My new column is live in The Drum:
In much of the marketing industry, what is old always becomes new again – usually with a different name or new buzzword. The current direct-to-consumer (DTC) craze is no exception.
In the late 19th century, the retail process in the UK consisted of manufacturers creating a product and selling it in bulk to wholesalers, who would then provide it to individual stores for sale to customers. At the time, wholesalers held the power and dictated to producers what they wanted and how much they would pay. Retailers could also sell only whatever wholesalers would give them.
Everything changed in the early 20th century. Manufacturers created unique products and patented them with brand names. Retailers advertised to consumers what brands they carried. By the 1960s, those actions had increased the power of producers, stores and brands. Wholesalers had become little more than distribution agents.
The entire history is recounted in this fascinating video of a discussion between advertising legends Jeremy Bullmore and the late Stephen King at J Walter Thompson in 1974 (the recording is also a good educational introduction to brands in general).
Today, almost 50 years after that conversation, something similar is occurring. New DTC product manufacturers and existing brands opening DTC stores are again challenging the wholesale middlemen – as well as now challenging retailers themselves.
For this column, I interviewed executives at DTC brands, analysts and representatives of wholesale and retail trade organisations on the pros, cons and best practices in distribution and promotion. Here’s what I found.