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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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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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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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The Best 2017 Brand Campaigns

It’s that time of the year when marketing and branding experts determine which campaigns should be recognized as the best 2017 brand campaigns. For your convenience I have searched the internet for the “Best Lists” from such experts as Adweek, Marketingweek, Spredfast, Digital Marketing Institute, Brandwatch, AdAge and Forbes Agency Council.

My analysis isn’t terrible scientific as most of the lists are wildly subjective. Looking across the lists there are only a few campaigns that get repeated nominations among the experts. There was five campaigns that stood out above the rest.

Purpose over Profits

A common theme among many of these campaigns was a focus on a higher purpose and less about selling their brand. Many are recognizable brands that have successfully tapped into the global anxiety of uncertainty and unrest. A world without a clear future. There is a serious tone in all of these campaigns void of any humour except for Halo Top`s (The Perfect Pint) campaign.

Desire to Engage

These campaigned aren`t about a 30 second television commercial but a fully integrated campaign with social engagements in the millions that reached beyond most expectations. The secret ingredient in all of these campaigns was the social buzz or fire that they all created both positive and negative. A true sign of a campaign that matters.

Enjoy and have a very happy and prosperous New Year.

 

The Top 5 Best 2017 Brand Campaigns

 

1. Heineken – Worlds Apart #OpenYourWorld

This campaign resonated with a number of the experts. And I don`t disagree. I found this real-life social experiment riveting. Heineken brought together people from opposite ends of the spectrum and put them into various team-building activities, before unveiling their strong conflicting viewpoints. They then had the choice to share a Heineken and discuss their differences or leave the room. I won`t spoil the ending.

Heineken received plenty of free publicity including some negative backlash but they also saw sales volume increase 3.9% in the first half of 2017. The 4:25 minute video on Youtube has received over 14.6 million views so far.

 

2. The New York Times – The Truth is Hard to Find

Today, the newspaper business isn’t a happy place. If it’s not Donald Trump threatening journalism, it’s overall declining revenues. The New York Times launched a campaign to declare why journalism matters and its role in holding power accountable and ultimately delivering the truth (most of the time).

The YouTube commercial has over 15.7 million views since it first aired on the Academy Awards in February. But more importantly The New York Times has seen a record level of digital subscribers of over 300 thousand in the first quarter of 2017.

 

3. State Street Global Advisors – Fearless Girl

On March 7th  a small girl of just 4 feet appeared before the iconic Charging Bull in the heart of New York`s financial district which stands at 11 feet. The day before International Women’s Day. Courageously she stands in deviance against the beast that represents male capitalism.

Sculpted by Kristen Visbal, the girl statue was commissioned by agency McCann New York for State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) to symbolise the power of women in leadership. Planting this meek girl statue of 250 pounds against the beast of 7,100 pounds created an instant global media storm. Like any visceral campaign it comes with its detractors including a $5 million lawsuit settlement against parent company State Corp. for alleging it underpaid women and minorities. (Best to have your own house in order before you start pointing fingers as others!)

Fearless Girl won 18 Cannes Lions awards, including the Titanium Grand Prix in the Glass Lions, which honours marketing creativity that transcends traditional categories such as media, film or radio. It was also praised by the jury for advocating gender equality.

 

4. Halo Top – “The Perfect Pint” or “Eat The Ice Cream” (experts couldn’t agree on one)

AdAge describes Halo Top ice cream brand as a “consumer-driven brand based on a quality product, evangelical consumers and clever, grassroots marketing…” This young five year old company has built its brand on a focused social media strategy surpassing the ice cream giants of Ben & Jerry`s and Häagen-Daazs.  They are a true threat to the established brands with sales increases of over 2,500 percent in 2016 and 1,656 percent in the 52 weeks ended Nov. 5, to nearly $298.6 million, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. “The perfect Pint” was the first traditional campaign they launched just prior to Fourth of July holiday. This video has garnered over 14.4 million views since release.

