5 ways Social Media is changing branding forever

Brand managers: Social Media is here to stay. Deal with it.

Beg to Differ gets asked three related questions all the time: should brand managers really care about this Social Media thing? Isn’t it just a flavour-of-the-month fad? Does it really change anything in the branding universe? The answers: Yes. No. Oh merciful heavens: YES! Here’s why.

Sea change: just another great turning point (Turner's Trafalgar)
Sea change: just another great turning point (Turner's Trafalgar)

1) Push marketing is dead (along with the other P’s)

Remember the old “Four P’s of Marketing” – Product, price Promotion, doctor Price, and Placement? They’re dead. Or rather, they all still play a role in marketing, but the big assumption behind them is dead – what I call the “Silent Fifth P”: PUSH.

It’s just not enough to buy a gazillion dollar ad on the SuperBowl and just watch your earnings roll in (although to be fair, it never really was). With the massive proliferation of content sources and the corresponding death of the old “big media” model, you just have to work harder today than you ever did before.

The trick for brand managers: learn to stop pushing and start listening to the real owners of your brand: your customers.

2) The owners are speaking; can you hear them?

Last month, Senior VP of Marketing Clyde Tuggle summarized the big lesson learned from the New Coke fiasco 25 years ago: “You don’t own your brand; your customers do.” (Great summary here).

If that was true then (and it was), it is painfully obvious now, as the owners of your brand have a louder and more sophisticated voice than ever. And when things go wrong for a brand like Toyota or United Airlines, you don’t have time for old fashioned PR damage control: these bad vibes are travel at the speed of human thought.

The trick for brand managers: make sure you are using Social Media to build a) communities of support and b) the capability to respond.

3) Crowd-sourced creative is changing the game

There is a lot of hand-wringing in traditional advertising and design circles about this stuff – witness this blow-up from our favourite brand design blog Brand New or the comments on this 2009 Beg to Differ post.

The dirty word being used here is “spec work” – that is, companies that should be able to pay a professional to do this stuff are instead using contests or other means to get creative work from a broader range of players. And while I’m a big believer in paying people for a good day’s work, I also think that the debate sounds a bit too much like the music industry going after 12-year olds who download MP3’s. It kind of misses the point.

The trick for brand managers: how can you use the power of crowd-sourcing (without burning too many bridges)?

4)  Open-source branding will change research

But the idea of  crowd-sourcing goes way beyond getting a logo from 99designs.com. It is actually changing the raw DNA of brands by throwing open the gates of the branding process to all interested members of the brand’s audience.

It’s similar to the Open Source movement in software – except the “code” being exposed is the values, character, and passions of your customers for your brand. (Great summary from Ryan Anderson here).

A couple of recent examples: this Google research cleverly packaged as a YouTube viral video, the A Brand for London project, or Fluevog.

The trick for brand managers: how can you tie open source ideas into your brand management routines? (Hint: call these guys for ideas).

5)      Humility is sexy again

Have you noticed the new tone in advertising lately – led by the newly humbled auto industry? It seems like companies are racing each other to out-humble each other. And that can only be a good thing.

The trick for brand managers: maybe it’s time to stop telling your customers how great you are. It doesn’t work on a first date, and it certainly doesn’t work in a relationship. The alternative? In the immortal words of Otis Redding: Try a Little Tenderness.

Scaramouche! Scaramouche! Are the Muppets back to stay?

Has Disney finally figured out how to deal with the Muppets?

Yesterday, medicine Beg to Differ introduced you to the brilliant new Bohemian Rhapsody parody from the Muppets – but with no brand focused commentary at all. Since then, try we’ve realized that the big story here isn’t the video itself (or the others we’ve included below). The big branding story is the Muppet brand itself and its current caretaker: Disney.


Keeping your Beakers and Bunsens apart

A Disneyland attraction that people liked, but didn't recognize the characters.

When I showed the Bohemian Rhapsody video to my kids – aged 3 and almost 5 – they laughed and laughed and laughed, just as my wife and I had done. Of course, they totally missed the parody, but it was heartening to me that they seemed to love the characters and hooted along with that trademark goofy, over-the-top vaudeville campiness.

But when I asked my 3-year old what he’d liked about it, he said: “Those Wild Things were funny.”

Anaheim, we have a problem.

It’s not like we haven;t done our parental duty by exposing him to the Muppets. This is a kid who has an Animal doll, 50 Sesame Street books, and has sat and watched the Muppets on YouTube, as well as the season 1&2 DVDs with the family. But even he couldn’t identify the “Muppet” brand, and couldn’t recall any names except Kermit and Miss Piggy.

Turns out my son is the market in microcosm (I’m so proud). Kids don’t get the Muppets. And I blame Disney.

Disney’s problem with Muppets

Since acquiring the Muppet brand in 2004 Disney has been widely criticized by fans for under-utilizing the Muppets characters and failing to re-invigorate the brand for a younger generation. For an exhaustive insider background, see Jim Hill’s blog post from 2007.

But in brief, I think this verbiage from the February 2004 press release captures the problem in humourless, corporatese:

The transaction includes all Muppet assets, including the Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and Animal characters, the Muppet film and television library, and all associated copyrights and trademarks…

Now read that again in your best Rizzo the Rat voice to hear how ugly, inhuman and unintentionally funny it becomes. These are cartoon puppet critters people!

Roadkill? Kermit wondering what the heck he's doing in front of an SUV.
Roadkill? Kermit wondering what the heck he’s doing in front of an SUV.

It’s not easy being green (but it’s worth a try).

And it went downhill from there. Disney efforts have included an aborted attempt to make Kermit more “edgy” for his 5oth birthday in 2005, and a tone-deaf attempt to exploit the lead characters as commercial shills. The Ford Explorer ad shown here is a great example.

Demographic fact: Muppets are loved by nostalgic 30-40 somethings. Frog-leap of logic: Hey! Kermit can sell SUVs!

But through it all, the big problems that were festering under the surface were 1) a failure to generate any significant new Muppets content (or that the new content was bad), 2) erosion of the brand equity of secondary characters, and 3) lack of respect for the real brand qualities that made the Muppets so charming and relevant, and sustain them to this day in the hearts of 4) the brand’s real owners: who are you, me, and hopefully, our kids.

The Muppets of the mind

So that’s why it was so nice to see yesterday’s Bohemian Rhapsody video get hundreds of thousands of hits and quickly become a trending topic on Twitter. It’s also nice to learn that more videos are coming (watch for “Dust in the Wind”, “American Woman”, “Popcorn”, “Carol of the Bells” and “Stand By Me”) and that a new Muppet movie is in the works – among other interesting projects.

But most heartening of all, there’s the tone of the new content – which finally shows signs that Disney actually gets the Muppets. The new stuff is funny, and the characters seem like themselves again. And that’s why I felt like I had to share that video immediately.

To us, the real owners of the brand, the Muppets are about creating a warm space where comedy, pop-culture, kid-culture, and pure unadulterated silliness can come together. The real Muppets in our heads never take themselves too seriously (see the “assets” quote above), and they are also never mean-spirited or even “edgy” (they’re refreshingly nerdy actually – kind of like Queen music).

Oh, and take note: the Muppets in our heads would never sell an SUV, so they won’t help us buy one either.

Welcome back Muppets

But lest we be accused of getting too serious ourselves (we beg to differ!), below are a few more recent YouTube videos featuring some great second-string Muppets.

Bohemian Rhapsody – in case you missed it

Beaker does Ode to Joy:

The Swedish Chef carves a pumpkin:

Sam the Eagle gets patriotic: