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Lovable Animals Create Formidable Brands

Many successful brands have built their brand equity on the backs of animals. Figuratively speaking, no PETA protest required. It’s a known fact that cute and lovably animals can help sell brands. Real animals and anthropomorphic animals can make a brand likable and memorable – two important brand drivers.

Sixty-eight percent of American Households Have a Pet

There are three-times more dogs and cats in the USA than people in Canada – 90 million dogs and 94 million cats, respectively.  In Canada, the same trend exists with approximately 8 million cats and 6 million dogs (Ipsos Reid). Does this mean cats are the preferred pet? My Facebook stream would indicate that cats rule the world. But dogs aren’t too far behind. Actually, more brands use dogs than cats in their branding efforts.

The Power of Animals

A UK research study found that fifteen percent of people care more about their pets than their significant others. There is a special bond between animals and humans. Dr. Ann Berger says this “is part of our evolution, and it’s very powerful.”

This bond can be traced back as 15,000 to 30,000 years ago to a Bonn-Oberkassel dog that was found buried with two humans.

In the early 1970s the term ‘human–animal bond’ was first used in academia. Since then, there have been a multitude of research studies indicating the positive benefits of pets such as lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and stress-related hormones. Lower stress has positive health effects and helps us live longer. Even an aquarium of fish can help calm a person with advanced Alzheimer’s disease (Edwards and Beck, 2002; Edwards et al., 2014).

Walt Disney understood that animals attract an audience. One of his first successes was the lovable Mickey Mouse who became synonymous with the Disney brand.  Mickey Mouse brought Disney great fame and a fortune worth over $5 billion. Walt was obsessed with making his animated animal characters more realistic with human-like facial expressions, movements, and feelings. He pushed animators and technology to their limits.  Charlotte Olsen in her article Disney Movies: Anthropomorphism concludes that “humans empathise [sic] with animals perhaps more so than we do with humans.” We all grew-up on a staple of Disney anthropomorphic animal characters every morning like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald and  Daisy Duck, Goofy and Mickey’s pet dog Pluto, to name a few. Then there were the endless movies.

Brands hope to transfer our love of animals to not so loveable products.

A Brand’s Best Friend

People young and old love animals. Cute and innocence sells.

Four of the biggest cereal companies built their brands on animal characters. We grew up staring at cereal boxes prominently showing Cornelius Rooster on the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Tony The Tiger on Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, Toucan Sam on Froot Loops and BuzzBee on Honey Nut Cheerios.

The breakfast cereal market was worth over $37 billion US dollars in 2016 with Kellogg’s brands and General Mills accounting for over 60% of the market. How did these anthropomorphic animals end up on millions of cereal boxes?

Cornelius seems like a natural fit as a rooster, crowing as you eat breakfast at the break of dawn. But, John Harvey Kellogg, a devote Seventh-day Adventist, was working on a number of strict vegetarian recipes that lead him to discover Corn Flakes in 1894. It was his intent as a religious man to reduce dyspepsia and masturbation with this new product. I am not sure how successful he was with his plan, but his brother formed the Kellogg Company in 1906 with Corn Flakes. Cornelius didn’t appear on the box until the early 1950s.  After learning this history of Corn Flakes, a cockerel on the cereal book now has a very different connotation.

In 1952, Kellogg’s introduced Sugar Frosted Flakes of Corn. There were four different boxes with four different anthropomorphic animal characters: Katy the Kangaroo, Elmo the Elephant, Newt the Gnu, and of course Tony the Tiger. It wasn’t long before Tony became synonymous with the brand by advocating its GR-R-REATness.

Another Kellogg’s brand, Froot Loops, debuted in 1963 with Sam the Toucan, a tropical bird with a long colourful beak. The original colours on the beak used to represent the three different coloured flavours in the box. When first sold, the brand was called Fruit Loops but after a legal challenge claiming that the word “fruit” was misleading they landed on “Froot.”

Honey Nut Cheerios is a variation on the very popular Cheerios brand that was introduced by the General Mills Cereal Company in 1979. The sweeter version of Cheerios became an instant success. For the first twenty years, the bee on the box just keep buzzing around without a name. In September 1999, General Mills launched the “Name the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee Contest” where 11-year-old Kristine Tong won the contest with the name “BuzzBee”.

In 2017, with declining sales, the brand launched a highly emotional campaign called “Help Bring Back the Bees” by removing Buzz the Bee off the Honey Nut Cheerios box. In their haste to save honeybees, they accidently included invasive seeds in their bee-friendly wildflower seed packets. Attention to detail is always important.

Nonetheless, the famous Leo Burnett and his agency created some of the most icon anthropomorphic animal brand characters like Tony The Tiger (Kellogg’s), Hubert the Lion (Harris Bank), Morris the Cat (9Lives), Charlie the Tuna (StarKist), and Toucan Sam (Kellogg’s).

Animals Don’t Bite the Hand That Feeds Them

The benefits of using an animal to build a brand are multifaceted. Not only can you control how the animal is portrayed, you can modify it at any time. Of course, cartoon animals are the easiest to manage over time. Animals are cheaper and easier to keep on a leash than any actor or celebrity. Unless you were Grumpy Cat, who is estimated to have earned millions. Animals can also help low-involvement product brands get noticed like insulation (pink panther), toilet paper (kittens, puppies, and bears) and sugar water (polar bears).

Using real animals does possess some challenges. Animals may not follow orders and have shorter life spans, but in most cases these problems don’t stop the brand from finding a look-alike. There is never any risk that the animal character is going to embarrass the brand at a party or in public unless it’s a mascot.

One immediate benefit of animals is that they have existing cultural meanings. These characteristics can quickly be transfer onto the brand as a benefit or attribute. Animals can telegraph a specific message without using any words. For example, the eagle portraits honesty and trust, the rabbit symbolizes fertility and approachability.  The owl stands for wisdom, bees imply diligence, and the lion, the king of the jungle, suggests strength and courage.

Brands Gone to the Dogs  

Several studies (Spears, Mowen, Chakraborty (1996), Moyers (2001), S. M. Stone (2014)) have analyzed the types of animals use in advertising and branding. They found that dogs were the most popular animal. Karen London, PhD says, “In recent years, dogs have appeared in about a third of all television commercials.” Man’s best friend portrays a feeling of a happy, well-balance family and unconditional acceptance. Dog lovers are all about building companionship. Many brands use dogs to project fun, love and loyalty.

One of the first brands to use a dog in its brand identity was Gramophone Company. Their logo design was taken from a painting of a dog listening to a phonograph by Francis Barraud in the late 1800s. The story goes that Francis’s brother died and willed him his phonograph player, records, including voice recordings of his brother, and a fox terrier dog named Nipper. Every time he played his brother’s recorded voice the dog would run over to the phonograph and listen intently.  A true Hallmark moment.

The painting was called “His Master’s Voice.” About eight years later they changed their name to HMV. Later, the Victor Talking Machine Company acquired the graphic design. In 1929, Radio Corporation of America RCA acquired Victor and made the logo their brand. For many decades Nipper and his son Clipper helped promote RCA records, RCA televisions and RCA electronics. At one point in time the RCA dog became one of the Top Ten Famous Brands.

Several memorable Super Bowl commercials can thank a fury four-legged friend for their success. Skechers, Budweiser, Amazon Alexa, Bud Light, Taco Bell, Doritos, and Volkswagen all secured their success with a dog. Rob Schutz, past VP of Growth at Bark & Co., says a social media suave dog can fetch anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 per sponsored post on Instagram. “All sorts of brands want to tap into dogs,” says Schutz. Go fetch!

But the funniest animal commercial on Super Bowl XXXIV (2000) was a cat commercial called “Cat Herders” by Electronic Data Systems EDS. The following year they did another spot called “Running with Squirrels.” I’m not sure rats with long bushy-tails had the same charm.

Cat Paw-sitive Branding

There are dog people and cat people. According to a study by Denise Guastello, an associate professor of psychology at Carroll University, people who said they are dog lovers are more outgoing, energetic, and tend to follow rules. Cat lovers are more subdued, introverted, open-minded and just more sensitive. They also score higher on intelligence. Guastello rationalize that “if you’re more introverted, and sensitive, maybe you’re more at home reading a book, and your cat doesn’t need to go outside for a walk.” Cat lovers are more interested in the affection their feline’s exhibit. In a study by Budge, Spicer, Jones and St. George (1996) they concluded that “men with a cat were considered nicer, more stylish, and more active than if they had a dog.”

The most famous brand cat was Morris The Cat who built the 9Lives cat food franchise of over 50 years.  Morris made his debut in 1968 after he was discovered at the Humane Society in Hinsdale, IL. The orange tabby cat had the right attitude and starred in over 50 9Lives commercials, including several Super Bowl appearances. In 1983, Time Magazine declared Morris “The Feline Burt Reynolds”. US Magazine called Morris the “Animal Star of the Year” (1982-84). He is also credited with “writing” three books on cat care. Over the years, this finicky cat food connoisseur has downplayed his negative attitude to reach the new millennial customer with a more “charmingly choosy” attitude. Not surprisingly, this cat is on all the social media channels. Morris was played by at least three different tabby cats or maybe more.

ReelSEO.com has reported that there are over two million cat videos on YouTube generating over 25 billion views. Sorry dog lovers but cats rule the social channels. For example, the keyboard cat video has garnered over 55 million views and over 87 thousand comments. CNN estimated that there is over 6.5 billion cat pictures on the internet. Cats will outsmart dogs every time!

The most famous cat of them all was Grumpy Cat (also known as Tardar Sauce) who stared in a Christmas movie called Worst Christmas Ever. This popular internet meme has also appeared on MTV Music Awards, The Playboy Morning Show, and American Idol. We all know that Grumpy isn’t really grumpy, but we have projected a human emotion onto the animal. Their passiveness allows us to put words in their mouth. What does this have to do with branding? In 2013 Grumppuccino was launched by Grenade Beverage, a California coffee company, with the Grump Cat’s face plastered on every bottle.

In 2018, Grump Cat was awarded $710,000 in damages from Grenade Beverages who breached Grunpy Cat’s copyright by adding another product Grump Cat Roasted Coffee in 2015. Grenade Beverages must be grumpier.

On May 14, 2019, Grumpy Cat passed away, but her valuable brand still lives on.  Over 800 different merchandise items are still available for sale online with Grump’s face on shirts, mugs, cell phone covers, shoes, posters, etc. She has also been immortalized as a wax figure at Madame Tussauds in London, San Francisco, and Washington DC.

Grump Cat isn’t the only celebrity cat online. There is a clowder of famous cats online like Lil Bub, Nala Cat, Cooper the Photographer Cat, and Colonel Meow, to list a few. If a brand can cash in on animal marketing, the brand would be a fat cat!

