Unlearning Early Brand Perceptions

Recently, as a requirement for a job application, I was asked to choose a favorite appliance, and then write a brand, market and competitive analysis. I chose to write about my KitchenAid stand mixer, which I compared to a similar Cuisinart stand mixer.

While writing, it occurred to me my perception of these product was formed when I was a teenager. My grandmother had an older KitchenAid on her kitchen counter, and it always seemed large and clunky, with a cumbersome mixer arm over a sizable glass bowl. She used it infrequently, keeping a yellowed plastic cover over it. As a result, I never had a burning desire to own one.

On the other hand, I was thrilled when my mother got a Cuisinart food processor. It was sophisticated and a time-saver when it came to chopping, mincing, and blending. I enjoyed using it and was aware of the gravitas it held, having hailed from Europe, and touted by Julia Child, James Beard, and other renown chefs.

As the years passed, I burned through several Cuisinart food processors and hand mixers, which cracked, parts broke or they stopped working.

Soon after I married my husband, KitchenAid started introducing smaller stand mixers in fabulous colors with amazing accessories like pasta extruder, ravioli maker, food grinder, grain mill, and ice cream maker. Instead of being relegated to the back wall of department and cooking stores, they were situated by main walkways. My yearning for a KitchenAid was ignited. And within a year, I replaced all my Cuisinart appliances with those offered by KitchenAid.

Overcoming Preconceived Notions

The consumer landscape is littered with has-been brands. Persevering are brands that have pushed past inertia, using marketing to change perceptions and introducing features and uses that appeal to next-generation buyers.

Jell-O is the perfect example. It used to come in a handful of pedestrian flavors, and was most commonly associated with two words, “jello mold.” It was revolutionary when introduced in 1897. Simply add fruit vegetables or chopped meat, pour into a mold, refrigerate until set, and then cross your fingers it would come out in one-piece.scribbles writing, julie lary, Jell-O ad

Prior to the introduction of Jello-O, it was laborious to extract gelatin from boiled calf or beef bones, and then strain and clarify the resulting sticky substance. The convenience of Jell-O melded with the industrialization and scientific advances — gas stoves, electric irons, the telephone — in the home, coupled with the advocacy of home economics need for efficiency, purity, cleanliness, and order.

Did you know Clorox Bleach was founded in 1913 by the Electro-Alkaline Company? It was originally used in hospitals, nursing homes, child-care centers, school, and restaurants to kill germs. The company was failing until Annie Murray, the wife of the general manager, started giving away in her family store 15-ounce sample bottles of a less-concentrated liquid bleach. The product, designed for use in the home, immediately took off, supporting the turn-of-the-century value of purity and cleanliness!

The ease of using Jell-O, along with its ability to encase and transform everything from left-overs to pureed vegetables and fruits made it the butt of jokes, and often dreaded dish at picnics, potlucks, social events, and family meals. Given this persona, Kraft has employed several strategies to turn a 100-year old product into a desirable food.

First, they continue to introduced new flavors, giving the brand a boost, and supporting shelf-appeal in grocery stores. Adding to the original flavors of strawberry, raspberry, orange, and lemon is pomegranate, berry blue, apricot, cranberry, pineapple, watermelon, cherry lemonade, mango, melon fusion, fruit punch, and several others.

Second, they complement their traditional and sugar-free Jell-O offerings with a variety of cooked, instant, and ready-made puddings to support the needs of many different audiences.

And third, they actively promote recipes with their products, which lean more towards individual servings, rather than large molded masterpieces. They use Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, and other social media channels to encourage their followers to post pictures of their creations. These feeds stream across their website. In addition, they have a large dedicated section on their site for recipes.

In a sense, Kraft has turned the tables, not telling consumers how to use their Jell-O products, but giving them the forum and tools to share how they use the products in pies, cakes, salads, desserts, side dishes, and entrees.

Also a Kraft brand, Velveeta was invented in 1918 by the Monroe Cheese Company. It was originally advertised as a nutritious health food until it was reformulated in 1953 as a cheese spread, containing milk, whey, milk protein concentrate, water, modified food starch, calcium phosphate, dried corn syrup, canola oil, apocarotenal for coloring, and a host of other additives and chemicals. The artificiality of the product makes no difference. Like its current advertising campaign, Velveeta connoisseurs consider it “liquid gold.”

What’s interesting about Velveeta is how its fanbase continues to grow despite decades of pundits calling it “fake” cheese. As recent as 2002, the FDA issued a warning to Kraft for their labeling it as “Pasteurized Process Cheese Spread.” The words “process” and “spread” have since been changed to “prepared” and “product.”

