What’s in a name?

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Edward Nevraumont

What’s in a name? 

In honor of the millions of students returning to school this week, let’s begin today’s newsletter with a quotation from Romeo and Juliet: 

’Tis but thy name that is my enemy; 

Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. 

What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, 

Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part 

Belonging to a man. O, be some other name! 

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose 

By any other name would smell as sweet.

I will leave thematic analyses of Shakespeare’s metaphors to the high school English classes. Instead, today’s Marketing BS newsletter examines the reasons that some brands are asking “what’s in a name?” 

Let’s start with a recent article from The Wall Street Journal:

Advertisers typically pay up to get their name front and center during big events such as the MTV Video Music Awards. 

Frito-Lay has another plan. The PepsiCo Inc. -owned snack company will use [August 26, 2019]’s event to launch a new campaign for Doritos but its ads will omit a key element: any mention of its product. [Emphasis mine]

Last week, Frito-Lay sparked a lot of industry buzz by launching a 60-second television advertisement for Doritos that never mentioned the word “Doritos.” 

What’s the rationale for creating a commercial that neither states nor shows the name of the product? The WSJ’s Alexandra Bruell suggests that Doritos’ “nameless” television ad aims to appeal to its youthful customers: 

Doritos is the latest brand trying to reach a new generation of young consumers who have grown up on ad-free digital content and are eager to escape corporate pitches. Brands are working hard on ways to make their marketing less promotional — from embedding their products in popular shows that stream on platforms like Netflix, to creating useful apps and entertaining social media content.

There’s a desire to almost reject traditional advertising,” said Rachel Ferdinando, senior vice president of marketing at Frito-Lay, referring to those in their teens and early 20s who make up Generation Z. [Emphasis mine]

Really? Are Generation Z consumers so radically different that we need to upend all of our marketing strategies?

Of course, any marketer can recall previous warnings that “the new generation is different.” How many news articles, keynote addresses, and corporate meetings stressed the unique generational traits of “Millennials” — a cohort so distinct from previous demographics that they required a fundamentally new marketing strategy? Consider, for example, the description of Millennials from a 2013 profile in Time Magazine:

Never have the young been so assertive or so articulate, so well educated or so worldly. Predictably, they are a highly independent breed, and — to adult eyes — their independence has made them highly unpredictable. This is not just a new generation, but a new kind of generation

…they have taken on, willy-nilly, a vast commitment toward a kindlier, more equitable society. The young often seem romantics in search of a cause, rebels without raison d'etre. Yet in many ways they are markedly saner, more unselfish, less hag-ridden than their elders. [Emphasis mine]

According to Time’s journalists, Millennials exhibit a number of unique traits that differentiate them from previous generations. What do you think? Are Millennials really more independent than the Greatest Generation? Are Millennials — notorious for “participation trophy” culture — really more articulate or better educated than Generation X? How about Baby Boomers: didn’t they spend their youth trying to build a more equitable society?

Time for a confession. 

The Time article didn’t focus on the Millennial generation, and it wasn’t published in 2013. In truth, the above quotations appeared way back in 1966, for Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” issue on “The Inheritor” — otherwise known as the Baby Boom Generation. (In case you’re curious, Time DID feature an in-depth appraisal of Millennials in this 2013 issue).

Throughout history, humans have regularly perceived the next generations as “different” — with a connotation that’s almost always negative. Check out these quotations, complied by Wil Buchanan for a post in Ambitious:

The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. — Peter the Hermit, 11th Century

Our young men have grown slothful. There is not a single honorable occupation for which they will toil night and day. — Seneca, 1st Century AD

Our youth have an insatiable desire for wealth; they have…atrocious customs. — Plato, 5th century BC

The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love to chatter in place of exercise. — Socrates, 5th century BC

I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. — Hesiod, 8th Century BC

Philosophers, even those centuries apart, share a similar message: subsequent generations are the bane of a productive society. The above quotes might elicit a smile, but I doubt they will inspire strategies to help marketers appeal to different generations. As such, let’s forget about generational profiles based on personal opinions (and prejudices). Do we have any real-world data that might provide useful lessons for marketers?


Generational Divides and Radical Marketing

In December 2018, the Federal Reserve released a major research paper that analyzed information about Millennials at age 30, compared to members of Generation X at the same point in their lives. Their findings? There were very few differences at all

A few statistical points illustrated the generational similarities: 

  • Car ownership held steady: 82% for Gen X and an identical 82% for Millennials.

  • Completion of a Bachelor’s degree: 24% for Gen X and then soared all the way up to…25% for Millennials. 

  • Even average disposable income remained the same (at least for men; among women it slightly increased).

Bottom line: in terms of dozens of quantifiable metrics, Millennials are NOT, in fact, radically different from previous generations. Essentially, the overall snapshot of a Millennial at age 30 bears remarkable similarity to a representative member of Gen X at the same point in their life. 

With that information in mind, here’s my theory about marketing campaigns that target today’s younger consumers: members of Generation Z are no more (or less) likely to “escape corporate pitches” than members of previous generations. 

