasher (and she stole the quote from Walter Landor). So this morning, while emptying my imaginary dishwasher, I thought about it again, and I thought I was going to tell you about French brands that had really messed up, because it’s funnier than talk about successful French brands. Alright, it’s gone.
1. SFR and its “Millennium” plan
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With the transition to the year 2000, SFR had a great idea on paper: release a package with unlimited evening and weekend calls to SFR numbers for 240 francs per month. A “lifetime” plan, meaning that customers who took it could keep this advantageous plan forever. So inevitably, even if the price was a little high, the offer was very advantageous for the talkers, and the packages nicknamed “Millenium” sold like hot cakes. Two weeks later, SFR stopped the offer, realizing that it was going to cost them a fortune because the beneficiaries abused it and spent all their nights on the phone. The problem is that even though the offer was over, there were still a lot of customers who now benefited from this lifetime plan, and some were even reselling it for incredible prices on the black market. Finally, SFR played with French law – which does not recognize “lifetime” contracts – to modify the contract of customers, even if it meant creating a bad buzz. It served as a lesson for all operators who wanted to outbid by releasing promotions that were unsustainable in the long term; after seeing the SFR fail, everyone calmed down.
2. The (legendary) Bic perfume
The story of Bic perfume has become a textbook case of bad marketing ideas, so we couldn’t avoid talking about it. A quick reminder of the facts: in 1988, the brand of pens and lighters decided to capitalize on its popularity to launch a perfume. However, two problems are already emerging. First, the bottles, inspired by lighters, are very unsexy (which is stupid for a product that is supposed to arouse desire). Second, the products will be distributed in tobacconists for cheap (which is stupid for a luxury product). As a result, of the 100,000 sales planned for the first week, only 10,000 will be made. The brand will try to relaunch all this with advertising campaigns, but when it doesn’t want it, it doesn’t want it: Bic will abandon perfumes in 1991 to focus on its real strengths. A misadventure that will remind all other brands of the importance of good marketing positioning.
3. The Renault Avantime
While the Espace model was a hit in the late 90s, Renault asked Matra – the company that produced the Espace for Renault – to design a new model for them. And Matra had a really good idea: the Renault Avantime, a model totally ahead of its time since it was a monospace coupé. A crossover before the time of crossovers, therefore. Only, the production of the Avantime will take 2 years of delay and the car will not come out until 2001, with some defects (heavy, no diesel version the first year, poor quality of materials…) In the meantime, the Renault Vel Satis, roughly in the same range, had been launched, and shortly after, it was the Espace IV which was about to arrive to snatch it all up. Very bad timing for the Avantime, therefore. After a year, only 4,000 had been sold instead of the expected 15,000. The model will therefore be stopped in 2003, and the factory that produced it closed after having produced only 8552 copies of the car. A car which, oddly, will immediately become a collector’s item and sought after by enthusiasts. It is true that she had a very stylish futuristic look at the same time.
4. Essensis by Danone
What is Essensis? Behind this lame name was a yoghurt that “nourishes the skin from within” released in 2007 with pink packaging not at all suitable for food. The product was a “functional food” or “medicinal food”, basically a food supposed to have nutritional properties good for the body. Asia was crazy about this kind of product at the time, but not France, which totally shunned this yogurt with its amazing name and design. Less than 2 years after its launch, Essensis therefore went in the trash.
5. The Michelin Pax System tire
In 1998, Michelin thought of revolutionizing the world of tires with its Pax System: a tire that allowed you to run flat after a puncture for 200 km at 80 km/h. Inevitably, the idea throws some, and Michelin already imagines that all the other tires will disappear in the years to come with the profit from this new system. But there was a but. To be able to take care of these tyres, mechanics had to equip themselves with extremely expensive equipment, and most of them had no desire to make this investment since the Pax System was not yet too widespread. And who would have wanted to equip his car with the Pax System if few mechanics were equipped to take care of it? Well nobody. That’s how a great idea was finally scrapped in 2007.
6. The France Telecom Bi-Bop
In 1991, France Telecom had the good idea to adapt a successful product in England to the French market. This is how the Bi-Bop was born, a kind of mobile phone that only worked when calling near a terminal. Basically, you had to be in a specific area to call someone who was also in a specific area on his side. A bit like a phone that would only work on Wi-Fi, with a limited number of terminals, only in large cities. The English had been doing it since 1988, but in France, in 1991, the (real) portable was beginning to impose itself, and the packages to become cheaper, so the Bi-Bop was nicely picked up. Only 6 years after its launch, it retired from the game.
7. The Renault 14
In 1976, Renault released the R14, a compact, economical car with low fuel consumption. Promised to a bright future, it nevertheless makes few sales. Salespeople in Renault dealerships find it hard to digest that the car has a not very powerful Peugeot engine and shun it when they show their customers around the dealership. It is therefore necessary to make the car known to as many people as possible. For that, Renault calls on the agency Publicis which creates a campaign where the car is compared to… a pear. Shit idea, since sales are collapsing. No customer wants to look like a sucker, so no one wants R14.
8. The Bic Crystal for her pen
Yes, we find Bic here. This time, the brand stayed in its favorite niche, the pen, but had the bad idea to launch in 2012 the “Crystal for her”, a pen intended for women. Flowery pink packaging and “thinner to better fit women’s hands” design, all the clichés were there. All the ingredients for a bad buzz in order too. Obviously, the product was very poorly received and was withdrawn from sale very quickly. Well done Bic.
Here, we have other bad brand buzz here.
9. Chevignon cigarettes
The luxury brand launched in 1991 in cigarettes. A move not so shocking since other brands in the sector such as Cartier or Yves Saint-Laurent had already taken the plunge before her. However, in 1991, the Evin law was also passed, and it prohibited advertising for tobacco brands. First blow for Chevignon, followed by another big blow: the brand was accused of encouraging young people to smoke. The product was therefore banned and withdrawn barely 5 months after it was put on the market. This is little.