Fighter Brands: Knee-Jerk Reactions?

Published on 27th April 2009

Eventually the Daily Metro, a Kenyan newspaper has folded its operation marking another testimony –a product wrapped as failed fighter brand .Whether the wrap-up is attributed to the domino effect of the sub-prime mortgage crisis emanating from USA or the inability to maintain sales, only the Nation Media Group can tell. 

A copy of Daily Metro on display Photo:Courtesy
Daily Metro was introduced in the market in November 2007 and barely two years later, it has closed shop. The paper which targeted the lower and middle income earners was introduced by the Nation Media Group to grab the juicy gossip both within and without Nairobi from the sensational Nairobi Star. Nairobi Star had taken the streets with bang by help of women distributors. The sales impacts were phenomenal, causing a stir in the Nation Media Group. 

Fighter brands have always come up as knee-jerk reactions the world over. Owing to riding on emotion rather than thorough thought, fighter brands run the mile half way and loose steam. 

Alvaro is another case. Launched in Kenya as a test market by the East African Breweries, the non alcoholic drink won the hearts of many. What did Coca Cola do? The retort was predictable: Novida, a rival non-alcoholic drink was born out of panic. Alvaro went by an exotic name and so did Coca Cola’s brand, Novida.  

Coca Cola has Manzana Lift brand in the Hispanic market with a pineapple flavour; why would it not fetch the very brand to the African Market instead of siring Novida? In fact, Coca Cola’s preliminary spontaneous effect in the short run was to introduce Burn (an energy drinking drink) which was at most  a silent brand rather than a salient brand. 

Across the Indian Ocean, Malaysian air carrier came up with Fire Fly to counter the upset entry of the low cost flier Air Asia. Air Asia is phenomenal in its growth but with very modest beginnings. 

Air Asia’s dream was to have everybody  fly quickly,  proving it as the best thing that ever happened in Malaysia for budget travelers .Tony Fernders (CEO, Air Asia) made the dream come true. Air Asia avoids huge costs such as exorbitant parking fees. Their income is derived from ticket sales (without food or drinks on board). The airline concentrates on just two –types of aeroplanes, giving it a great stride with economies of scope. Malaysia Airlines  with its over 250 planes has been subdued with the new kid on the block. The rejoinder of Malaysia Airline was to launch a fighter brand - Fire-Fly to fight Air Asia. 

The major Boys in business face great temptation to react whenever an underdog enters the trade, and they might want to wax strong to prove a point. Mostly, they come with fighter brands. Fighter brands need a lot of research and analysis before being positioned. For example, the target market for Daily Metro was totally different from Nairobi Star’s. The same goes for positioning and segmentation of the two newspapers. 

The best cases that have success in flanking are the Japanese motor vehicle manufacturers. They managed to penetrate the High class hybrid vehicles. Their vehicles are connected to the likes of Mercedes Benz Chrysler, BMW and Volvo. The Lexus is a brand that has showcased that flanking can work with strategically reading the future and acting to the future characteristic of the market as opposed to competitors. The Japanese studied the competitors to get the proto type but came up with their own stereotypes. 

Customers don’t want an alternative. They want the ultimate product to conjure their needs. Fighter brands drain a lot of energy from the existing attentiveness to running battles of promotion and even price wars. 

The case of East African Breweries is worth mentioning, when Castle Larger came in From South Africa, the spontaneous effect for the management was to get into South Africa Territory. When the odds were against them, they decided to take it to the promotional and price wars. The good thing for them, EABL was able to ward off Castle Larger into Tanzania. But right now, they face a Kenyan enterprise challenging their supremacy in making people drunk; the question is how they will now deal with Keroche Industries.   

Are the fighters’ brands just knee-jerk reactions? The management team must learn to act instead of react. That is the divergence between flanking successfully and unsuccessful fighter brands. 

Zephaniah Thaisaiyi Opati.

Post Graduate Student in Business Administration,

Universiti Teknologi Mara Malaysia.



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