First, before I get hate comments on this, I have a dog and I love my dog. And dogs and cats dying from their very well known brand name pet foods is very serious business. But since I write about organizations in crisis, I am suggesting that the problem with the contaminated food will be resolved in due course, but the crisis of revealing that a great many different brands are coming from the same factory will hang around the industry for a long time.
Why is this a problem? Because the mantra of marketing has always been “differentiation, differentiation, differentiation.” It is pretty well known that fuel branded by a variety of different companies comes from the same refinery. After all, they all have to meet the same specs. However, the differentiation question is around the additives they add at the terminal. So the real brand differentiation question between Shell and Chevron for example is over the additives. If it weren’t for that, gasoline would be a true commodity (it is very close to that).
Pet food is a long ways from being considered a commodity. There are vast price differences and people paying much higher prices need to believe they are getting value. All the brands affected by this crisis are premium brands (which in itself a problem: Hey, I pay more, I should at least get a SAFE product!) but more importantly, any claims to differentiation have now been undercut by the realization that all these very different brands come from the same Canadian factory.
Here’s where crisis managers and heads of marketing or communication better get together. The crisis just undermined all kinds of brand strategy and brand building promotion. How will they deal with it? The additives strategy? Tell the world they opened their own factory? Of just quietly go back to business and hope everyone forgets that one big factory provides them and their competitors with the same products?