The Animal Kingdom of Brands

One of the first cigarette brands launched in 1913 by R.J. Reynolds Company was Camel cigarettes with a camel front and center on the pack, a palm tree and a pyramid in the background.  Not the most lovable image or animal. No. They were going after exotic. The camel emphasized “Turkish blend” and the pyramid signaled Egyptian sophistication of 6,000 years of history and culture. At that time archaeologist were busy raiding the tomes of pharaohs.  

Before launching, R.J. Reynolds tried to create an alliance with the other local tobacco manufactures to control competition in the specialty cigarettes market, but the US Supreme Court ruled the agreement was illegal.  When the teaser campaign “The Camels are coming!” was launched, it was considered a joke. But where there was smoke, there was fire. The camel on the cover design was called “Old Joe,” and he quickly became the brand face of the over 425 million packs sold in the first year.

In ten years, Camel cigarettes took control 45% of the US cigarettes market. In December 1952, Reader’s Digest, a best-selling international journal, published a series of articles called “Cancer by the Carton,” dealing with the health risks of smoking. The effect was immediate and cigarette sales declined for the first time in twenty years. In 1958, to help stimulate sales, R.J. Reynolds decided to revamp the Camel package design by removing the pyramid behind Old Joe. There was a strong negative backlash by Camel smokers.  Where have we heard this before?

By 1970, Camel cigarettes was no longer one of the top five most popular cigarettes brands which were Winston, Pall Mall, Marlboro, Salem, and Kool.

Kool cigarettes were launched in 1933 with Willie the Kool Penguin to help market the new menthol cigarettes. The penguin suggested “cold” to promote the cool sensation of the menthol. By the early 1960s Willie was put on ice and retired from representing the Kool brand.

On the 75th anniversary of Camel cigarettes, Joe Camel, an anthropomorphic camel, was introduced to celebrate Old Joe’s birthday – “75 years and still smokin’!” Joe Camel was such a hit that he took center stage as the “smooth character.” Critics said that Joe’s exaggerated nose was a phallic symbol to suggest smoking is a virile pursuit. Actual scientific fact would differ with this suggestion.

Joe Camel gave the brand a huge lift in sales as a cooler, hipper brand, especial among younger male smokers. It also started attracting the attention of anti-smoking activists who were growing in power every day. On July 11, 1997, The New York Times ran the following headline “Joe Camel, a Giant in Tobacco Marketing, Is Dead at 23.” After only nine years Joe Camel character was proactively pulled from Camel cigarettes marketing. President Clinton was quoted as saying ”We must put tobacco ads like Joe Camel out of our children’s reach forever.” Proof that lovable animals can endear a brand and sell even butts.

A Brand Personality Starts with a Lovable Animal

Animals have successfully helped many brands standout. Planosophy blog said, “Brands are metaphors for inanimate products and intangible services. Animals are living breathing metaphors. Their marriage is one of common sense.” These brand advocates range from pets, farm animals, wild beasts, geckos, and sea life. They have enriched our lives and have become ingrained in our physic like Disney characters. There is an innate positive and hopeful feeling that animals portray with unconditional love. They touch our inner innocence and create a warm, comforting smiles that no human could emulate. They are a powerful ally, if used correctly.  

Be the brand your animal thinks you are.

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Brands Make the World Go ‘Round

Brands have played an intrinsic role in our lives. Some brands have mimicked culture, while others have created and driven it. Brands have lifted the world from poverty with economic growth and human development. In 2017, the world’s 500 largest companies employed over 67 million people, while producing $30 trillion in revenues and $1.9 trillion in profits.

Brands have brought the world to our doorsteps. Brands have taught us about global values and uplifted our spirits. Brands make the world go ‘round. They have poured billions of dollars into our communities. And, as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.

 

Brands: Force of Good

Can you image a world without brands?  It would be a world made of lifeless commodities and generic products, void of any personality, aesthetic, emotion, or aspiration. Brands have brought us together in joy, happiness, and pleasure (and yes, also in anger, hatred and desperation). Brands have been the catalyst for change and new innovations. They have inspired arts, technology, government and social causes. Brands are the true global consciousness of governance and consistence of quality, regardless of race, geography, politics and religion. They are a true friend that remains loyal, delivering on their promises around the world. Brands have also made a lot of money, having a positive impact on society as the wealth of nations increase around the world. The assumption is that brands understand and respond to the needs of their consumer, and that will in variably deliver value to them and shareholders. Everyone wins.

 

Brands: Force of Evil

Critics argue that greedy global brands, with their huge appetite for natural resources, are destroying forests, ruining oceans, and polluting our environment. Human resources are also being taken advantage of, with low pay and poor working conditions. Brands are seen as the source behind the plastics pollution pandemic and linked to rainforest destruction and the extinction of wildlife. Brands are the motivation behind the endless consumption of society. Brands have created a disposable society of the one use, throw it away mentality.

There is no question that some brands’ ethics and motives aren’t acceptable.  Unfortunately, it often takes a disaster or WikiLeaks to inform the public of any atrocities. Today, unacceptable conduct is quickly responded to with financial pain in the form of boycotts and brand-damaging messaging.

The billion dollar tech brands like Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook have captured unprecedented market share in the new digital world. These brands and others like them all collect large amounts of personal data and, in some cases, misuse this data. Apple’s iPhone, for example, tracks users about 129,000 times each year.  These brands have the ability to map your entire behavior, becoming so accurate and so detailed that they know your next move before you do. Share this information with a third party, and you have a political mess.  Misuse of information will continue to be a threat by unethical brands.  