More recently they launched a longer-format spot for theatre and online advertising. Tim Nudd, creative editor at Adweek describes the spot as a “grimly amusing, Kubrick-esque robot apocalypse” perfect as a horror-movie trailer. Halo Top Founder and CEO Justin Woolverton said his brand had “never done anything this off-the-wall before.”

The sales would indicate a double hitter but the jury is this out on understanding where the brand image is really going.

 

5. Nike – #Breaking2

Nike is a brand that urges its customers to push their limits, and this campaign does this in spades.

They sponsored and challenged three athletes: Lelisa Desisa, Eliud Kipchoge and Zersenay Tadese to run the first sub two-hour marathon wearing Nike`s new Zoom Vaporfly Elite racing shoe. The event took place at the Formula 1 racetrack in Monza, Italy on May 6th and was live-streamed on social media.

Nike also partnered with National Geographic to produce the Breaking2, a 55 minute documentary that has 1.5 million views. Unfortunately, Kenya’s Olympic champion marathoner Eliud Kipchoge missed the goal by just :25 seconds. Despite not beating the two-hour mark, #Breaking2 was a PR success, receiving worldwide media coverage generating almost 85,000 mentions on social media in two days.

 

Honourable Mention

  1. IKEA – Augmented reality app: Ikea Place
  2. Wendy`s – #NuggsForCarter (winner of four 2017 Cannes Lions awards)
  3. Airbnb – Super Bowl ad titled “We Accept”
  4. Heinz – Pass the Heinz a campaign directly from Madmen
  5. Patagonia`s – Brand activism in protecting public land

 

What was your most memorable 2017 brand campaign?

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Mind over Mouth – How Brands Go Beyond The Tongue

Where does the taste of a brand fit? You guessed it, in the mouth. But even if your brand can’t fit into your customer’s mouth, this article may still provide you with wisdom about this unique portal to human consumption. The taste of any brand is more about what you think a brand is than what you think you experience.  Hold that thought as we move on.

The Tongue

The tongue does all the heavy lifting. If it’s not busy articulating a verb or noun, it’s busy moving food and drink around in our mouth. The tongue has over 10,000 taste buds (the little bumps on your tongue) which helps distinguish between sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory (also known as umami). On its own, it can only decipher basic elements of taste. But to realize its full potential, it requires other senses like smell, texture and temperature. Taste is really the summation of the tongue and nose (if not influenced by our eyes), which our brain connects, and leads our emotional unity to our experience. This is the sweet spot where we know, in branding, is ripe for manipulation and trickery.

Howard Moskowitz once said, “the mind knows not what the tongue wants.” And Moskowitz should know, as a well-known market researcher and psychophysicist. He was made famous by author Malcolm Gladwell in his New Yorker article titled “The Ketchup Conundrum” and his TedTalk called “Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce.” A perfect video to watch on a Friday night. Gladwell recounts Moskowitz reinventing spaghetti sauce through his research where he discovered there were three main sauces: plain, spicy and extra chucky. The market place only offered plain and spicy spaghetti sauce at the time. Moskowitz’s customer, Campbell Soup Kitchen, used this information and introduced Prego extra chucky spaghetti sauce that made over $600 million in the first 10 years. Moskowitz certainly understood the secret to that sauce.

Taste Test

The most memorable and successful taste test was the legendary Pepsi Challenge, which started in 1975. This simple tactic put Pepsi on the map and kicked Coca Cola off their game with their introduction of the New Coke blunder. Years after, scientist continued to ponder what role taste has in building a brand.

While we believe the ultimate criteria for liking a drink or food is its taste, we are certainly influenced throughout the brand experience by extrinsic cues like packaging, labels, the brand story, the environmental situation, as well as the intrinsic product attributes, like texture, smell, appearance and perceived quality (price).

