A little too lean: Olean's Web site needs filling out

May 11, 1998


Having just finished my first bag of Wow Potato Chips-a crisp, Mesquite flavored snack from Frito Lay-I decided to visit the Procter & Gamble Web site to learn more about Olean, its trademarked version of Olestra, the new fat substitute that's used in the Lay's product.

Like the first television advertising for automobiles in the 1950s, P&G's site failed to take full advantage of the true power of the Internet to connect one on one with customers. The product is exciting-I can eat something I enjoy and it doesn't affect my cholesterol-but the site conveyed none of its inherent drama.

Indeed, its creators seemed more intent on playing defense against various special interest groups who may be critical of Olean.

The site's conservative strategy is typical of packaged goods marketers but unfamiliar to technology marketers, who tend to operate in a more free-wheeling business setting.

I believe packaged goods marketers could benefit from browsing more high-tech Web sites. While Web sites may not be the most important part of the marketing mix in packaged goods, if you're going to do one, you might as well do it well-as P&G has proven it can do with its Tide ClothesLine site.

To better understand the issues, let's review my tour of the Olean Web site.

After some lengthy browsing-it was hard to find, even using a variety of search engines-a fairly two-dimensional site claimed, "The Foremost Authority for Information About Olestra." Paging down, it offered "Benefits of Olean," "Digestive Effects" and "Vitamins & Nutrients," but some of the material was dated.

I did learn that Olean was from the makers of Crisco, a grease I recall fondly from making apple pies at my mother's apron strings. While Crisco is a recognized brand name, the association seemed odd, considering Olean's use as a fat substitute. And, the text box reference to Crisco was the last reference to the established brand I found.

I did learn that, "Olean provides an opportunity for individuals to reduce their fat intake while still enjoying the taste and texture of their favorite snack." That's a clear benefit statement and a compelling one.

And, if P&G had found a way for me to interact with the Web site at this point, -an e-mail address for communications, for example-this would have been a marvelous visit.

On the matter of the widely reported digestive tract problems, there was a button "Digestive Effects" that noted, "When people eat Olean snacks, they are no more likely to have diarrhea than if they did not eat the snacks." I also learned that Olean may act as a stool softener, which might be of interest to hemorrhoid sufferers. Perhaps P&G missed the opportunity for a link to the Preparation H Web page.

Other information suited for specialized audiences was easy to find, including a Journal of the American Medical Association article abstract on "Gastrointestinal Symptoms Following Consumption of Olestra or Regular Triglyceride Potato Chips." Like most consumers, I passed on reading the abstract, which was nicely linked to that association's Web site. But for academics, health care professionals, registered dieticians and the news media, there were well-articulated materials delivering the P&G Olean story and testing support.

Beyond that, however, nothing met my needs as a consumer.

There was a key-word search feature, and I looked for some information of particular interest to me. As a heart patient, I take Pravachol, a popular cholesterol-reducing drug.

I was curious if I could take Pravachol and still eat Olean based products. I entered the brand namen of the drug into the search engine: "No matches have been found to your search terms."

Again, if I could have communicated with the company, I would have suggested that the site could easily include a reference to Pravachol, even if it were a disclaimer.

From a strategic marketing perspective I couldn't imagine a 30-second television commercial this strategically unfocused or bland coming from one of P&G's advertising agencies.

From a consumer perspective, it missed any opportunity to use the power of the Web to tell the story of Olean, build my level of interest in products made with the ingredient, establish a relationship with me as a loyal customer of P&G products, sell me anything or point me to a sales location. Couldn't there be a link to Frito Lay's Web site?

Before the folks in Cincinnati start sharpening their swords, I'd say their Olean Web site was typical of packaged goods Web sites.

Just for fun I turned from the Olean Web site to the Dell Computer Web site. A button in the lower left of the first screen invited me to share my thoughts to, "Help Us Make Dell.com Better."

Maybe Michael Dell should stop by and visit with John Pepper and Durk Jager next time he's in Cincinnati. Better yet, he could send them an e-mail.

Michael Krauss is a partner with Diamond Technology Partners in Chicago.
He can be reached at news@ama.org.








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