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Kellogg’s “silent” branding: smart or cynical?

The Economic Times (India), in “When not to use the parent brand,” (16 November 2007) discusses Kellogg’s decision to minimize its connection with a new U.K. brand called FruitaBu.
FruitaBu is a healthy snack brand “comprising apple crisps and dried fruit.” The product is aimed at people who want to comply with the Department of Health recommendation to eat more fruit, and to get that fruit in a quick, convenient way. (The Department of Health “five-a-day” logo is displayed on the product packaging.)

FruitaBu brand manager Paul Humphries says that Kellogg decided not to put its logo on the packaging (the Kellogg name is on the back of the box in small print) because the Kellogg brand is associated with “cereal and cereal-based snacks” and “we thought that if we put Kellogg on FruitaBu, people would assume it was a cereal product.”

Branding experts disagree on whether Kellogg’s move is smart or cynical. Interbrand chairman Rita Clifton says: “Kellogg has terrific brand equity, but what makes it strong can also be a weakness because it is associated with brightness, morning-time and sweet cereals.”

Landor Associates managing director Cheryl Giovannoni says the strategy is “cynical,” a way to sneak into the healthy snacking market. “It should try to be more honest with consumers — that would give it a lot more credit as a brand.”

For my part, I think Kellogg is wasting its time worrying about whether people associate FruitaBu with it or not. Dried fruit is related to cereal. In fact I might be more likely to buy FruitaBu if I knew that Kellogg was connected to it—I’d know the fruit would taste good and be of high quality.

In general, though, I think mainstream snack companies should stick to their knitting and not get into the healthy food market—people want authentic health food and not slickly packaged, fast moving consumer goods that parade themselves as authentic.

Branding the homeless—a pathetic display of the dark side of branding

The Wall Street Journal, in “In West L.A., A Homeless Man Inspires New Brand” talks about “the newest sensation at the center of Hollywood’s fashion scene”…56-year-old, homeless, John Wesley Jermyn.

The entrepreneurs who are milking Jermyn’s name for profit have already created a MySpace page for him, which “doubles as an ad for the clothing brand and their nightclub-promotion venture, which is also named ‘The Crazy Robertson.’” According to the Journal, these twentysomethings spent “months” getting close to Jermyn to get his approval; got his buy-in on design decisions; and also had a photographer take pictures of him for publicity purposes.

(Jermyn makes just 5% of “net profit” from clothing sales.)

The brand-builders are riding a trend of “increased fascination with homelessness,” says the Journal. The paper mentions the popularity of “Bumfights,” or videotaped street fights between homeless people; as well as “Filthy Rich and Homeless,” a British TV series showing real-life millionaires acting like beggars in London. Also, the paper notes, over 17,500 videos on YouTube are tagged with the word “homeless.”

Jermyn’s sister says he is being exploited, and Joel John Roberts, chief executive of People Assisting the Homeless, has similar concerns. But the brand-builders say they look at Jermyn as a “business partner.” Said one, “He knows everything that’s going on.” Jermyn himself told the Journal that he is a “facilitator” for the brand.

This phenomenon brings up a whole host of questions and issues, as follows:

1. Is it exploitive for someone to build a brand around a homeless person, or is it insulting to the homeless person to suggest that they cannot be the subject of a brand? I say it’s exploitive, especially when the person has schizophrenia, as Jermyn does, and cannot see all sides of the issue.

2. Is it ethical for consumers to purchase brands that are created in exploitive ways? Obviously not…and yet here we are in the richest part of Hollywood exploiting the homeless. This trend toward exploitation runs absolutely counter to the modern emphasis on corporate social responsibility and “fair trade” and must be seen as a thoughtless, childlike rebellion against it.

3. What does it say about modern consumers that they find a valuable brand in utter poverty and mental illness as represented by homelessness? I suggest it’s a few things:
  • A deep impulse to find and brand whatever authentic phenomena in society are available…unfortunately, looked at from this angle, branding is some kind of sickness or disease that seems to have no cure and no end and no purpose but to swallow up all the non-brands that are out there.
  • A sick need to feel superior to other, desperate human beings.
  • A distorted view of the world, seeing it as a place where brands “normalize” people who are not in their right mind.
4. What can concerned consumers do about brands like this? Don’t buy them; speak out against them; encourage others not to buy them.

This is truly a post about the dark side of humanity. There is a limit to "cool."

Aligning your personal brand with an employer brand

In "Employers Study Applicants' Personalities," the Associated Press reports on a new trend in hiring: keeping jerks out.

“Despite a labor shortage in many sectors, some employers are pickier than ever about whom they hire. Businesses….are stepping up efforts to weed out people who might have the right credentials but the wrong personality.”

Or to put it in brand terms, aligning job candidates’ personal brand with the employer brand.

Says Tim Sanders, former leadership coach at Yahoo Inc. and author of The Likeability Factor: " If you have a bunch of jerks, your brand is going to be a jerk.”

Job interviews at Rackspace, for example, are all-day events, so that interviewers can wear away “fake pleasantness” and get at the applicants’ real personality. CEO Lanham Napier says, "We'd rather miss a good one than hire a bad one."

What can you do to make sure your personal brand is aligned with a potential employer?