Good brands will be seen as those that nurture the planet and promote human wellbeing, while bad brands will be seen as those that exploit the planet and its people. At the end of the day, the consumers will decide which brands win.

 

Brands: Drive Prosperity

In 1949, Harry Truman said that “more than half the people in the world are living in conditions approaching misery.” It was around that time that Minute Maid Orange Juice, Sony, H&M, 20th Century Fox Television, Burger King, Adidas, McDonald’s, and Visa made their brand debut. Shortly after, Wal-Mart, Nike, Mastercard, Intel and the Gap made their presence felt around the world. World War II was finally over and the Bretton Woods Agreement had been signed, opening the world to a new global system of free trade.

Poverty rates started to collapse as the world shifted to free markets in the 1950s. The world’s population was around 2.52 billion and more than 70 percent (1.81 billion) lived in extreme poverty (making less than $1.90 per day). Experts attribute two-thirds of poverty reduction to economic growth and the other third to greater equality. By 2015, the world’s population had tripled (thanks in part to the Boomers) to 7.35 billion. During the same period, extreme poverty dropped by 60 percent to less than 10 percent of the total population. Over this 60 years of incredible economic growth, we saw the globalization of brands cover the world.  Even with the explosive population growth we saw illiteracy rates drop and life expectancy increase. This progress wasn’t caused by time but by brands investing in countries, communities, and people. Everyone profited.

 

Brands: Empower Women

World War II was also a turning point for women, especially in North America, where they played a significant role in the workforce and paved the way in breaking down psychological barriers. Julia Kirk Blackwelder, author on the topic of feminization of the workplace, said “the war so profoundly altered labor demands and women’s expectations that women entered the workforce in even greater numbers after the war.” In 1950, 34 percent of women were part of the labour force and by 2016 there were almost 57 percent.

Brands clearly understood the major shift in the consumer landscape. In the 1960s, brands were under scrutiny from feminist groups for how women were being portrayed in brand advertising. Over time, a greater emphasis was placed on the independence of women in owning a car, having a career, and participating in major purchase decisions.  These images of doing “men’s work” helped instill and grow confidence within women who became the target audience of many new brands. However, there is still room for improvement in the area of pay equity, discrimination, and sexual harassment.

 

Brands: Generic Alternative

Generics are copycat brands that are generally cheaper and come with no-frills packaging. In some cases, generic brands offer products of similar quality while in others the difference is much more noticeable. Generic ketchup isn’t Heinz, cola doesn’t taste the same as “real thing” and the Goophone smartphone isn’t iPhone. The generics are all about price with no branding or promotional support.

As with most things, you get what you pay for. The branded version is all about loyalty and building a relationship based on quality, craftsmanship, and supported services. Brands are always anticipating future customer’s needs. They are more expensive, but the added profits goes towards further research and development. Brands care about innovations and continuous improvements to keep them relevant. Generics only care about selling you as much of their product as possible, with no attention to your future needs. Generics don’t invest in communities nor new technology; their goal is to make as much money as possible without spending anything more than the absolute minimum.  

Brands continue to evolve. Generics come and go while brands create new technologies, industries, business models, goods, and services. A new version of the iPhone is anticipated and expected as an annual event. New technologies can make older ones obsolete, shutting down old production systems while displacing workers. These rapid changes can also destroy traditional work and social relationships that once played an essential cultural and economic role in the lives of a community or country. The Apple iPod and Amazon Kindle Reader had a profound effect on the music industry and the book industry, respectively. Currently, Airbnb and Uber are creating havoc in the traditional hotel industry and taxi industry. All of these changes come with serious trade-offs that aren’t necessarily clear if the future is a better place.

 

Brands: Control Commerce

Karl Marx predicted in The Communist Manifesto that local business would be wiped out by large multinational brands and the local culture would be lost forever. Karl Marx’s prediction has come true. Go anywhere in the world and you are guaranteed to find a Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC or Pizza Hut. And thanks to ecommerce you can access almost any brand, with delivery right to your door

The reason multinational brands became mega brands and wiped all the local presence is because consumers supported them.  Customers will line up for days to get the newest model of the latest product, and spend their entire paycheck to proudly display the brand logo. But do brands really want to make the world a better place, or do they just keep us working so we can continue to buy their products and keep them profitable? Through their mammoth marketing machine, mega brands create consumer aspirations and desires that lead people continuously into debt. No local grocer is a match for a large multinational brand like Wal-Mart, with its global resources of outsourcing, data & digital management, and low-margin high-volume sales model. It doesn’t matter how many years the local grocer built their business, one customer at a time, with personalized service.

We have, however, seen a resurgence in local premium products like craft beers, spirits, soda, natural energy drinks, ice cream and coffee. So maybe we are finding the balance getting the best quality at the best price while wanting elevated quality, and supporting local.

 

Brands: Define Culture

People build culture and also brands. More than ever, brands are shaping our lives. We are addicted to our smartphones and the social networks we live on. Thom Braun, author of The Philosophy of Branding, says “…brands and branding are fundamental to the way we experience modern life—and the way we give ‘meaning’ to it.” It’s no surprise our top brands are the ones we interact with on demand.