In a 2013 blind taste test research study between Coke and Pepsi conducted by Dr. N. Ramanjaneyalu, C. Asangi and V. Kadabi at Karnatak University in India, found that only 37% of respondents could successfully identify Coca Cola through taste or a lucky guess. They concluded that building the right brand image and positioning is just as important as the taste.

The Brain

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink, echoes a similar conclusion where he explains that people prefer a sweeter drink (characteristics of Pepsi) in a sip test but generally not necessarily in glass size. He also goes on to talk about the importance of “sensation transference,” a phrase coined by scientific researcher Louis Cheskin, who said people’s perceptions and emotional attachments to the aesthetics of the product goes beyond just the taste of the product.

Neuroscientists Lauren Atlas and Tor Wager’s research on cognitive neuroscience concluded that expectations and beliefs play a pervasive role in the workings of the brain. What this means is expectations can influence those things we are knowingly aware of, like our loyalty and familiarity to a brand. Consciously and unconsciously we are collecting information and analyzing our surroundings and assessing what we think we like and don’t like.

 

Tasteless

Gil Morrot, a wine researcher at the National Institute for Agronomic Research in Montpellier, found that the simple act of adding an odorless red dye to a glass of white wine was able to fool a panel of tasters, who later described the wine as a true red wine with tasting notes of cherry, dark fruit and cedar.

It’s no surprise that the top five beer manufactures in US spent approximately $1.6 billion in advertising in 2016, especially if beer preference is not driven completely by taste. Bottle water is another great example of brand-first, tasteless-water second. (Check out my article The Power of a Brand).

In a study conducted at Stanford and Johns Hopkins, their researchers tested the effect of branding on taste preferences in young children. The 95 children aged 3-5 were given identical food, except one choice came in McDonald’s packaging and the other was in plain-white packaging. All of the food came from McDonald’s, except for the carrots. Which one do you think the kids liked best? No brainer. McDonald’s was chosen hands-down, including the carrots that they don’t actually sell. Interesting to also note that the preferences for the McDonald’s branded food increased with both the frequency of McDonald’s consumption and the number of TV sets in the home of each kid.

Taste Matters

I remember the day McDonald’s coffee tasted like merde! (pardon my French). In 2006, McDonald’s upgraded is coffee from a generic, non-descript coffee, to a darker-roast, Arabica, premium coffee they called “Full Bean Coffee.” I recall people walking into the office at the time with their extra-large McDonald’s to-go-cup saying the coffee tasted great, even better than Tim Hortons. They were happy they saved cash and got a free muffin on the side. This was the start of the coffee wars with Starbucks. Within a year McDonald’s coffee sales climbed 20% in a market where coffee sales are over $30 billion. During that time they gave away a lot of free coffee. Why? To demonstrate that their coffee did taste great because taste does matter.

Taste is one of the most important factors influencing consumers’ preference for choosing one food and beverage brand over another. But we should not be so naïve to think that taste is the only discerning factor unless, its Heinz’s ketchup—the perfectly balanced condiment with the right amount of tangy sweet tomato and salty goodness, with pleasant sour notes and a buttery umami finish. Even with a 62% market share lead in US (84% in Canada) this brand doesn’t rely only on taste. The Heinz brands spent approximately $530 million on advertising in 2013, including securing a Heinz’s ketchup ad in the 2016 Super Bowl (which isn’t cheap). Most recently Heinz‘s ketchup launched a brilliant advertising campaign inspired (actually a complete rip-off) from a Mad Men episode.

Final Tasting Notes

We understand the mouth’s role within our complex sensory system. It’s integral in how we interpret taste, and also how we define our likes and dislikes. We also know it has its limitations, and in the end, is overruled by our brain’s desire to bring it all together.  So when positioning a brand that has strong oral opportunity, we can’t put all the pressure on the tongue to carry us through. By ensuring multiple sensory stimulation, only then will the tongue feel affirmation in what it’s experiencing. Now how you choose to influence this experience will leave your brand tasting bitter or sweet.