Last Drive Branding article we made it clear what an authentic brand was and why consumers demanded it. What we didn’t get into was the bad news-why so many brands fail to reach that special status.
In this Drive Branding article we will look at a brand that could have been authentic but made the same mistakes many companies are still unfortunately making today. And because we love happy endings, we will also look at an underdog brand that has managed to have a recent breakthrough-all because they had the foresight to read their customer’s brand relationship.
Remember Heinz’s eco-friendly cleaning vinegar? Yes? No? It’s famous, but for all the wrong reasons. It happens to be an entry in marketing consultant Matt Haig’s famous book-length collection of marketing flops Brand Failures.
Heinz’s new cleaning product seemed to have all the ingredients an authentic product required. It was all-natural, environmentally friendly, endorsed by a nationally syndicated advice columnist whose name featured in the packaging, received unanimously positive P.R, and most importantly, an honest, new product from a long-trusted company. The vinegar flopped.
What went wrong?
Heinz completely ignored the fact that their customers associate and follow their brand as an affordable line of food products. If Heinz had looked at their new product through the eyes of their loyal customers they would be equally bewildered at the prospect of a label most likely associated with ketchup on an eco-friendly cleaning product. No matter how useful and green the new vinegar was, the Heinz label came off as a sign of inauthenticity to most customers. The idea of a ketchup company selling cleaning vinegar seemed neither appetizing nor useful. Inauthentic.
Marketing consultant and author Matt Haig suggested that if Heinz marketed their new product through “green catalogues” and environmentally friendly specialty shops the product might have found customers who readily identified with it. Unfortunately for Heinz, they failed to read their customers.
The explanation is simple, but brands constantly repeat Heinz’s mistake. In the struggle to achieve an authentic brand, many companies make the common mistake of seeing “authenticity” as something their products or services can earn if certain styles are adapted. When trying to achieve authenticity it might be smarter to discover what ideas and attitudes your customers already have about your product or service, and keep those attitudes and ideas as part of your message.
Can Mega-Bloks ever be Authentic?
If an authentic product can be inauthentic, can an inauthentic product be authentic?
So, what if your brand isn’t authentic? You’re aware of it, your competition is aware of it, and, of course, your customers are aware of it. We’ve all seen this before. Whatever happened to Battletoads, Street Sharks, or any of the other Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle rip-offs?
What made those brands inauthentic and doomed-to-failure was not the fact that their products are cheap clones of original ideas. Remember, authenticity is an honest, mutual understanding between customer and company. If you’re aware customers already define you as a rip-off you’re going to have to offer a little something more than cheap prices if you want your brand to expand and last.
Let’s take the example of Mega Bloks. What has Mega Bloks offered to the consumer that Lego hasn’t?
This summer Mega Bloks and Blizzard entertainment will be releasing a massive, new collection of World of Warcraft toys.
Turning a famous bird’s-eye view videogame, teeming with colorful characters and vehicles, into a line of buildable miniatures seems to be a natural marketing choice-but it is a choice that Lego overlooked.
There is a large overlap between gamers and miniature collectors, but it took Mega Bloks to connect the two (no pun intended) into a highly marketable, authentic new product.
The fact that Mega Bloks continues to release a series of successful miniatures based upon another massively popular game franchise, Halo, marks it not only as a pioneer in buildable video game figurines, but a dominating brand which is claiming the most popular games and staking out its new territory before Lego can even think about competing.
If your brand’s products are already inauthentic it is always wise to look at what the “authentic” competitions company is not offering. Mega Bloks understood that many Lego enthusiasts would have loved to see their favorite video games in such a format. What original idea can your brand offer that the “original” competition has overlooked?
Let’s Be Real
Neal Stewart, a senior Brand manager for Pabst Blue Ribbon, refuses to have the drink advertised in a television ad. Pabst would donate beer or resources to grassroots art openings or fashion shows. Word spread and the brand managed to reverse its twenty-year decline of demand. This episode is analyzed by the creative director of GMR Marketing, Max Lenderman, in his book Experience the Message. He quotes Pabst’s brand manager, Neil Stewart, describing his interactions with Pabst consumers: “They literally said to us, ‘I love your beer but the minute you advertise on TV, I’m done with you. They felt like they discovered it, and there was a sense of ownership.”
Remaining authentic did not come from their support of grassroots events. It did not come from their avoidance of “inauthentic” television ads. What is important here is that Neil Stewart had received a clear message from his consumers and stood true to it. At Drive Branding, we understand that a clear message is the first step toward building an authentic brand.
Next month at Drive Branding we will look at what makes up a clear brand message and the challenges of creating it.