We can’t live without brands. In some cases, they define who we are. Brands are no longer just objects in our disposable lives—they are giving us meaning, as brands weave their stories with ours. Author Paul Auster said “If we didn’t have stories to tell each other, I don’t think we’d be able to understand the world at all.” In the book Storytelling, Branding in Practice, authors K. Fog, C. Budtz, P. Munch and S. Blanchette state “It is, therefore, no coincidence that an ancient tradition like storytelling should appear in a new form-as a tool for brand building…”

Brands are starting to shape culture to remain relevant and break through the clutter. Brands are trying to champion a societal need and change a social attitude or behaviour, with the ultimate goal of making the world a better place (and selling more product). Nike’s support of Colin Kaepernick’s racial injustice cause is a case in point. As the ad said “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.”

 

Brands: Bigger Responsibility

Thanks to digitization and globalization, popular brands are getting bigger by the second.

While Amazon is on track to collect half of US online sales by 2021, according to an analyst. But the bigger play is still in the brick and mortar, where Wal-Mart dominates the retail landscape with 11,700 locations in over 28 countries, over 2.3 million employees, and annual sales of over $500 billion. With this clout, they can dictate their terms and define the products with a network of 3000 diverse suppliers to keep their 270 million weekly customers happy. If you visit their global website they say “We want to use our size for good.” Let’s hope so, because they are very big!

Coca-Cola consumes about 289 billion of water (a fact on their website) to produce their 40 different products. To put this in perspective, that is about 115,600 Olympic-sized pools, almost one week of the entire water flowing over the Niagara Falls, or almost one year of water consumption by Torontonians. They claim that it takes about 2 litres to produce 1 litre of product. While agriculture accounts for 70% of all water consumption in the world, Coca-Cola recognizes that a sustainable approach to water is essential to its business. Coca-Cola committed to fully replace the water it uses in its finished products across the globe, a goal it set for 2020 and met in 2015. Now they need to tackle climate change!

McDonald’s has more than 36,000 restaurants around the world and serve 69 million people every day. According to Bloomberg, McDonald’s sells four million kilograms (nine million pounds) of fries every day. To feed this appetite, the entire Madison Square Gardens would need to be filled with potatoes to the ceiling just to supply a year’s worth of fries. McDonald’s employs about 1.8 million people in 119 countries and has become so central to global trade that The Economist values foreign currencies against the dollar using the price of a Big Mac. One in eight US workers has been employed by McDonald’s at some point in their career. McDonald’s has helped put a lot of people through college.

 

Brands: The Future

The world’s challenges like climate change, obesity, population growth, and dwindling natural resources are so complex that they require collaborative solutions that go well beyond any one brand or government. The world’s mega brands have a responsibility to address social concerns beyond their own backyards something no government is able or prepared to do. Global brands have the resources and ability to make lasting change with oppression, religions, politics, and social injustices. They can define and uphold universal values that all humans can embrace. Every day they must answer to their customers (and shareholders), because it is the customers who choose to buy their brand and keep them relevant. Every day they must not only keep their brand promises but also nurture the planet and promote human wellbeing. The world would be a very different place without brands who truly are making the world go ‘round.

 

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The Secret to a Successful Brand Starts with “Why”

Have you ever wondered why people line up for the latest Apple gadget, but not for a Microsoft one? Why do some brands become more emotionally connected to their customers than others? Why does a 149-year-old brand like Heinz Ketchup have over 84% of the market share in Canada and over 62% in the US? Why do people still want to buy the world a coke? The secret behind the success of these and many other beloved brands lies in the “why.”

An Apple a Day

Consumers don’t need complicated details about your brand, they just want you to make their life better. It’s that simple. Yet brands often want to tell their customers about all the craftsmanship and technology that goes into making their products. They can’t seem to help but talk about all the things that make their product superior, faster, and smarter. Brands that do this are serving their best interests instead of their customer’s desires.

Rest assured, consumers do care that you have the latest, greatest, best quality technology, but don’t bore them with the details. Apple understood this from the beginning. Their products inspire consumers because they’re idiot proof—all you have to do is turn them on.

Steve Jobs didn’t talk about how they built the iPod’s mercury-free, LED-backlit display, nor did he elaborate on its Mac: OS X v10.6.8 system requirements. Instead, he talked about the big “why” of changing the digital world forever. As he said, “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” I guess he was one of the crazy ones, because he and Apple changed the music and the smartphone world forever.

Brands led by a visionary, or who are focused on a specific cause, start from a level of passion for doing something that is both right for their customers and for the world. Not only do customers relate to this approach, they become emotionally invested in these brands.

 

Over 650 Million Bottles of Heinz Ketchup Consumed Every Year

The founder of Heinz, Henry J. Heinz, revealed the company’s secret to success as “doing a common thing uncommonly well.” He was adamant that customers should see what they were getting in every bottle, hence the clear ketchup glass bottle (which was more expensive to make). He insisted on strict quality control, providing their farmers with their tomato seed—6 billion seeds every year. This guaranteed firmer tomatoes that stayed riper longer to provide the ketchup’s trademark thick, rich taste. There’s even a quality specification on the speed at which the ketchup pours from the bottle, set at a maximum of 0.28 miles per hour. If it pours faster, it doesn’t make it to the store shelf.

Few people know the lengths Heinz goes to in the quest for the perfect ketchup to go with your French fries. That’s because Heinz doesn’t inundate you with these details to try to sell their product, they just deliver consistent results that drive consumer loyalty.

 

 

Esquire restaurant critic John Mariani describes Heinz ketchup as, quite simply, “one of the few things in the world brought to such an honest state of perfection.” This is all that people want to know—that the company cares enough to make sure every bottle is perfect.

