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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).

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Brands in Pink

It’s not just a colour. It’s a state of mind.

The colour pink is a unique and somewhat controversial colour that is loaded with meaning and emotions. Dr. Veronika Koller, a professor and researcher at Lancaster University who studied how people interpret the colour pink, says that pink contains more meanings than any other colour. This is a respectful summation of this revolutionary colour. If history has anything to tell us, the colour pink has a lot of opportunity left in it in the world of branding.

 

The Colour Pink

Christina Olsen, director of the University of Michigan, Museum of Art, says the colour pink isn’t part of the electromagnetic spectrum so we aren’t seeing actual wavelengths of pink light but “an extra –spectral color, which means other colors must be mixed to generate it.” The primary two colours to make pink is red and white but it is yellow and blue tones that form a wide spectrum of pink colours. Wikipedia has identified over 46 notable shades of the colour pink (where as blue has over 73). In the ranking of popular colours pink is listed as number four behind blue, black and grey.

Alice Bucknell in her article A Brief History of the Color Pink explains pink has been a spectacular contradiction for masculinity and femininity. In Japan, the colour pick is associated with masculinity honouring slain Samurais whereas western cultures popularized pink in the eighteen-century fashion scene within the pastel-loving bourgeoisie. The art world brought pink to the forefront starting with the French Impressionists and Neo-Impressionist movements (such as Claude Monet’s lilies and Edgar Degas’s dancers). In the 1960’s pop art took pink to the next level with artists like Andy Warhol (with his famous Marilyn Monroe). From there we saw pink move towards a vibrant neon-soaked 90s, to finally to a subdued Millennial pink that speaks to a more emotionally connected and tolerant society.

 

Tickled Pink

Pink is known as the happy colour. Think about cotton candy and bubble-gum— pure delights.

The psychology of the colour pink is firmly rooted in the perception that pink is a feminine colour that connotes nurture, care, calmness, romance and hope. Marketing has definitely played a role in portraying pink as a “girly” colour.

Intensify the colour to a hot vibrant pink and the psychological properties shift the tonality to youthful, energetic, sexy and fun. The range of moods and feeling pink can portray are vast and can quickly define gender and/or personality.

T-Mobile uses hot pink (magenta) to help differentiate their brand from the big competitors (AT&T and Verizon) and set an irreverent brand tone. In 2012, John Legere joined T-Mobile as CEO, who created a new brand around the colour of pink transforming the company to be more energetic, youthful and cooler. He must have done more than introduce hot pink to successful motivate his employees to proudly wear their shocking magenta uniforms every-day.  This brand transformation has been a large part of T-Mobile’s successful turnaround from a $29 billion in sales and negative $6 billion revenue loss to, today, a $51 billion in sales and positive revenue over $4 billion. In 2014 T-Mobile was successful in shutting out AT&T subsidiary from trying to use a similar magenta colour by trademarking theirs— feisty true colours.

 

Pretty in Pink

Associating baby boys with blue and baby girls with pink is a relatively new trend says Jo B. Paoletti, author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America. She said the gender-code between pink and blue was firmly drawn in western societies in the early 1980s thanks to branding and marketers such as Care Bear, Barbie, Hello Kitty, and many Disney princesses. Pink became the leading colour to define pretty little girl’s materialistic world of glitter and fairy tales.

In 2011, Forbes reported that Disney Princess franchise made $1.6 billion (US) in North American retail sales and $3 billion globally. Making it the best-seller beating Star Wars, Sesame Street and superheroes. Pink power prevails.

The colour pink doesn’t stop with infants and young girls. Victoria Secret has successfully used the colour pink for over 40 years to build a lingerie empire of over $8 billion US (2015) in world-wide sales. In 2002, Victoria Secret introduced the PINK brand to attract high school and college-age girls to purchase causal loungewear a step down from the sexy lingerie.

 

Despite this pink persuasion, I have found no conclusive scientific evidence that gender-coded pink influences women more than men nor does it have any effect on human behavior. JR Thorpe stated in her article, Why Are We So Obsessed With Millennial Pink? There’s A Scientific Explanation For Everything, that there is sufficient “evidence that we do seem to view pinks in a positive light in some situations, likely as a result of cultural programming.”

