Jose Palomino

Evolutionary Marketing, Extinction, and Pop-Tarts

March 26, 2012

When did Pop-Tarts start selling as fast food?

When I was a kid (apparently back in the Stone Ages, as my kids like to remind me), they were sold as something that had to be toasted first. Pop-Tarts were only for breakfast – end of story.

Today, Pop-Tarts are anything but “only for breakfast.” Here in our office, they are a staple snack item. And I’ve learned we’re not the only ones.

In 2010, Kellogg (owner of the Pop-Tarts brand) opened a Pop-Tarts store in Times Square, joining M&Ms and Hershey. This bold move, as the NY Times points out, is focused primarily on “marketing and visibility.”

And Pop-Tarts wants to be visible, but not as a breakfast food. At the Pop-Tarts store, not only can you simply enjoy your favorite Pop-Tart variety as a snack, but you can create your own Pop-Tart, eat a Pop-Tart sandwich, and (I kid you not) try something called Pop-Tart “sushi” (but don’t ask me what that is, because I’m not quite sure – although I’m fairly certain raw fish is not involved).

So this is the Pop-Tarts evolution, and I have to say: hats off to their marketing team. If Pop-Tarts were merely a breakfast item, I certainly wouldn’t be a customer any more – trading my childhood breakfast items for grownup things like oatmeal and eggs. Yet since they’ve been marketed as a snack, I have been a loyal customer – I, and the rest of the “grownups” in my office (yes, in spite of the carbs and calories – after all, genius needs fuel).

The Pop-Tart brand is a perfect display of what can best be called evolutionary marketing.” Instead of remaining in their proverbial box, they’ve reached out and redefined their brand in order to make Pop-Tarts more widely marketable.

Without changing the product, they changed its purpose.

Surprisingly, the term “evolutionary marketing” doesn’t yield as much on Google as I would have thought. It appears to be a potential business buzzword that has yet to take definite shape. However, there were a couple (read: exactly two) posts out there that started a good conversation.

One article on Thoughtlead was written by Sam Rosen, in which he defined evolutionary marketing as, “seeing all available marketing strategies and tactics as potentially valuable to our efforts to sell our products, services, or messages; and … pursuing all of them with an eye on where we can go as a culture, and as a human race.” In response to this post, Kathy Bayer of KB Marketing & Consulting added her own thoughts to the idea of evolutionary marketing. I especially liked what she had to say at the end: “Evolutionary Marketing by definition has to be constantly changing and evolving, so anyone can jump into the conversation any time and take it forward.”

Well, allow me to “jump into the conversation,” “take it forward,” and suggest yet another definition.

I would venture to argue that this new term moves beyond the evolution of marketing strategies available (with a heavy focus on SEO and social media). I believe evolutionary marketing can describe the evolving branding strategy of a product or service. It’s about the way a product evolves over time, utilizing the technology and trends available, but strategically revamping its brand and purpose, to keep it relevant.

In other words, it’s the difference between Pop-Tarts and Kodak. Pop-Tarts kept its competitive edge, and even brought it up a notch, to remain relevant in today’s market. Kodak – arguably a more versatile business than Pop-Tarts – failed to evolve (and we all know what happened there: extinction).

Brian Solis recently posted about Digital Darwinism, and discusses how to avoid extinction in a world where, as he cites from a Babson College commercial, “Over 40% of the companies that were at the top of the Fortune 500 in 2000 were no longer there in 2010.” That’s a sobering thought, and hopefully a wake-up call to those of us who believe ourselves immune to extinction. As always, Brian adds an insightful take to this idea, and the following quote is an apt description of evolutionary marketing: Everything begins with embracing a culture of innovation and adaptation – a culture that recognizes the impact of disruptive technology and how consumer preference and affinity is evolving.”

So as I grab for yet another 3-o’clock-Pop-Tarts-pick-me-up, I ask myself the question: Am I evolving with the market, or am I in danger of becoming extinct?

What about you?

  • How would YOU define “evolutionary marketing?”
  • What other products have you seen evolving with the times in an effective way?
  • What other products have you seen becoming extinct?

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