What Is Your Brand Against?

By Scott Goodson, Chairman of StrawberryFrog

Originally published in the Harvard Business Review

Companies understand that to be successful they and their brands need to stand for something. This results in bold and principled declarations to the world: “At Acme Amalgamated, we’re committed to X. We believe in Y. We care passionately about Z.” Unfortunately, in the end, it all starts to sound like generic ad-speak.

Here’s a modest suggestion: If you really want to show the world what you believe in and stand for, how about telling us what you stand against?

Recently, my agency StrawberryFrog launched a new campaign for smart car that was rooted in this kind of oppositional thinking. We understood that the smart car brand stands for some pretty good things: efficiency, economy, reduced environmental footprint. But put way, it sounds rather dull and predictable.

By defining instead what smart is against — over-consumption, excess, thoughtless behavior — we began to craft a statement with more of an edge. As we boiled down the idea some more, what emerged was a simple yet powerful declaration of principle, stating that we are “against dumb.” It felt a little more gutsy and provocative than your typical ad line, which may be why the campaign immediately drew press attention. At the same time, by giving customers something to rail against (everything from gas-guzzlers to oversized Venti lattes), the campaign created a vocal community of smart car advocates. In a short period of time, the brand more than quadrupled its audience.

Marketers may be reluctant to take a stand against anything because it can feel controversial or divisive. But the truth is, some of the boldest marketers have been doing this kind of thing successfully for quite a while. Think of Apple, which in its early days came out strongly against conformity and the “Big Brother” world of computing (represented then as now by the larger, more conservative IBM). Later, fashion brands such as Diesel railed against all kinds of establishment views; in its ads during the 1990s, Diesel even seemed to be against advertising itself, which resonated well with its youthful, independent-minded customers.

The marketing writer Adam Morgan has said that brands sometimes need to create “fake monsters,” so that everyone (meaning all your potential customers) will come together to fight the monster and save the village. But I would amend that to say the monsters aren’t or shouldn’t be fake — they ought to be based in real concerns and issues in today’s world.

Wherever there’s a possibility for improvement, you can speak out against entrenched ways or status quo attitudes. Or you can defend tradition by taking on trendy new attitudes and behaviors. Either way, there’s no shortage of things worth taking a stand against. Just be sure that the cultural values and behaviors you take on do indeed run counter to your brand philosophy. These can be matters large or small, serious or playful. A campaign we once did for IKEA took a stand against being a “gray mouse” (which is to say being timid and safe in one’s choices). A more recent one, for Sabra hummus, directly challenged the bland, unadventurous eating habits of many Americans.

One caveat: Don’t simply take a stand “against” your competition. You may hate your competitor’s guts, but nobody else cares; the outside world is looking for you to take on something more meaningful and interesting.

Defining what your company is against has longer-term benefits than a compelling ad campaign. Thanks to social media, more companies now understand that consumers want to participate in a real conversation with brands. To make this conversation (or any conversation) work, there must be an honest exchange of views. A big part of that is for both sides to be willing to say, “I’m for this” and “I’m against that.”

And if you want to expand that conversation so that it becomes a cultural movement built around your brand — which is something that all marketers should be striving for today — then you need to give that movement a sense of purpose and action. The truth is, it’s often easier to rally people against something than for something. Just think of some of the most successful social and political movements through history — up to and including the current Tea Party movement. More often than not, these movements start with people protesting against or saying “no” to something.

Which is not to suggest that your campaign, or the movement you’re trying to lead, should amount to one big gripe-fest. The conversation you have with the public may start by pointing out something wrong, but ought to move beyond that to offer better alternatives, ideas, and actions you can help people take. If you can do that, it’s possible to transform negative energy into a positive force — both for your customers and for your brand.

StrawberryFrog breaks new Cultural Movement for Sabra

THE economy has remade the Madison Avenue landscape in myriad ways, among them changing the types of products that are advertised frequently now compared with during the boom years.

Accounts, People and Miscellany (June 7, 2010)
In other words, Hummer, no; hummus, yes.

