Oreo vs Hydrox and the importance of branding.

A sandwich cookie consists of two chocolate disks with a sweet cream filling in between.  If you were to describe this tasty treat to 100 people and ask them to guess what it was, chances are that close to 100 would tell you that’s an Oreo.  The Oreo cookie celebrated its 100th birthday last year and is known as the world’s favorite cookie with over $1.5 billion in annual sales.  It’s not surprising, then, that this famous cookie has spawned numerous imitators.  “Off-brand” or “knockoffs” such as Joe Joe’s, Newman-O’s, WhoNu?, and Famous Amos Sandwich Cookies have been trying to get a piece of the Oreo pie for decades, but nobody comes close to the Oreo powerhouse.

Now for the Shyamalan twist … what if I told you that Oreos were actually knockoffs themselves?  That’s right - the first sandwich cookie consisting of two chocolate disks with a sweet cream filling in between was made by a company called Sunshine Biscuits and debuted in 1908, four full years before Nabisco’s Oreos were even a thing.

Oreo vs Hydrox.jpg

So where did Hydrox go wrong?  Both had chocolate disks, both had a sweet cream filling, and Hydrox even holds up better in milk and was certified kosher from the start, while Oreos couldn’t say that until the ‘90s.  The key difference is branding and marketing.  Sunshine Biscuits had a great product, but did an awful job at luring cookie fans against Nabisco’s marketing know-how.

For starters, Hydrox is an awful name for a cookie; it sounds more like a cleaning product than a delicious snack.  Hydrox got its name by combining hydrogen and oxygen, which Sunshine executives thought evoked purity … I’m going to assume these were not creative executives.  Nobody’s too sure where the Oreo name came from, but at least it’s fun to say and doesn’t remind me that I need to clean the bathroom.

Nabisco was also able to come up with a number of very effective marketing campaigns and promotions over the years.  The “twist, lick, dunk” ads, for example, have us thinking of Oreos whether we’re eating the real thing or a knock-off.  Celebrity endorsements by the likes of Eli Manning, Shaquille O’Neal, and Serena Williams didn’t hurt either.  On the flip side, Sunshine Biscuits was never able to create a lasting impression of quality or enjoyment like Nabisco did.  While Nabisco was brainstorming the next great variety of Oreos, such as double-stuffed or birthday cake Oreos, Hydrox just sat on the shelf reflecting back on the mistakes it had made.

Sunshine Biscuits was purchased by Keebler in 1996 and, in 1999, they rebranded the lonely cookies as Droxies with new packaging and a new attitude to boot.  Sadly, Kellogg's acquired Keebler in 2001 and removed Droxies from production in 2003.  But wait, there’s more … on the cookie's 100th anniversary, Kellogg’s resumed distribution of Hydrox under the Sunshine label, with the first batches shipped in late August 2008.  But less than a year later they were discontinued.

The moral of the story here is that branding and marketing are important.  No matter how original your idea is, no matter how great your service/product is, there will be others competing with you and you need to get yourself out there with professional and interesting marketing.  Create a budget, hire a professional, and let the world know you’re here.


Paul and the CHS team