As a side note, if you tap the bottle where the “57” is on the neck, the ketchup will come out quicker. Skip hitting the bottom of the bottle—that’s for amateurs.

Happiness in a Coke Bottle

Coca-Cola understands the magic in the bottle. They stay away from the product attributes, focusing instead on how their product makes you feel. They have successfully appealed to the consumer’s heart and not their stomach.

Jim Stengel, author of Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies, said that “everything they do is inspired by this idea of, How do we promote, develop and create happiness?” They have never lost focus on why they exist, even when they introduced the failed New Coke. Stengel further explains that “they never forget why they started and where they came from, which means a lot to consumers.”

Richard Laermer, author of Punk Marketing, says the secret to Coca-Cola’s brand is its ability to transfer adults back to their childhood, “a time people relate to being happy and worry-free.” Every Coke can give you a sugar high, but Coca-Cola can also provide a feeling of warmth and nostalgia. They have successfully tied the brand to sentimental thoughts and stayed clear of being informative.

 

Gillette, Always on the Edge

Gillette has dominated the razor and blades market since 1901, with nearly 65% of the global market share in 2017. The brand started with the single safety razor and, over time, moved towards multiple-bladed razors. Gillette has been relentless in product innovations that are heavily patent protected, while pouring funds into sports marketing and advertising to justify their hefty price tag. From the beginning, Mr. Gillette understood the brand’s purpose was to transform men from prehistorical brutes to civilized males. As a 1910 advertisement eloquently stated, “The country’s future is written in the faces of young men.”

It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the Gillette brand decisively started articulating the brand’s why with the slogan “The best a man can get.” This purpose was brought to life by emotional images of men as devoted sons, fathers, husbands and boyfriends, all devoid of facial hair. For more on the Gillette brand voice, click here.

This doesn’t mean, however, that they haven’t occasionally fallen into the technology trap of explaining the “what” and “how” of their cutting-edge, stainless steel, micro, anti-friction, Pro-Glide, FlexBall razor that can cut hair one-fortieth of a millimeter shorter than its competition.

Today, the Gillette brand is under attack by lower-priced upstarts like Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s, but if they keep true to their follicle roots of “why,” they should continue to protect their competitive edge.

 

Dove Soap Floats Above the Rest

Since its launch in 1964, the Dove soap brand has always used its unique selling proposition of their 1/4 moisturizing cream formulation. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the brand realized that the “what” wasn’t keeping the brand ahead of the competition. In 2004, Dove finally understood the importance of a higher purpose and launched the “real truth about beauty” campaign that targeted women. To get to this realization, they probed deeper into the emotional insights, surpassing the functional benefit of 1/4 moisturizing cream to a more inspiring discussion of what defines beauty. In the end, they started a movement about self-esteem. Advertising Age reported that Dove’s sales increased to $4-billion in 2014, compared with $2.5-billion just a decade earlier. Moving from “what” (¼ moisturizing cream) to “why” (beauty) is a beautiful investment.

Toms Shoes Firmly Planted in “Why”

“Start something that matters,” is Blake Mycoskie’s motto and the foundation to his shoe and accessories company, Toms. His business concept is firmly planted in the “why,” and has sparked many companies to adopt the buy-one-give-one business model. His advice is to “stay true to what you believe.”

“Why” is the Secret to a Successful Brand

Making a difference in people’s lives and explaining the “why” seems to be the starting point for all successful brands. To elevate the purpose beyond the functional wants and needs of a consumer to a higher-good of fulfilment, identity, affiliation and societal or environmental altruism is the ultimate key to success.

It is this passion of “why” that brands do what they do that gives customers a reason to embrace the product. In the book Starting with Why, author Simon Sinek explains that successful brands communicate the whys (beliefs, causes, visions) before they communicate what they do and how they do it. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “I have a dream” not “I have a plan.” It’s all about the why.

Allen Adamson, author of BrandDigital, BrandSimple, and The Edge, says “A company that looks at its brand and asks not simply what promise does it make, but what purpose does it serve, to its customers and its shareholders, and brings this purpose to life through every customer experience will be the company most likely to beat its competition. When an employee can answer the question ‘Why am I here?’ in a positively motivating way, everyone benefits.”

A brand purpose must be simple and clearly understood by everyone in the company, so they can emulate it every day. It must be single-minded in its focus, and speak with one voice. It also helps to have a leader who is passionate about what the brand stands for and keeps everyone focused on what matters.

Start asking “why” your brand should be above the rest, and results are sure to follow.

 

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The World Needs More Canadian Brands, and We’re Not Sorry.

The world is getting smaller as global brands get bigger, thanks in part to the internet, globalization, and worldwide trends. Where do the humble Canadian brands fit? Surprisingly, a few recognizable Canadian brands have burst out from the Northern Frontier. Canadian brands have been strongly linked to our natural resources and long, cold winters—which makes sense given we’re the second largest nation, encompassing 9.9 million square kilometers that reach three coastlines. While our southern neighbour brands dominate the world, most Canadian brands are happy to stay above the 49th parallel, building iconic brands that only live within the Canadian psyche. But there have been some brands that have ventured beyond.

 

True North Strong Brands

In true Canadian modesty, there are several brands that have made it big outside of Canada. You may be amazed to find an eccentric range of global brands that call Canada home!

