27 May 2009

The Chips are Down: A Lesson in Branding

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder & Fusion Director, Atomic Tango LLC

Faux Sure!

Faux Sure!

Of course, you already know that Pringles aren’t really potato chips. One bite told you that. You just ate ’em because they make good midnight munchies. And they come in that cool tube.

But the blogosphere buzzed when parent company Proctor & Gamble publicly proclaimed that Pringles aren’t entirely made from potatoes. In an attempt to save on snack taxes in Britain, the company noted that 58% of each Pringles chip consists of wheat and corn flour, fat, seasonings and something called “emulsifiers.” Unfortunately for P&G, not only did this confession fail to cut their taxes, it also undermined their Pringle brand worldwide.

Notes Advertising Age (subscription required to read):

The theory that all a company’s employees — not just its marketing department — help create the brand came into sharp focus last week, when an obscure tax ruling in the U.K. centered around the contention of Procter & Gamble Co. lawyers and finance people that Pringles aren’t potato crisps (chips, in U.S. parlance) made the brand the butt of jokes around the globe.

The lawyers and finance people were thinking strictly in terms of dollar signs (or, in this case, pounds — which is rather appropriate for junk food, no?), and not thinking of the much more valuable overall brand. And that’s most likely because they don’t have a great understanding of what “brand” means.

They’re not alone. I’ve met so-called “VP’s of Marketing” who didn’t understand what a brand is. In fact, I’ve yet to find two textbooks or two experts who agree on the definition, though the varied concepts are fundamentally the same, and the experts do agree on its importance.

So as another Cool Rules Pronto public service, here is a handy definition of “brand” that anyone should be able to grasp — even a lawyer:

A brand is your image, personality and reputation
rolled into one impression.

All entities have a brand: a company, a school, a non-profit organization, a government department, a sports team, a religion, a rock band, a politician, even you.

Indeed, one of the best ways to understand branding is to make it personal.

You can control parts of your own brand: your style, your attitude, your educational background and credentials. Other factors are more difficult to control: rumors about you, how others might judge you based on where you’re from or what you look like, or even what your close associates are doing.

Look, It Rubs Off!

Yes, you can build or damage your brand by association.

You might seek relationships with certain brands — or purchase certain products — because you admire them, you identify with them, and you want them to reflect on you. Top colleges sell a lot of T-shirts that way.

The converse is also true: Many people (including his old golfing buddy George Bush) stopped associating with Enron CEO Kenneth Lay after he was accused of crimes. Loyalty is only brand deep.

One company might have many faces to its brand.

Wal-Mart might be friendly to its customers, but it’s hard on its suppliers, and has been convicted of occasionally mistreating its workers. The brand you show professionally might be very different from what you show your family and what you show to your friends. Different people might regard a brand differently: some people love Wal-Mart and others think it’s evil; some people admire Sarah Palin while most think she’s an idiot; and your mother will likely treat you differently than your boss will, while your pets will always think you’re the greatest thing in the world.

Managing a company’s brand is the most important responsibility of the marketer — because even your CEO can stray. The CEO of Merrill Lynch was forced to resign after he spent $1.2 million to redecorate his office when financial institutions were begging for federal bailouts. His VP of Marketing should have said something to him long before that happened.

As the Pringles case demonstrates, all employees of a company can affect the brand, from the executive suite to the guys in the warehouse, so it’s important that they all understand it and protect it. Yes, managing a brand is hard work that requires both a global and local perspective, and almost 24/7 vigilance. But if done well, it’s well worth it…

What is the value of a brand?

  • A strong brand enables you to charge higher prices than a similar competitive product.
  • It enables you to attract the best customers and the best workers, and to retain their loyalty.
  • It creates recognition and trust in a competitive and confusing marketplace.
  • It makes investors more enthusiastic about you, and makes your stock worth more than a similar company with a weak brand.
  • It makes the news media more eager to report on you.
  • And it makes some consumers even willing to wear your logo on their clothes, their cars, or even their skin (as tattoos).

The Pringles brand is probably strong enough to withstand this little dent, but a few more shakeups, and these faux crisps could easily crumble.


Shameless plug: Need professional help building and enhancing your brand? Contact Atomic Tango

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

3 Responses

  1. Fantastic post! In my attempts to explain to non-marketing folk, I’ve described it as having two parts to your brand. There is the physical part, the logo, your collateral, website, store layout etc. Then there is the emotional part. This is the part that is harder to “control.” It’s how people feel when they experience your brand, see your brand, and tell others about your brand.

    In today’s world of easy self-publishing the impact of a positive and conversely a negative brand are reaching further with lightning speed. Companies are realizing that only by letting go of control and being transparent will they ever bridge the gap between a brand that people might “respect” and a brand that people “love.” It’s amazing, when you let go of control and let people tell you what they think of your brand, how quickly you realize what people really think about it. And if you hear a bunch of Yuck out there, it isn’t necessarily all bad. At least you know and can start corrective action. It may be comfortable sitting in the dark, for now. But eventually you’ll find the boogy man in the closet! ;-)

  2. Boo to Pringles for blowing Marketing 101. There are some things I just don’t want to know about what I’m eating.

  3. Two thumbs up! Phanos & Pitiris

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