I don’t remember exactly when yogurt became a “thing”. The late 1960’s? The early 1970’s? Anyone, somewhere along my dietary timeline, I became a yogurt eater. I think I began with Dannon before making a brief switch to Yoplait – which was French (or French-sounding), so seemed a bit more sophisticated - before going back to Dannon. Yoplait I found kind of slimy. I was definitely more of a Dannon girl. I toyed with Stoneyfield Farms for a while. Then yogurt became Greek to me, and I started buying Chobani. Then I found Fage, which I’ve stuck with for a good long time now, with occasional forays to Iceland (Siggi’s) and Australia (Noosa).
I typically have a couple of some sort of fruit yogurt containers in the fridge for a quick breakfast or lunch. And if I make anything that calls for sour cream, I sub in plain yogurt. And throw fruit in any left over plain yogurt.
So, yeah, I do yogurt.
Just not Yoplait.
Which goes for most yogurt-consumers. Yoplait, it seems, has been on the decline since the Greeks started opa!-ing their way onto the grocery store shelves.
Yoplait has tried to come up with a Greek yogurt of their own. For their first outing:
All they needed was the perfect, authentic sounding name. One group argued for the Greek word for health and some oddly ecstatic punctuation: Ygeía! Another camp said that sounded like someone vomiting, and pushed instead for made up names that combined Yoplait with Hellenic suffixes, such as Yoganos. For months, several current and former employees told me, executives debated the options. One manager began ostentatiously leafing through a Greek dictionary during meetings; a rival, not to be outdone, started auditing Greek language classes. Eventually a choice was needed. Yoplait, based in Minneapolis, is part of General Mills, the huge international food conglomerate, which prides itself on cleareyed, datadriven decision making…So in the end, executives turned to their spreadsheets. They discovered that neither Ygeía! nor Yoganos — nor any of the other ersatz names — tested well. The data pointed in a more traditional direction. So to great fanfare, in 2010, they released their finely tuned attempt to reclaim the yogurt crown. They called it Yoplait Greek. It tanked almost immediately. (Source: NY Times)
That wasn’t the only time that Yoplait tried to crack the Greek code, and all the other attempts failed miserably.
So now they’re abandoning the notion of trying to become fake Greeks. They figured out the what people liked about, say, Chobani, was not necessarily the yogurt. What they liked was the Chobani story. (This may work for some consumers, but I had no idea what their story was. I learned about Chobani because one of my sister’s had it. Nor do I know the Fage story – other than that their name isn’t pronounced in any way that’s intuitive to me. I believe my sisters were my ur-source on Fage, too. And Siggi. And Noosa.) But Yoplait wanted a story, so they came up with something that seems more in keeping with their French roots.
…if, as you are shopping, you happen to pick up a small glass pot of Oui and are momentarily transported to the French countryside, you’ll know that the company has finally figured out how to look beyond the data and embrace the narrative. Yoplait may have figured out how to fake authenticity as craftily as everyone else. In that lesson, there’s a deeper business experiment — one you contribute to every time you pick up a product because you think someone once told you that it was healthier, or tastier, or better for the environment, or something like that. All companies manufacture authenticity to some degree. That’s called marketing. But, increasingly, creating a sense of genuineness is essential to success.
Faking authenticity, creating a sense of genuineness, embracing the narrative.
All I can say is I’m so happy that most of my work has been in the B2B (business to business) or T2T (techie to techie; not a real category, just one I made up) technology world, where I never had to worry about creating a backstory.
How exciting is the narrative when it pretty much boils down to “a customer asked us to do this, and we figure if one customer wants it, there’ll be other ones out there who will, too.” Now, this didn’t always turn out to be the case, but you could never say we didn’t try.
Another common backstory was, “hey, a bunch of our techies were playing around and they came up with this; do you think you could use it?”
Oh, I did work for companies that had narratives. Softbridge built the recorder that was used in Windows 3.0, and was one of the only companies present at the World Trade Center (yes, that World Trade Center) when Bill Gates unveiled Windows 3.0 in 1992. Yay, us! (We never talked about the other part of the narrative: we got suckered into giving it to them for a couple of bucks; if we’d gotten a penny a license for every install of Windows 3.0, we probably would have survived longer than we did.)
At Genuity, our foundational myth was that we sprung from BBN, which did, indeed, invent the Internet (more or less). And one of our guys was the first to use the @ sign in an email message. Plus one of our techies won some sexiest geek alive contest. All this backstory was supposed to get people to pay a premium for our Internet services. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. (In the long run, it didn’t.) But most of our services didn’t have much by way of their own authentic narrative. Thankfully.
Here’s the story that Yoplait’s banking on:
For centuries (or so the story goes), French farmers have made yogurt by putting milk, fruit and cultures into glass jars and then setting them aside. So Yoplait tweaked its recipe and began buying glass jars. “Instead of culturing the ingredients in large batches and then filling individual cups,” the company’s news release reads, “Oui by Yoplait is made by pouring ingredients into each individual pot, and allowing each glass pot to culture for eight hours, resulting in a uniquely thick, delicious yogurt.” Some may question how much these distinctions matter. “But the simplicity of this idea, that this is a French method, coming from a French brand, with a French name, that’s authenticity,” Mr. [David] Clark, who is now the president of United States yogurt at General Mills, told me.
Well, you can’t get much more authentic a French name than Oui, non? (Although apparently some folks in Yoplait focus groups didn’t know how to pronounce the word, while others associated it with a now-defunct men’s mag.) And the jar is cute-ish.
So, I may give it a try. I suspect they won’t find a convert in me, but as long as it’s not the thin, slimy Yoplait goop of yore, I’ll be fine with it. With or without any fake authenticity.