So…if generational differences don’t explain why Frito-Lay launched this radical “no brand name” advertisement, then why make an ad like this at all?

I’d like to start by asking a different question: is Doritos’ “nameless” ad really that radical? For Doritos executives, the answer probably depended on whether they were willing to spend piles of money on a commercial (and an entire promotional campaign) for a product that consumers might not be able to identify. The Wall Street Journal’s Alexandra Bruell argues — and I concur — that Doritos isn’t fooling anyone with their commercial:

While removing a product name could be risky for some brands, it is unlikely that consumers won’t immediately know that the ad is for Doritos…

In the TV ad, viewers will see clues, including the familiar orange powder that the chips leave on fingers and the triangular shape of the snack. [Emphasis mine]

Of course, Doritos is not the first brand to avoid using its brand name in ads. Nike regularly uses its logo — the iconic swoosh — in lieu of their company’s name. In January, Mastercard unveiled a new logo; it’s virtually identical to the last one, but the traditional “MasterCard” wordmark was removed. 

Just last week, Starbucks not only introduced a new “brand expression,” but also posted the document online for anyone to peruse. In terms of the relationship between the logo and the company’s name, consider one of the primary directives from the guide: “The preferred approach is to use the Siren logo by itself, unlocked from the wordmark.” 

You can trace the company’s logo-beats-wordmark mentality back to 2011, when they dropped the “Starbucks Coffee” text from the logo (a decision that Harvard Business Review called, at the time, a “risky move”). 

Why are these companies NOT using their wordmark — something that seems like such a foundational part of a brand identity? One simple reason: the confidence that they don’t NEED to use the wordmark. Companies believe — presumably based on market research — that people can easily recognize their brand logo, even in the absence of any accompanying words. 

Moreover, eliminating wordmarks can actually improve the flexibility of the brand identity. For instance, Mastercard likely believed that having the word “card” in their logo could prove to be a liability as the company pursues “non-card payments” in the future. In similar fashion, IBM discarded the “International Business Machines” branding when they expanded their focus to personal computers. Doritos, then, isn’t blazing a trail so much as following many other (decidedly NOT Gen Z-focused) brands. The difference? Doritos’ “nameless” television ad explicitly draws attention to their branding strategy as some kind of meta-marketing gimmick.


Brand Consistency vs. Variation 

In last week’s newsletter (“Marketing Lessons from Spider-Man vs. the Avengers”), I wrote about the concept of “brand consistency”: 

When it comes to brand consistency, marketers face a catch-22. Before you can get someone to engage with your brand, you need to get their attention. And what’s the best way to capture attention? Do something new. But new is exactly what you don’t want to do if you want to maintain a consistent brand identity. 

What’s the solution? Create strong brand elements, and then allow creative people to play within the guardrails of the brand “rules.”

I continued to discuss how Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe maintains a consistent “superhero” style throughout all 23 movies, but then imbues a degree of variety for each movie by adding elements from other genres. A clear sense of “style” is an important attribute for a distinctive brand — but it’s not the only idea to develop. When advising companies, I recommend they consider the following elements:  

  • Name

  • Logo

  • Color

  • Shape

  • Sound

  • Face

  • Style

If your brand consistently features all of those elements, you will provide potential customers with multiple “hooks” to remember the ads — and, hopefully, tie them back to the brand. Of course, some elements only apply to certain channels: you won’t use sound in your print ads or color in your radio ads. The Doritos commercial might not state or show the name “Doritos” at any point, but how many other brand elements can you identify in their 60-second spot?

I count at least five elements: 

  • Colors (orange chips, red and blue bags)

  • Shape (triangle)

  • Sound (crunch)

  • Outline of the Doritos logo

  • Orange “dust”

For anyone who’s visited a convenience store in the last five years, those five elements offer more than enough information to identify the brand. Still, for an ad that’s self-described as “edgy,” Doritos plays things safe, removing any sense of ambiguity. During the commercial’s loudest moments, the voiceover enthusiastically tells the viewer that the product name “rhymes with I NEED THOSE.”


Final Thoughts

What’s my assessment of the Doritos commercial?

In keeping with the Shakespeare quote at the top of today’s newsletter, my initial reaction could be described with a line from Macbeth: “It is a tale...full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

After some reflection, however, I think the Doritos ad highlights their unique brand elements in a way that invites viewing through a cleverly framed meta-lens. Bonus: in addition to an imaginative ad, Doritos earned quite a bit of free media coverage, resulting in additional consumer impressions. 

In the big picture, though, Doritos should be celebrating their ad agency’s creativity, rather than stereotyping Generation Z’s superficiality.   

So, what’s in a name? Not that much — at least for the rare companies who have developed a brand identity that can speak on its own. 

Keep it simple,

Edward

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Edward Nevraumont is a Senior Advisor with Warburg Pincus. The former CMO of General Assembly and A Place for Mom, Edward previously worked at Expedia and McKinsey & Company. For more information, including details about his latest book, check out Marketing BS.