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The Microsite's Unlimited Real Estate

The Microsite's Unlimited Real Estate iMedia Editors

Few people know just how big the Tide brand is. From detergent to boosters to stain sticks to -- get this -- dry cleaners, we're talking more than $10 billion in annual sales. And these days, there's a core idea that carries through everything the brand does: To provide hope, optimism, and possibilities through pristinely clean clothes.

Digital is a big part of communicating that vision. Marc Pritchard, Tide's global marketing and brand building officer, had this to say about how one of Tide's efforts, called Loads of Hope, fulfills this mission:

Tide Loads of Hope is an idea that expresses optimism through acts of kindness. When disaster strikes, water services are destroyed and people have no way of doing laundry so they don't have clean clothes. One of the first steps to getting people to feel better about themselves and their future is to help them get clean clothes. So Tide takes a mobile laundromat to disaster areas hit by hurricanes and earthquakes to give hope by simply doing the laundry.

Yes, Loads of Hope is partly an in-person experience. But Tide uses digital extensively to communicate Loads of Hope as a cornerstone of its goal of being more to consumers than good detergent. At many of its Loads of Hope events, the brand shoots man-on-the-street interviews about the program and the difference in makes in people's lives. These are consumed on the brand's website, on YouTube, and are a big part of its digital PR efforts.

On a larger scale, Tide's efforts to help hospitals after the Haiti earthquakes were built into an online documentary narrated by celeb Faith Hill. It's amazing content, and I urge you to check it out. Efforts like these have worked to transform the brand from a product into a caring social touch point.

Additionally, Tide fulfills this mission with a website, CRM, and social media strategy featuring person-to-person connection and a program of real valuable advice. It's not "oceans of suds." It's a supportive ally that goes extra steps to be a valued part of a consumer's life. And fundamentally, everything is about the power of the product and how it makes life better.

Tide's digitally centered efforts, whether for Loads of Hope or for the more product-centered executions online, fulfill all the success factors outlined earlier. We can attest to the power of this sexy brand makeover with the virtually unbroken record of Tide business growth.

The King is under new management since it was acquired in 2010 by 3G Capital. The brand has just announced a change in agencies, from Crispin Porter to McGarryBowen.

I want to focus on what Crispin did for Burger King. Crispin took this brand in a strong direction during its engagement with the brand, and used the same principles as Tide and others -- though its executional style was distinctively CP+B.

BK bounces back and forth on a continuum in its marketing efforts. From fun and imagery one year to very food focused the next. The CP+B work featured food, but it was unabashed in its desire to create a distinct set of quirky brand meanings. Definitely not all sandwich all the time.

The core of the brand strategy for BK during the Crispin years was to drive credibility with the core fast food buyers -- men 18-30. While these days the young male cred of BK is clear, it wasn't so even a few years ago. At that time, BK was coming off about 20 years of sandwich close-ups and flame-broiling visuals interspersed with ill-conceived misfire campaigns.

Crispin and the King made -- interesting music together for seven years. Digital was the keystone of many of the efforts. The transformation began with Subservient Chicken, that awe-inspiring viral in which a person dressed as a chicken would do virtually anything you asked.

The buzz was massive, and tens of millions logged on to give orders to the avian mascot, thereby having the chicken their way.

Soon after, the brand debuted Sith Sense, an online 20 Questions-style game in which Darth Vader guessed the object you were thinking of with astounding accuracy. This movie tie-in program was 180 degrees the opposite of McAmericana. I suspect that McDonalds' new slightly hipper feel of late is directly related to what the King was doing.

There were also some viral flops, like a fake purse designer touting the versatility of BK bags. But generally, Crispin's work represented transformative stuff over and over again.

Onto the King himself. The vaguely pervy King character starred in traditional media as well, but it was in digital that he really came to life. I think the best example was in the bona fide console games that the brand produced.

Then there was unfriending -- the amazing publicity stunt in which BK rewarded consumers for unfriending people on Facebook.

The quirky latest for this brand is a 24 hour channel on DirectTV where, if you watch the photo of the Whopper long enough, you'll get codes for free sandwiches.

Can you tell I really liked what BK and CP+B did? I am well aware that there is some controversy about whether the work actually sold meals. I do think it could have related more specifically to the product at times. BK sales aren't so hot of late. You can question the strategy behind the effort, specifically the focus on the hard-core eater versus a broader population. And perhaps the concepts weren't closely related enough to the food. But in terms of transforming the brand equity, CP+B delivered in spades.

It'll be interesting to see where the brand goes next. Perhaps its new agency will figure out a way to do quirky and in your face and sell burgers. Or will we simply see lots of glistening, flame broiled beef?

BBDO and Pepsi were partners for so long that I think there's a planetary epoch called the Newgenerationzoic Age. For decades, the core of what they did together was celeb association to emphasize Pepsi as the choice for people who think young.

All that changed when Pepsico split with BBDO in late 2008. Soon after, the brand debuted its Refresh effort, which focused on social media and consumer empowerment to reshape the brand and try to build stronger associations with consumers. First there was Refresh America to capture some of the excitement and hope driven by the Obama election.

A series of paid, earned, and owned web presences enabled consumers to offer messages to the president -- ideas on how to Refresh America. But Refresh was more than just a one-off. It became the cornerstone of the brand marketing effort, giving away millions of dollars to worthwhile causes that consumers voted to support. It was the very essence of consumer empowerment.

Think back a couple of years when Pepsi marketing looked like this:

With this effort, Pepsi became the poster child of social responsibility. The brand garnered tremendous publicity.

I did a little man-on-the-street interviewing about Pepsi, and anecdotally it does appear that it replaced the associative celeb campaign brand imagery with populist social responsibility. Over the past year, the brand has had some sales setbacks. Pepsi is now No. 3, behind Coke and Diet Coke. Can the sales slide be attributed to this social campaign? That seems rash, though the Refresh Project was definitely light on product communication. What is clear, though, is that the digital-centric Refresh campaign really has helped redefine the essence of Pepsi.

These are just a couple of examples of how brands are using digital to effectively restage their equities quickly and powerfully. But the varied business results of these three examples also demonstrate that radical brand change is not necessarily a boon for business. I

As we unleash the power of digital for brand transformation, we need to ensure we don't leave the product behind. I think that digital can be so transformative, especially in regard to higher-order brand associations, that it can actually overpower the physical benefits when we aren't careful.

Consider Dove. Can you think of a brand that has undergone a more powerful brand transformation in the past few years? From Aunt Irma's bar soap to a force unlocking the beauty and potential of every woman?

But look what Unilever is doing lately. You see a lot more focus on the bar and the bottle. It is still making bold statements -- in digital as well as other media -- about the beauty in every woman. But now it is tying it more to product.

Similarly, of the efforts discussed above, Tide did the best job of tying the various digital efforts to the product. Perhaps not coincidentally, the brand is seeing the best sales results. Maybe the real lesson is that we need to spend more time thinking about how to tie all the whiz-bang things we can do in digital to the product and what it does. Those four characteristics outlined at the beginning of this article -- they might simply be what it takes to do good digital work.

Jim Nichols is senior partner at Catalyst: SF.

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