Post World War II every home had some sort of pink household products based on targeting women who were entering into the work-force and started drawing a paycheque (thanks to the war). Remember grandma’s pink bathroom complete with pink doilies? As Jennifer Wright says in her article How Pink Became a Color for Girls, if a lady “tells you that her favorite color is “pink!” she might be telling you that she wants to be dainty and demure and stay at home. Or she might just be a badass who’s trying not to scare you too much.”  Does this mean that intrinsically women are influenced by pink to some degree, due to generational exposure or a desire to be part of something bigger?

 

The Politics of Pink

While the colour of pink has been associated with passive, innocent and girly. As an advocacy colour pink has been fierce and powerful, loaded with pride and strength.

The pink triangle was associated with the gay liberation movement but its original creation was far more evil as it was used by the Nazi’s to identity homosexual prisoners in concentration camps.

In 1991, the Susan G. Komen Foundation gave pink ribbons to runners in its New York breast cancer survivor race. The following year, the pink ribbon became the official—now ubiquitous—symbol of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In both cases, the pink colour is used to communicate active defiance and empowerment. Many feminist groups have adopted the colour pink as a sign of strength and pride in the mission towards equality and opportunity.

The pink ribbon Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an excellent example of using the gender-coded colour pink to their advantage to promote awareness and increase early detection of breast cancer. Some people would argue that the pinkification of breast cancer has turned a horrible disease into a brand that has been commodified by other brands for their own profits. That being said, the BreastCancer.org estimate that “about 40,610 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2017 from breast cancer, though death rates have been decreasing since 1989. Women under 50 have experienced larger decreases. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness.” I wasn’t able to find any awareness statistics on the pink ribbon campaign but I would guess it would be highest among the many ribbon campaigns that exist today.

 

For Pink Sake

Then there are those brands that don’t care about the gender-coding or personality traits of the colour pink. They just want a colour that will clearly differentiate them from the competitive pack.

Owens-Corning is one of those companies who introduced their Pink Fiberglas insulation into the market over 50 years ago. In 1980 they introduced the Pink Panther as their mascot in all of their marketing to accentuate their pinkness and likable pink personality. Since introducing the Pink Panther customers prefer pink insulation by a ratio of seven to one over the closet competition, as revealed in a Owens-Corning study done in the late 1990s. They were also one of the first company to successful trademark their colour against competition. Mr. Smith, Head of Marketing says, “We are fortunate. We have a trademark color that is up there with Coke red.” In his dreams!

In 1893, the Financial Times went from a generic white paper newspaper to a shade of salmon-pink which immediately distinguish it from all the competition. Why pink? It was cheaper to dye it pink than dying it white. Today, the opposite is true but as readers’ transition to the online version the colour is more about tradition than attracting attention on a dying newsstand.

 

Millennial Pink

Millennial Pink, also known as the Tumblr Pink or Scandinavian Pink (check out Pinterest), is the politically correct colour that has appeared in shades of beige with a touch of blush to a pleasing peach-salmon. This gender-neutral, androgynous colour is growing in popularity since it first appeared in 2012. You can find it in restaurants interiors, furniture, household products, clothing for both men and women, hair tints, drinks, rose-gold iPhones, and Drake’s album cover Hotline Bling, to name a few.

“Millennials are increasingly redefining what it means to be a grown-up in a seriously troubled world,” explains JR Thorpe. “Sometimes, we all want to be soothed — and what better way to do that than looking at Instagrams of a mid-century modern pink velvet settee.” May I suggest that they use the pinky velvet Pepto-Bismol, a better solution to sooth their tummies.

I predict there will be a few digital gender-neutral brands that will be utilizing this colour soon. Two brands that have embraced this restrained colour so far are Acne Studios clothing retailer and Thinx, a period-proof underwear company.

 

Pinked Out

No question, pink is a strong colour to build a brand, but you must understand the connection you are trying to build with the colour. You can’t ignore the historical gender connection that pink has in defining or promoting femininity (both good and bad). Maybe Millennial Pink will make pink less about gender and more about how it makes you feel.  But until then, as hip-hop rapper Talib Kweli said “women are complex creatures.” I think the colour pink is just as complex.

However, many brands have successfully broken away from the competitive crowd using the colour pink and more new brands will do the same.

 

Check out “Does the Colour of a Brand Really Matter