  1. Study your own personal brand. Develop a short list of 3-6 key characteristics that genuinely describe your personality.
  2. Put it on your resume. Put your brand characteristics on the profile section of your resume. This will allow potential employers to either choose you if you are a good fit or not waste your time by calling you in for an interview.
  3. Research potential employers. Find out as much as you can about the company that might be hiring you. Study its website; often you can learn a lot about the company’s personality from the way it presents itself online. Review its press releases; find out what kind of achievements it thinks are noteworthy. Finally, look up news about the company; what is its brand in the media? If possible, look also on sites like Vault.com to get insider information about how it treats its employees.
  4. Describe yourself according to your characteristics in person. Be ready to elucidate your personal brand to a potential employer, giving examples of how, very generally, you “live” the characteristics that you say you have.
  5. Start a professional blog if you haven’t already. Writing a blog is a good way to demonstrate to others what your personality is like. It is like an extended job interview, and you can save yourself a lot of time explaining yourself if you simply direct people to your blog as part of your resume.

Although there are arguments to be made pro and con branding yourself, if you take the time to at least understand your personality, you may save yourself a lot of time choosing the wrong employer or even the wrong profession.

Terrorism, anti-Semitism damage Israel’s brand: What can be done?

Carnegie Mellon’s student newspaper, The Tartan reports (November 12) on a brand talk given to students by Ido Aharoni, Israel’s assistant foreign minister and brand team manager. In his talk, Aharoni said that Israel’s brand could be improved. “Israel’s brand image does not serve its interests right now; I believe we can do much better.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has been trying for several years to re-brand Israel in terms of more positive qualities than “solely in terms of war and religion,” and in particular is trying to move Israel’s brand out of its association with the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, until the Palestinians “curb terrorism,” said Aharoni, the process for Israel of growing beyond the association with the Israel-Palestine conflict cannot start.

A survey released last year, in November 2006, and reported on in Israel Today supports Aharoni’s contention that Israel’s brand is damaged. The National Brands Index, conducted together by nation-branding consultant Simon Anholt and Global Market Insite surveyed about 26,000 online consumers in 35 countries about their perceptions of those countries in six areas: Investment and Immigration, Exports, Culture and Heritage, People, Governance, and Tourism. Israel came out on the bottom on every measure, and Israel’s citizens were called “the most unwelcoming in the world.”

(American’s weren’t very friendly to Israel either. In the survey, Americans “ranked Israel just slightly above China in terms of its conduct in the areas of international peace and security.”)

In reporting on the survey, Anholt blamed Israel—without mentioning the possibility of anti-Semitism—for the survey’s negative findings, commenting that “to succeed in permanently changing the country's image, the country has to be prepared to change its behavior.” He stated that people’s negative opinion of Israel was influenced by the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, implying that it is Israel’s response to that conflict that is causing negative perceptions of the country.

Anholt also stated, accurately, that “most people did not bother to form a balanced opinion about other countries, preferring to find a simple shorthand for every country…(and) the most persuasive and memorable facts (about Israel) were about the conflict, so the image of Israel as a bully as more likely to stick in people’s minds.”

(In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Anholt minimized the negative impact of the fact that the study was conducted during Israel’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon during the summer, but said he planned to include Israel in the survey again during a “quiet period.”)

Anholt also told the Jerusalem Post that it could take decades for Israel to rebuild its brand image.

Thus far, Israel’s strategy has apparently been to try to divert international public attention away from the Israel-Palestinian conflict and toward “more positive images such as the country's technical innovations as well as musical, cultural and historical attractions.”

However, Israel’s approach, to me, is wrongheaded. The nation is in the midst of a longstanding public relations crisis caused by terrorists and exacerbated by anti-Semitism. It therefore needs to respond proactively and aggressively—head-on—to the negative elements that are staining its brand image. That means launching a proactive, aggressive foreign diplomatic campaign to educate the public about its stance with respect to the Palestinians, including its history and future strategies for creating peace in the region. While Aharoni states that Israel can re-brand itself by “revising its policies,” “initiating greater tourism efforts,” and “increasing exports and foreign investment,” Israel has to do its basic PR homework of explaining its existing policies to the public in a way that will satisfy its critics once and for all. Israel should take every opportunity to emphasize that it is a peace-loving nation and that it is the victim of terrorism, not a bullying cause of it.

An effective public relations push is especially important in light of the upcoming Annapolis meeting (November 25-27) between Israel and the Palestinians to discuss prospects for peace. Already, Israeli President Shimon Peres has let it be known that “Israel has decided to make Annapolis a success, to bring an end to the conflict, to finally make peace between the Palestinians and ourselves….All parties concerned are decided... not to let this chance pass away.” And Israel is warning that Hamas may carry out terror attacks to stop the peace process from going through. Continually educating the world about the fact that Israel wants peace while the terrorists want to stop peace from going forward is a good step. Israel may think that it has been shouting that message from the rooftops, but unfortunately it is drowned out by an equally loud Arab PR machine that states Palestinians are innocent victims of the Israelis. The way forward here is for Israel to flood the airwaves, the Internet, and public speaking opportunities in America, Europe, and elsewhere with an elucidation of the situation from Israel’s perspective. Further, Israel should embed the media, as America has, with its soldiers on a day to day basis so that they can report on the challenges that Israel faces in trying to keep peace. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism will always complicate these efforts, but Israel can do a better job of them nevertheless.

This discussion points up the difference between a public relations campaign and a branding campaign. As I have stated elsewhere, “the role of PR was never really to build a brand…rather, it is to do no harm to it. PR is inherently a tool for building a great reputation.” Israel’s PR is sorely lacking—it has failed to build its credibility and reputation in the world through effective communication via the media—and as a result it is hampered in its ability to build a brand image that reflects the peaceful, high-tech image it seeks. I say, forget about changing policies now. The policies are not the problem. The distorted perceptions of Israel are the problem. Work with PR first, then brand. Despite the efforts of terrorists to destroy the nation, Israel has a good story to tell…it needs to tell it. Otherwise the terrorists have accomplished their goal of destroying the nation—impairing its ability to function economically and politically.