Similar to Jell-O, Velveeta’s appeal and ability to remain germane, is bolstered by complementary products – Velveeta slices, shreds, skillet and casserole kits, and macaroni and cheese – availability and sharing of recipes, and tongue-in-cheek marketing. The messaging for Velveeta Slices reads, “Any food can be comfort food. All you have to do is comfort is by tucking it in under a warm blanket of melted VELVEETA Slices. Mmmmmm. There. There’s better.”

Plus, building on the popularity of their easy-melt cheese product, Kraft now offers multiple flavors of Velveeta, including sharp cheddar, queso blanco, 3 cheese, and swiss.

Driving into the Future

One of my favorite “old” brands, which has worked hard to appeal to newer generations is Cadillac. Many older people (including me) probably view Cadillacs as stodgy, finned, gas-guzzlers, which can’t fit in compact parking spots, and take up too much room in today’s over-stuffed garages.

Born in the re-purposed Henry Ford Company factory in 1902, Cadillac introduced many innovations to the industry, including the electric starter in 1912. Prior to the starter, people needed to use a hand-crack inserted into the engine through the front grill. This method was not only inconvenient, but dangerous.

Cadillac reinforced their luxury brand image in 1943 when they hired the first female automotive designer, Helene Rother. She created elegant interiors, which incorporated plush upholstery and fabrics, rich colors, striking lighting and door hardware, and more comfortable seating. A few years later, Cadillac introduced the innovative curved windshield along with designer Harley Earls’ iconic tailfins. Earl’s inspiration was the Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter plane, along with the burgeoning interest in space travel and rockets.

scribble writing, julie lary, Cadillac 173 adFast forward nearly seven decades, and a brand that was viewed as “the car your grandfather (or father) drives” is struggling to manufacture enough Escalade SUV to keep up with demand. Ironically, the Escalade is probably larger in height and width than the longest production car ever built, the behemoth finned Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham.

Because Cadillac is struggled to gain market share in the U.S. sedan market against foreign luxury brands like Mercedes Benz and BMW, General Motors (GM), who owns the Cadillac brand, are looking to new markets. They recently built a $1.22 billion factory in Shanghai to manufacture Cadillacs. And just this month, they released an integrated marketing campaign in China for the technology- and energy-savvy Cadillac CT6 sedan. The CT6 is now available as a plug-in hybrid, which gets 64 MPG.

Even though Cadillac’s sales slumped 1.5% in the United States in March, their global sales were up 22.1% from the prior year. For the past 10 consecutive months, Cadillac has seen double-digit growth both from the introduce of newly design models and global sales.

Old Mascot Becomes New

I’ve written about brand mascots in the past, and need to occasionally give them a facelift, both to boost branding and appeal to younger or new audiences. The mascot Mr. Clean was introduced in 1958 by Proctor & Gamble, to promote the all-purpose cleanser, which was developed by Linwood Burton, a marine ship cleaning businessman. Burton used his fundamental knowledge of chemistry to create a less caustic cleanser that could cut through heavy grease on ships, without harmful side-effects to workers.

The mascot Mr. Clean is a muscular, tanned, bald man in a tee-shirt with his hands folded across his chest. While Proctor & Gamble claims he was modeled after a U.S. Navy sailor from Pensacola, FL, others suggest he’s a genie as evidenced by his gold earring in one ear, folded arms, and devious expression as if he can magically remove dirt and grime.

In either case, the mascot has undergone numerous iterations, and most recently created a bit of stir when he was portrayed as a sexy animated man in a Super Bowl TV ad who assertively pitchs-in to help with tough house chores. Aside from the provocatively of the ad is the emphasis on millennial men helping with cleaning. The tagline “You gotta love a man who cleans” reinforces the strategic positioning.scribbles writing, julie lary, Mr. Clean Super Bowl ad

For the past few decades, Proctor & Gamble has employed many innovative marketing tactics to keep the Mr. Clean brand relevant. In 1998, Honda Motor Company tied Mr. Clean to their clean running Accord, along with other Honda products such as lawnmowers, string trimmer, motorcycles, and marine engines.

In 2007, consumers were invited to submit 60 second commercials on YouTube for the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. The winning entry received $10.000.

Just like foods, the Mr. Clean website provides articles and videos on how to use the product from cleaning grills to getting crayon off the walls, removing sticker residue, and conquering rust stains.

Changing Brand Perceptions

The confluence of social media, availability of unimaginable amounts of information on the internet, and evolving consumer personas, makes it necessary for companies to continually evaluate the perception of their brands and that of their products.

The alternative is being viewed as outdated and no longer desirable. Sometimes there’s an opportunity to turn around a fading brand. But in other instances, it’s too late. Sears, an iconic American brand since 1886, is struggling to keep current on the steep slippery slope of evolving department store merchandising and desirability.

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