In all my years of marketing, I have never heard of a major player being as stupid as the following. The Corn Refiners Association has decided to change the name of their embattled lead product corn syrup to "corn sugar." Besides the fact that it could take the FDA a long time to decide in their favor thus creating years of negative publicity, this is simply marketing at its worst.
A brand is more than a name. Corn syrup is still going to be corn syrup no matter what it is called. So unless the Corn Refiners are somehow able to alter corn syrup for the better so that some or all of the health concerns connected to it are addressed (and then do a name relaunch), this name change will fail. It is the equivalent of a questionable individual in hot water who decides to change his name and hope the trouble he created won’t catch up with him.
Like this individual, the Corn Refiners require a case of universal amnesia. Maybe the people behind the name change idea are simply cynical. Do they think that consumers won’t connect the dots?
Even if this is true and many consumers won’t make the connection between corn syrup and corn sugar, the association is missing the point. Those forgetful consumers don’t matter. The consumers who do matter are the one’s for whom corn syrup is an issue. These consumers are sophisticated and read ingredients.
And this is the key to why the name change is so utterly stupid. Corn syrup is not really a retail product. It is an ingredient product. Its presence is only known to those who look for it and those who look for it are going to be following this story. They are going to know that "corn sugar" is the new name for corn syrup. Just like people pursuing the fellow with the name change, those who are concerned won’t be thrown off the scent that easily.
In fact, for these people, the name change might actually serve to ring more alarm bells. After all, you’re drawing more attention to the “undesirable” ingredient. If you kept the name the same, even the sophisticated consumer might still have a margin for purchasing the product based on other factors. In other words, today they like Coca Cola and while wary of corn syrup, its presence in their beloved drink is not a deal breaker. However, draw attention to the fact that there might really be something wrong with the ingredient and you’re likely to lose a sizeable number of these consumers too.
What probably happened here is the corn syrup people are very concerned that the food industry will start using reduced quantities of corn syrup and even promoting this reduction (i.e., 25% less). So they’re trying to have their cake and eat it too with a poorly thought out name change.
If I were the corn syrup folks this is what I would do: Corn syrup is already an integral part of the food supply and nothing short of radical government intervention is going to change that. I wouldn’t draw any more attention to my product. So, expect the food industry to reduce their use of this ingredient but hope for the best and start developing a healthier corn-based sweetener that will deserve the new name it gets.
John Tantillo is a marketing and branding expert and president of the Marketing Department of America who markets his own services as The Marketing Doctor. He is a frequent contributor to the Fox Forum and the author of a new book "People Buy Brands, Not Companies."
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