Although actual “branding” is a somewhat passive, cerebral concept; this weekend, it jumped up and knocked me on my (cerebral) butt – ultimately making me declare that being employed in the marketing and communications industry is making me stupid.

Or maybe it was as simple as “You can’t defeat good branding.”

I have seen, first hand, certain products go from “moo-to-market” all in the span of a few, mind-altering hours. And having built brands and campaigns around completely intangible traits of agricultural byproducts makes you think a lot more about what goes IN the product itself than the actual value of the product to the consumer. In other words, I know way too much, and going to the store with me is a drag. I drive my family nuts.

Case in point – this weekend, my daughter and I went to the store to fulfill one simple task; pick up hot dogs. As we walked into the meat isle at our local Mega Mart, and stared down the cold case of processed meats, we saw brats, franks, wieners, dogs, sausages with cheesy centers, microwavable dogs, ballparks, plumpers, and sizzlers. You name it; there was every kind of cased meat you could ever want. My head was spinning in meaty delight. Madison, the more levelheaded of us, quickly picked up a couple 8-packs of national brand franks and turned to go check out counter. Simple? Not for me…

“Wait!” I hollered after her. Her shoulders hunched and her head dropped – knowing what was next, “Do you know what’s IN those?!?” I asked.

“C’mon dad, they’re HOT DOGS, and we need to GO…” she pleaded.

I started to pull other packages from the case “What about these?” I yelled, “or these?”

I was waving hot dogs in the air like a demented clown twisting balloon animals at a birthday party. At one glance, I had seven packs of hot dogs in my hands, reading the ingredients and nutrition facts. I was comparing prices by net weight and evaluating whether they were priced based on packaging costs, ingredients, or positioning in the cold case. I was pacing up and down the isle like a crazy man.

Finally, I yelled, “Okay! I got ‘em…” as I held up a bulk package of waterlogged, blanched wieners that sagged, limply, in my arms. “NOW we can go!”

Madison snatched the package from me with a quick snap. “DAAAA-duh… NO!” And she threw them back into my arms with a resonating, cold SPLAT. “We’re getting THESE.” She held up the national brand. “We ALWAYS get these…”

She closed and spun on her heels to the check out isle. There I stood, next to the meat case, with a soggy bag of wieners, defeated.

Now, my darling daughter didn’t defeat me. I wasn’t even defeated by my own obsessive need to pick apart every package in the store. Good branding defeated me. I stood there and soaked in a TRUE branding lesson.

You can’t defeat good (TRUE) branding.

My 13-year-old knew that the national brand was the brand she wanted. Why?

Was it TRUTHFUL? Sure. Madison said it best, “…they’re HOT DOGS…” and that’s what we came to the store to get. The national brand was her “definition” of “hot dog.”

It was certainly RELEVANT to her (“We ALWAYS get these…”), but was it UNIQUE? Maybe not so much the actual product, but the packaging sure stood out from the crowd.

It had, at one time or another ENGAGED her – making her part of the brand culture (c’mon, sing the song with me… “Well, my bologna has a first name, it’s…”). In her mind, it was a TRUE hot dog.

Okay, lesson learned. The grill was waiting…

When I said “hot dog,” what immediately came to mind? Was it a specific brand, a package image? What if I said “Running Shoes?” What if I said “Oil Company?

“If you are writing about baloney, don’t try to make it a Cornish hen, because that is the worst kind of baloney there is. Just make it darned good baloney.”
– Leo Burnett

Keep Cooking!

Photo credit:

1 Comment