Shorthand, to be sure, but it encapsulates a major trend: Ads for glossy, big-ticket purchases like behemoth sport utilities have been supplanted in many instances by ads for prosaic, less expensive products like packaged foods.

Several food marketers increased ad spending markedly in the first quarter compared with the period a year ago, according to the Kantar Media research division of WPP. Among them were ConAgra Foods, up 22.9 percent; H. J. Heinz, up 45.2 percent; Hershey, up 81.2 percent; General Mills, up 15.5 percent; Kraft Foods, up 17.8 percent; and J. M. Smucker, up 12.4 percent.

Among the brands planning to spend more throughout 2010 is the Sabra line of refrigerated dips and spreads that includes more than a dozen varieties of, yes, hummus. Sabra is sold by the Sabra Dipping Company, a joint venture of the Strauss Group and the Frito-Lay North America division of PepsiCo.

Although the name of a soft drink predominates in the corporate brand, PepsiCo estimates that $10 billion of its annual revenue of $43.2 billion last year came from what it calls its “good-for-you portfolio” of products like Aquafina water, Near East couscous, Quaker Oats and Tropicana juices.

Among those products are smaller brands like Sabra, Naked juices, Smartfood snacks, Stacy’s pita chips and True North nuts.

PepsiCo intends to “rapidly expand” its lineup of healthier fare, according to the company’s 2009 annual report, by taking steps like “investing to accelerate the growth of these platforms” — in other words, more advertising.

A campaign for Sabra that was tested in five regional markets last year “performed well, better than our expectations,” said Mina Penna, Sabra brand manager at Sabra Dipping in Astoria, Queens, so it is being expanded, beginning on Monday, into a national initiative.

The campaign will include television commercials, two Web sites, digital ads, a presence in social media like Facebook and Twitter, ads in stores, promotions and events like a chefs’ tour of 19 cities and house parties where guests can sample Sabra products.

The campaign is being created by the New York office of StrawberryFrog, which also creates ads for Stacy’s and True North. The premise of the humorous campaign, which carries the theme “Adventure awaits,” is that Sabra is just what a pallid palate craves.

People who enjoy what they eat and like to try new tastes “sometimes fall into a ‘food rut’ and lose their way a bit on their epicurean journey,” Ms. Penna said, as symbolized in the ads by a rote reliance on Chinese takeout, lettuce-only salads or even — gasp! — spray cheese.

The campaign proposes saving all the unfortunates who are “in need of a taste intervention,” as an announcer declares, by switching them to Sabra.

Visitors to sabraintervention.com will be able to nominate family members and friends for comestible makeovers.

(Coincidentally, Kraft last month introduced a humorous campaign for its Sandwich Shop Mayo line of flavored mayonnaise that carries the theme “Give your sandwich a makeover” and features cast members of the HGTV reality series “Design Star” intervening in the lives of bored eaters.)

“We use the term ‘epicurious’ ” to describe the target audience, said Chip Walker, partner and head of planning at StrawberryFrog New York. (The Condé Nast Digital unit of Advance Publications likes the term, too, judging by its epicurious.com Web site.)

Some potential buyers of Sabra are “adventurous eaters who we haven’t quite connected with yet,” Mr. Walker said, and some are “people who don’t know what hummus is or what it tastes like.”

To help out the latter, commercials from the test last year, which describe Sabra as a delicious way to “taste the Mediterranean without leaving home,” will promote the hummus and perhaps introduce some people to it.

In addition to StrawberryFrog New York, others working on the campaign include OMD in New York, a media agency that is part of the Omnicom Group, and Seymour Public Relations in Bergenfield, N.J.

Sabra Dipping will spend “significantly” more on advertising this year than the estimated $3.3 million it spent last year, Ms. Penna said. She declined to be more specific.

The first of 19 cities on the chefs’ tour, called the Sabra Taste Adventure, is Richmond, Va., near a new, $61 million manufacturing plant that Sabra Dipping opened last month. Sabra Dipping executives have said they plan to move the company’s headquarters to the Richmond area from Astoria.

That would make it a rough year for New Yorkers who like their local food companies. First, the bakery Stella D’oro closed its plant in the Bronx, and now Sabra is going to leave Queens.

From the New York Times