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Vitamin Brand Sells Itself As China-Free

Posted by Abe Sauer on March 17, 2010 07:53 AM

From lead-tainted toys and poisoned milk products to deadly dog food, the reputation of quality control standards for the "Made in China" brand has taken a severe beating.

Now, one brand is exploiting the brand's sullied image by making the panic over "China-made" into the pillar of its brand-building strategy; but is it too much?

Opurity vitamin ads are turning up on various blogs across the web. The first I saw was on a right-wing political blog. It probably would not have stood out except that the ad featuring a horrifying image of a factory spewing thick pollution into the sky with the eye-popping copy "Don't trust your health to China... Warning: Multivitamin companies entrust your health to vitamin ingredients made in China. Do you?..."

Launched in February, vitamin brand Opurity's overall messaging is not any less dramatic than its ads: "China Free Multivitamin Choice" [sic]. Opurity is based in Virginia and positions itself with an alarming tone, warnings and, frequently, CAPS LOCK. The brand's ads link to a site that rattles off statistics that implies the danger of Chinese-made drugs is... CHINA! The site hosts a China-Free™ Blog and a section titled "China Quality Problems in the News," among others.

It is possible that Opurity's positioning will appeal to already paranoid consumers. However, the punch-in-the-face volume and fear-mongering core of Opurity's positioning probably does the brand a serious disfavor.

Its histrionic positioning will likely lead to diminishing returns and end up exhausting more rational consumers. However, any success the brand has will immediately be in danger of irrelevancy, because Opurity forgets to focus on the benefits of its product, defining itself only through the failings of others. Furthermore, its brand could easily be duplicated.

A more interesting question is whether or not this positioning might catch on in other sectors. If economic woes continue, will pinched brands employ the fear factor to make themselves more attractive?


Jerome Krachenfels United States says:

Hi Abe

Thanks for your thoughtful comments about our positioning and blog.  If I may, let me tell you just bit about where we are coming from, and maybe I could ask you to make suggestions?

1.  We are definitely receptive to the argument that we are too CAPS LOCK / overheated in our tone.  So maybe that is half of the issue.

2.  Having worked with the China quality issue for a couple of years, we feel like things there are much worse than our tonality would imply.  If you some of the stuff in the NY Times, such as the series "A Toxic Pipeline", and more, we *do* believe the issue is even more serious than our tone.  The author of the recent book, Poorly Made in China is quoted as saying, roughly, that some Chinese manufacturers will adulterate and kill people to save pennies.
And big corporations, with big corporate Quality Control, do get burned.  e.g. Baxter, on the adulterated heparin.   You got the drift earlier in the paragraph.  That's the other half of the issue

3.  OK, so how to "sound the alarm" without sounding like an alarmIST?
How do you stay on the positive side of the coin, when what we are offering is a way to avoid a negative?

Side note:  I do have to disagree with you on one important thing.  It won't be easy for competitors to duplicate.  It is very hard to assemble *all* non-Chinese sources, for not only the ingredients but also the raw materials that go in to the ingredients.  If you don't get back to the raw materials, that's just baloney...because people do minimal processing in, say, France, on Chinese ingredients, and say Made in France.  

Inside the industry they know that Chinese ingredients need to be checked much more carefully.  And some companies sell some of their ingredients as not-from-China, and then one day, the drums of stuff arrive and next to the German or Swiss label is some printing right on the drum...in Chinese characters.

It takes a long time to backtrack through the vendors, and get them to certify that their products and their raw materials are China-Free.  In writing.  After months, many refuse.
Some ask, "why do you want to know?"

A big brand would have a hard time finding enough volume of non-Chinese ingredients to cover their needs, and a small brand will have a hard developing the sourcing expertise to really deliver.

Does that provide some useful context?

Thanks in advance for any suggestions!
OPURITY (tm) Vitamins

March 19, 2010 06:33 PM #

Jatin Rai India says:

I agree with Jerome that it isn't easy to investigate backward linkages to ensure 'no China' involvement. And as far as this issue is concerned its a matter of great concern nowadays.

But one thing I'm not sure of is that how successful has Opurity been in actually achieving what it claims to be i.e. China Free?

And Abe, why do you think that 'brand will end up exhausting more rational consumers'? I believe that brand positioning is more appealing to rational consumers than to the irrational ones!

And last about loosing relevancy, well that might happen but that isn't likely to happen soon because of two reasons:

1) Competitors might not consider this move a threat until there are some figures showing sharp increase in brand equity of Opurity. Even if they soon do consider it a threat, Opurity will have strategic advantage of at least a year  or maybe even more (because of the problems in investigating the source) & if Opurity guys are smart enough they will pull out some other benefit to maintain that lead.

2) You might soon hear about some other Chinese scandal which will make this category of 'China Free' products more relevant.

I don't say that all Chinese products are bad (I really don't have any intention to offend my neighbors) but yes I do accept that a problem exists.And I don't see consumers getting rid of Chinese products soon as well because of the cost factor & because Chinese govt. will make quick improvements (they actually hanged the CEO of milk scandal co.) & also would gag the press to come out with such revelations.

People do have short term memory & if something like this happens then its possible that 'China free' category might loose relevancy.

March 20, 2010 05:21 AM #

Jerome Krachenfels United States says:

Hi Jai
One would have thought that hanging would have been a deterrent, but in January 2010 it has come out in a credible source - The New York Times -- that there have been more melamine use in dairies in China -- two have been closed -- and I believe it says, roughly, that the government was slow to reveal the problem...

March 22, 2010 02:09 PM #

Jatin Rai India says:

So what are the quantitative shifts in your brand equity & sales figure after this campaign? I feel that its a matter of debate, rather a matter of research & study to see in what direction this positioning actually leads you. It will be interesting.

I think that this positioning will give you the limelight & initial impulse. But you must have a long term strategy to maintain that impulse. How do you plan to retain the customers who shift to your brand? As I have already mentioned, you will have say 1 year lead & lets see how do you maintain that.

This is very interesting because that fear should always remain present. When the storm ends the customer might return to cheaper solutions. This now looks like a short term strategy.

March 22, 2010 02:48 PM #

A Sauer United States says:


Thanks for responding.

My personal opinion is that one way to "sound the alarm" without having such alarmist messaging is (yes, fewer CAPS) but also by listing actual studies/data showing vitamin quality problems in China. Reading over the blog and the info, it appears what Opurity is doing is creating a sense of alarm about all China-made products and then inferring from there that the vitamins must be tainted or some such. I think that having a single, vitamin-specific China quality piece would be better than all of the other tangentially-related examples combined.  American consumers get have been banged over the head with the fear mongering "China sucks" message a lot lately and unless it is specific to them I think they are beginning to just ignore it.

As to duplicating the brand promise of Opurity. Certainly other brands would not be able to duplicate Opurity's immediately. But with deep enough pockets, eventually other brands would be able to similarly-source their ingredients if they determined an economic benefit to doing so... in fact, such a resource battle could even price out smaller brands. Besides, if a China vitamin scandal broke, I think there would be moves to increase quality controls. A good example is dog food. After the China-sourced tainted dog food scandal a few years ago, I'm sure some pet owners switched to other brands and tried very hard to find non-China-related foods (these are Opurity's core consumers); but dog food production did not do a giant 180 and move elsewhere?  As Jatin noted, many consumers have short term memories.

But Opurity clearly has a demographic looking for exactly this kind of product. So, good luck.

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