Farmville Brand Leaves Soaps in the Dust

Farmville: When New Brand Categories Kill

In Branding Evaluation by DistilityLeave a Comment

“There is no competition for the drinkable computer”

One of the first questions we ask our client teams before we begin branding is “Who is your competition“.  Bleeding edge gear-heads and other like geniuses often fumble with this question. For example, they respond “We’re the first people to bring a drinkable computer to market and we have no competition.” Of course, after a few minutes of leading questions from us, they realize that there are plenty of brands vying to resolve the same need their promise resolves. This realization marks the beginning of their journey to understand brand fundamentals.

“Of course we know our competition”
In contrast, established brands are always too quick to answer the question. B2B brands are well aware of their competitors as they crop up as rivals when the pitch for business. In the B2C space, the established brand can identify who they are competing against competitors for ad buys and shelf space. While the established brand may not think twice about their competition, there are epic techno-marketing moments when brand categories collide, changing the competitive landscape forever and leaving yesterday’s heros in the dust.

Farmville Killed the Video Star
The afternoon soap is the newest victim in the clash of categories and competitors. ABC has announced the cancellation of their iconic soaps “All My Children” and “One Life to Live”.  These soaps have been on the air for over 40 years.  While this has been spun by ABC as a simple case of needing to update and release new programs, in fact it appears to be part of the larger issue facing TV networks as their customer’s needs are resolved by the promise of next generation channels.  In this case, the soap killer is Farmville and other popular online diversions.

Up until the last 10 years, TV networks would generally identify their competition by listing other TV networks.  However, the advent of the digital age means that the field of competition is rupturing. The entertainment providers who broadcast and offer their games and other wares on the Internet.  The fact that soap opera audiences have been shrinking as more women work is well know.  The kicker for soap operas is that this trend alone isn’t their downfall, and their problem is that their target viewer is now tending their virtual farms, pruning their profiles, and otherwise getting social online.

New category complacency kills
More dramatic changes lie ahead for any established business that become complacent about new category competition. A fascinating read on the rise and fall of such empires is Professor Tim Wu’s book “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires” (Knopf, 2010).

Remember Farmville
So, the next time you are thinking about your brand and your competition, remember Farmville. Remember that ultimately you are competing to fulfill a need, and how people chose to resolve that need can change faster than you think.