P&G to Sell Brand As Sunny Delight Becomes Sunny Dislike

05 December 2003

The marketing miracle of the late nineties has soured in the early 'noughties', following savage criticism from nutritionists and consumer lobbyists.

It was revealed Wednesday on BBC2's Money Programme that Procter & Gamble is seeking a buyer for its former highflying brand Sunny Delight as sales sag and worried consumers turn their backs on the product.

It was all so different back in 1998 when the orange-flavoured drink launched on a relatively modest marketing budget of £10 million ($17.23m; €14,28m) became, within a few months, the UK's best-selling soft drink after Coca-Cola and Pepsi with annual sales of £160m.

Recalls Jane Bainbridge of Marketing magazine: "It was a phenomenon. This product came from nowhere and went in as the twelfth best selling [of all UK] grocery product[s]. I mean, in all the time our magazine has looked at these figures, no brand has ever done that."

Not only did kids love Sunny Delight's bright orangey appearance and sweet flavour, it even appealed to mums.

"It was really pressure from my children. They saw it advertised. I think they drank it at their friends and they kept asking me to buy it. They thought it was orange juice and they wanted to take it to school so I thought well it's like orange juice, it's healthy and I went and bought it from the chill cabinet," said lawyer and mother of three, Nina Sandler.

But orange juice Sunny Delight was not. The product contained just 2% or less of concentrated orange, tangerine, apple, lime and grapefruit juices. It's bright orange colour owed more to a 15% lacing of beta-carotene than the groves of Florida or Spain.

But beta-carotene, a naturally-occurring substance, has two unfortunate side effects if taken in large quantities: a yellowing of the skin and flatulence. The former reaction afflicted one five year-old in the UK who was consuming 1.5 litres of Sunny Delight a day -- equivalent to more than twice the recommended daily intake of beta-carotene for adults.

Unfortunately for P&G the press got wind of this and had themselves a field day. Former fan Sandler probably spoke for millions of mothers: "I did feel totally misled by the very close placement of the product next to the orange juice and the shape of the bottle," said Sandler. "It all suggested it was a freshly squeezed orange juice with sort of added goodies rather than a totally artificial product."

Sales slumped accordingly, not helped by a Saatchi & Saatchi commercial which showed a snowman turning orange. Account director James Griffiths admits the ad's timing was unfortunate: "I have to say we would be the first to say that it was an own-goal," he told the BBC.

Added P&G's PR manager Jane Woodage: "It became a focus, almost a visual focus for a number of lobby groups to really attack the brand."

P&G' Sunny Delight brand manager Jon Walsh was equally candid about the way in which his team handled the tsunami of criticism: "We didn't enter the debate. We stayed in our little castle thinking if we don't say anything, the debate will go away."

Any makeover marketer seeking a brand in neeed of profound resuscitation should apply to Procter & Gamble, PO Box XXX ...

Data sourced from: BBC Online Business News (UK); additional content by WARC staff