The campaign is a buy-one-get-one-free deal, with a twist. If customers buy the national brand of a product, the supermarket will give away its own version of that product for free.
For example, during the first week of the five-week campaign, shoppers who buy a 64-ounce bottle of Welch's Grape Juice, an 18.2-ounce box of Kellogg's Raisin Bran Crunch or a 12-ounce package of Thomas' English Muffins will get the Publix brand of that product for free.
Publix is based in Lakeland, Fla., and has 900 stores in several southeastern states.
The goal of the campaign is to encourage customers to compare the Publix brand to the national brand in the hopes of increasing awareness and sales of its own lower-priced versions of these products, says Maria Brous, Publix director of media and community relations.
"Our intent is to offer options to our customers," says Brous. "And with our private brand, our expectation is that the product meets or exceeds the quality of the national brand. And our own brand costs 10 to 30 percent less on average."
Brand consultant Rob Frankel, president of RobFrankel.com, says the strategy could pay off, but that Publix is running a risk.
"If the customer tries the Publix brand and likes it, that's great for Publix, because that would give them a new profit center, with a higher profit margin than they enjoy with the national brand supplied by the vendors,' says Frankel.
But the campaign could potentially undermine Publix' own brand, he warns. "What happens if they give it away free and no one comes back to get more of it?" muses Frankel. "If that happens, they're faced with the horrible prospect that they gave it away for free and people still didn't want it--that's the potential downside."
It also raises a very real business issue, says Frankel.
"What will this do to their relationship with the national brands? Publix is essentially going after their business--they're not even implying it--they're essentially paying their customers to try their own product" and choose it over the national brand, he says.
Brous says that, "in most cases, our private brand is manufactured by national-brand makers. Only a small percent of our private brand products are done in-house. So, for many of the makers of the national brands we carry, this can be a win-win."
Frankel does not foresee that the brand-comparison campaign will erode the value of the national brands. "It may eat into their sales a bit, but not the brand value, because brand value is all about perception," says Frankel. "As we know, there is a strongly embedded notion in the minds of consumers that if something costs more, it must be better. There's no such thing as a rational consumer. If there were rational consumers, we'd all be driving Volkswagens and Yugos because we just need transportation."
Frankel says there is also a risk of doing a longer-term brand comparison campaign. "In the short term, if they just did something like this for 24 hours, it would be great, in terms of generating media attention and packing the store with customers who are coming in for the free muffins and such," says Frankel.
But if a brand comparison campaign goes on for "several weeks or months, it could look like a desperation move," he warns.