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Roast turkey brand power (and what you can learn from it)

When did you last eat roast turkey?

My guess is on the 25th December last year, and that you won’t do again until Christmas next.

Love it or hate it, our feathery, cluck-ugly friends have the seasonal roast market sewn up, in the UK and US at least.

As marketers, we should take note. Tradition can act as a uniquely powerful driver for B2C product sales when they create and own a moment for themselves. Turkeys fly off the shelf when Christmas comes around. We drink orange juice at breakfast time. And we stock up on Pimms when summer starts. Rarely do we ask ourselves why – but for the brands in question, owning the moment works.

Brand moments means something more than brand association. Where the link between beer and sport is loose and ambiguous, the link between After Eight mints and dinner parties is founded on a distinct, discrete time and occasion.

How can your brand find theirs?

The hard way

At Rare, we approach brand challenges as a question of two halves: hard and soft power.

Heritage brands looking to revive their sales or win new markets can go back to the drawing board and release new products or launch new sub-brands. These are hard power moves: expensive, time-consuming, risky exercises, which can do damage if executed poorly.

In terms of brand moments, hard power moments are those in which a product is created just to serve a specific opportunity for consumption – even if the moment doesn’t yet exist for the consumer.

The iPad is a case-in-point: a ‘second screen’ to be used when watching television or socialising. After Eight mints are another. Created by Rowntree in the 1940s, the concept of an ‘after dinner’ mint was created at the same time as the After Eight. The moment promoted the mint, and vice versa.

The soft way

‘Soft power’ shifts are lower risk, easily managed and more cost-effective for brands. Instead of changing the flavour of a product, the manufacturer changes the type used on labels, or the tone of voice used in brand comms: simple, subtle, significant changes.

Using ‘soft power’, brands will instead match existing product benefits and brand equity with specific moments of consumer consumption.

On buying several South African diamond mines in the 1840s, jeweller de Beers needed a fresh outlet for their products. In response, the brand invented and promoted the idea of the diamond engagement ring – something uncommon at the time, and one which still forms the core of their messaging nearly two centuries later. The idea that an engagement ring should cost two months’ wages? That was a de Beers campaign idea, too.

In the early twentieth century, advertisers for American fruit supplier Sunkist focussed their campaigns on the vitamin content of the fruit, promoting the notion that orange juice should form part of a healthy breakfast. The rub? Its OJ wasn’t much healthier than the soda alternatives. In subsequent decades, the US government did its own bit to peddle the orange juice myth, both to feed troops in WWII and to clear excessive orange harvests in Florida.

‘Pimms O’Clock’ came later in the century. Diageo has worked hard to popularise the notion that the drink – originally created as an aid to indigestion – should accompany British summer afternoons across the UK, and not only in the well-heeled Home Counties.

In each case, these brands have cultivated powerful levels of consumer understanding around the proper ‘moment’ to enjoy their products. Not by changing those products, but by tapping into benefits or brand equities already present.

Seize the moment (gently)

In all of the instances above, the brands responsible have responded to a consumer need or behaviour that already existed. This is crucial, and the key to making ‘brand moments’ work for the brand themselves. Marketers must realise that, to an extent, brand moments exist outside their control.

Roast turkeys are eaten at Christmas for social, historical and religious reasons. A seafood supplier pouring ad spend into making lobster the Christmas lunch standard would lose against turkey traditionalism.

Customers are clever: they know when a brand has contrived a moment for its own end. In this way, the rapid rise and fall of Pepsi AM is a case study in supermarket suspicion.

Released in 1989 in response to market research suggesting customers were happy to drink soda at breakfast, Pepsi released a breakfast-special version of their core product, dripping with added caffeine. The product was pulled from shelves less than a year later.

Pepsi made the mistake of trying to manipulate their customers’ appetite for a breakfast brand moment. Worse still, the business invested in hard power brand development. Launching, then canning, a whole new product line did damage to profits and brand equity.

Coca Cola fared better. Working from the same insight that consumers drank fizz at breakfast, the company ran their ‘Coca Cola at breakfast’ ad campaign from 1988. By investing in a soft power brand campaign, Coke was able to test the water: to see if consumers would respond to the idea of a breakfast brand moment. If they didn’t, the ad campaigns would simply stop. No products would be pulled and the brand would not be humiliated. As it happened, the campaign didn’t gain huge traction and was eventually canned (although it didn’t fail hard enough to stop Coca-Cola UK trying again in 2013), but the brand and logistical cost was minimal.

Brand moments are uniquely powerful. They can determine how we stay healthy; how we socialise; how we get married and much else beside, without our even knowing. Marketers at heritage brands should wake up to their significance. Perhaps with a glass of orange juice (or Coca Cola).

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