Remarkably, most international Canadian brands go unnoticed in Canada, when measured against the mega American global brands. In Leger’s 2018 annual ranking of Canada’s Top 20 Most Admired Companies, only five are Canadian brands (Shoppers Drug Mart, Canadian Tire, Dollarama, Canada Post and Sobeys) and only reside in Canada. Level 5 Strategy Group’s blog post How Canadian Brands can Compete on the Global Stage concludes that Canadian brands understand the importance of articulating the rational side of the brand experience, but falter on the emotional side of brand building. WestJet, however, is a great example of a brand that has built an emotional brand promise on “We Care”. Yet WestJet’s reach is still limited to its Canadian audience.

Rupert Duchesne, past Group Chief Executive of Aimia (parent company to Aeroplan Loyalty Company), doesn’t think Canadian brands have a strong desire for international trade. “You see a [Canadian] product and you think to yourself, if you put it in a certain country it’d be a winner,” he explains. “But we have a national view that international trade should be south of the border.”

 

O’ Canada Brands

Here is a list of brands that you might not have realized were Canadian. These brands have built their image on the Great White North, tapping into the clean air, fresh mountain water, vast wilderness, and pristine winter wonderland.

 

Canadian Spirit Brands

Great multicultural spirit is what Canada stands for. Core to the Canadian culture is the freedom to express ideas and live in peace. Canadian are perceived as friendly, tolerant, and clever. We also need a sense of humour to endure 6 to 8 months of winter! Outside of beer, poutine, beaver tails, maple syrup and ketchup chips, Canadians like to be active, enjoy life, and express themselves.

 

Canadian Hospitality Brands

Canada attracts tourists from around the world because of its many natural wonders like the Rockies, Niagara Falls, Coastal Islands, and much more. Canadians are also known as the nicest people in the world, with unfailing courtesy and politeness. In the book How To Be A Canadian, Ian and Will Ferguson theorize that there are 12 Canadian “sorries”: simple, essential, occupational, subservient, aristocratic, demonstrative, libidinous, ostentatious, mythical, unrepentant, sympathetic and authentic. They say once you master saying “I’m sorry,” you will be a true Canadian.

 

Canadian Trusted Brands

Canada is known for being a relatively safe and ethical country with an effective government system and a Prime Minister who knows how to say “sorry.” According to Reputation Institute’s 2017 Country RepTrak survey of 55 countries, Canada was the world’s most reputable county—an honour we’ve enjoyed four times over the last six years.

 

Canadian, Eh!?

There are always those outliers—brands that don’t fit the Canadian psyche but that have captured consumers around the world.

The World Needs More Canadian Brands

I am [not] sorry to say most Canadian brands are happy to focus on the 36 million Canadians that reside within our borders. Brands like Canada Post, Canadian Tire, Hudson’s Bay Company, Tim Hortons, and MEC have been content staying within Canada for the last few decades. But the ones that have endeavoured beyond the great north have built formidable brand empires with little fanfare.

There seems to be a common thread weaved through these brands. They don’t wear their emotions on their sleeve, they are more concerned about their customers than projecting their self-interests, and their CEO isn’t a name or face that you know. These are well-established brands that have grown over time, meeting and surpassing customers’ needs. These brands have adapted to changes and have been around for decades, with a clear focus on the customer.

Jeannette Hanna, a marketing expert and founder of Trajectory Brands, says successful international brands from Canada are chameleon-like, successfully adapting to many markets around the world. “They can fly under the radar in an interesting way so that they look international, and they look stylish, and can appeal to a broad base without having to scream that they’re Canadian.”

CEO Bruce Flatt of Brookfield Asset Management would agree. He believes “keeping a low profile is good for business. It’s best to be under the radar.” All the better to stalk our competition.

Quietly and politely, Canadian brands bring more Canada to the world. Buy Canadian, eh!

 

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Laughter Is the Shortest Distance Between Brand and Customer

Five ways to use humor to build a brand.

Building your brand on humor is no laughing matter. In fact, this choice can be a high-risk (but high-reward) branding option. Laughter is the obvious outcome, but humor also creates a positive emotional relationship between a brand and its customers. Humor can cut through the clutter and go viral in seconds—because funny attracts eyeballs. People reward clever, creative and witty humor by watching and sharing it. Humor can revitalize an old offer or make an ordinary product extraordinary overnight—and it can make you into a brand that people want to be associated with.

 

Funny Theory

I quickly found that looking for the secret sauce of what makes things funny wasn’t much fun at all. E.B. White had it right when he mused that “analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”

Frog or no frog, Dr. Peter McGraw and Joel Warner wrote the book The Humor Code. In the book, they developed the Benign Violation Theory, which states that two simultaneous conditions are needed to make something funny. First, it must violate the way we think the world should work and second, it must be benign enough that it does so in a way that’s not threatening. This is the fine line of what is funny or in downright bad taste.

A master of Benign Violation is comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who has the innate talent of pointing out outrageous funny things (violation) in everyday life (benign). My favorite example is the episode where Mr. Pitt eats a Snickers bar with a knife and fork.

Laughing Matters

Jack Schafer, Ph.D., a writer for Psychology Today, says “laughter releases endorphins, which make us feel good about ourselves and others. This good feeling creates a bond between two people and imbues a sense of togetherness.” Brands that incorporate humor in their branding strategy can increase their likeability.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any significant research to support this claim, except to say that intrinsically we all do business and build relationships with people we like. Rohit Bhargava, author of Likeonomics, says we are living in a world where brand believability is very low. Consumers are bombarded daily with corporate speak, half-truths, or biased messages. For the sake of survival, they are ambivalent or negative to these messages as a default—Bhargava calls this the “likeability gap.” To bridge this gap, brands must build trust, be relevant and be unselfish in a timely and simple fashion. Doing something different, like using humor, can make a brand relevant and can create significant impact in a world of sameness and brand parity.

 

Funny Attractions

Humor generates big dollars in the entertainment industry. From 1995 to 2017, Statista movie box office revenue data shows that the comedy genre rakes in a total of $42 billion, second only to adventure movies. Comedy has continued to grow over recent years, with over 17.6 million people visiting a comedy club in 2016. That’s an increase of 10 percent since 2014! A contributing factor to this influx is the mass broadcasting of comedy specials and routines on Netflix and YouTube (where comedy is the 5th biggest channel), and popular live events like Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival, that attracts over two million spectators each year. The rise in comedy popularity is particularly true for younger viewers—according to a recent study by NAPTE/Content First and the Consumer Electronics Association, comedy is the top genre watched regularly by 74 percent of Millennials (vs. 70 percent for Gen Xers, and 68 percent for Boomers).

The attractiveness of humor also applies to marketing. A quarter of television commercials are classified as humorous and, of the top 10 most-watched ads of 2017 on YouTube, four of them are based on humor.

 

Brand Attractions

The main reason humor is used to build a brand is two-fold: humor can attract attention quickly and can enhance brand likability overnight. But this doesn’t guarantee success. Ace Metrix conducted an extensive research study on the Impact of Humor in Advertisements (2012), and found that the “keys to effectiveness are relevance and information.”

There are five primary ways humor can be used to build a brand:

1. Bonding

Humor can be used to bring together like-minded people under a halo of fun. Humor can bring out the unique club mentality present in celebration, without the fear of elitism. Coca-Cola, for example, is a mastermind at creating a warm and funny connection with their consumers. It must be all that sugar they put into the drink!

As well as conveying emotional information about oneself, laughter elicits similar emotions in others and therefore serves a bonding function. If laughter serves a social bonding function, it should be no surprise that it also serves to increase a person or brand’s likability.

 

2. Releasing Tension

Humor can be an easy way to address a difficult conversation or sensitive subject matter like insurance, banking, or personal hygiene. Somehow, the toilet tickles many-a-brand’s funny bone. Humor, when used with sensitivity, can be very successful, and even potty humor has a time and place (most likely in a boy’s locker room).

GEICO is a great example of taking a sensitive subject (insurance) and transforming it into must-watch TV ads. Then there is Aflac’s famous quacky and wacky duck, who helped to elevate the Aflac brand to one of the top 25 brands in 2015, based on the annual SMB Insights Study conducted by The Business Journals.

3. Attraction

How do you take a 70-year brand heritage of Old Spice and make it relevant to not only young men, but also to the women who purchase products for the men in their lives? Women are responsible for over 50% of body wash sales, so hooking them as a demographic is vital. Eric Baldwin, Executive  Creative Director at Wieden+Kennedy (the agency behind the Old Spice brand transformation) said: “When you are saying ‘Listen to us tell you about body wash and deodorant and we will entertain you,’ you’d better make sure that is exactly what you do: entertain the hell out of them.” And that is exactly what Old Spice has been doing since “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” was debuted in 2010.

4. Rivals

How does the little brand take on Goliath who has more market share, more brand awareness, more brand recognition, and deep pockets to keep it that way? Create a cult phenomenon using humor! It’s easier said than done, but many brands have succeeded. Humor can also be used to avert potential detractors.

If used correctly, humor can be a clever and original way to communicate tons of information in a playful and entertaining matter. One great example is the Dollar Shave Club.

5. Entertainment

For those brands looking to capture younger audiences, it’s all about entertaining and keeping those attention-deficit consumers engrossed in nonsensical brand stories. In a study How Humor in Advertising Works by Prof. Dr. Martin Eisend at the Universitat Viadrina Frankfurt (2011), it is cited that humor may help overcome weaknesses in advertising messages. Skittles is a great example of this type of brand humor in its Taste the Rainbow commercials, of which I am not their target audience (thank heavens!).

Last Laugh

If you want to wrap your brand with humor, you need to understand what type of humor fits your brand. Are you looking for the silly giggle like a school kid? The nervous and uncomfortable chuckle? The derisive snort? The joyous cackle? The big contagious hearty belly laugh? Or the soft, suppressed chortle?

The bigger the laughter, the higher the risk and the higher the potential of being divisive, but sometimes the reward is worth that risk. Sometimes, though, being too funny can have the opposite effect than you intend. There is always a brand that crosses the line and takes funny to a non-benign place. There are also those brands that are so funny and outrageous that the consumer only remembers the joke but has no idea who or what the brand was. Robin Evans, in his book Production and Creativity in Advertising, coined the phrase “the vampire effect,” where the humor or spokesperson overshadows the brand message. The moral of this story is to keep your humor on message, to help build up instead of detracting from your brand.

Here is a Wrigley commercial that crossed the benign line, to the point that it was taken off air because of so many complaints.

 

Final Punchline

A brand’s sense of humor should come from a strong sense of who the brand is, what it stands for, and how their customers perceive it—both today and into the future. If your brand humor comes across as authentic and genuine, people will follow you and will give some leeway to screw up. In today’s world of speed, personalization and relevance humor can cut corners in production values and can capture large audiences, even if your products are boring. Humor is also about timing and context as opposed to polish. If you take no risks at all, you’ll never be in any danger of ever making anyone laugh.

 

The headline to this article is an adaptation from the original quote “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people” by Danish comedian Victor Borge (1909-2000).