Brand Stories: The Evolution of Applebee’s

Applebee’s is one of the largest casual dining chains in the world, while offering a versatile dining experience setting for everything from lunch meetings to family outings.  They currently enjoy annual sales of $4.7 billion, but the road to success was often a difficult one for the chain. To that end, in 2006 the chain experienced a dramatic drop in profitability, and the management team was forced to take action.

In 2007, Applebee’s embarked on what would turn out to be a very successful brand refresh, with the new “spokesapple” at the front and center of the campaign. According to George Williams, Chief Marketing Officer of Applebee’s at the time, “the decision to use an apple as the company ‘spokesapple’ was made as a way to create advertising that could not be mistaken with pitches from the competition”

Applebee's Brand Refresh

The chain has consistently made changes to their locations, menus, and branding over the years. They have changed the logo, uniforms, restaurant interiors, and themes to reflect a more modern chain of restaurants. They are also constantly featuring new items with seasonal favorites.

Applebee’s has consistently maintained the goal of becoming a comfortable place where people can come together to meet, eat, and have fun. To push this effort and connect with a younger generation of diners, they created a “Club Applebee’s” initiative. The brand refresh strategy featured after-hours, nightclub-style entertainment from the otherwise wholesome restaurant. The new after-hours locations offer half-price appetizers, drink specials, dancing, music, and other late-night activities that patrons can take advantage of until two o’clock in the morning.

The brand has seen ups and downs over the years, but their willingness to experiment with new business models and branding initiatives – while quickly rejecting unsuccessful initiatives – has led to overall success over the years.

The restaurants have recently undergone a replacement of their previous canopies and signs.  The new exteriors include quality signage and awnings, which were carefully designed to maintain the original design, while quickly, affordably revamping the restaurant. Most locations have experienced an increase in revenue immediately following the contemporary remodels.

Applebee's Brand Refresh

As most recently reported, Applebee’s spends approximately $180 million per year on advertising campaigns. While a rebrand and new campaigns can lead to increased profits and a better customer perception, if the underlying problems are not addressed, the new branding identity will only accomplish so much. The restaurant chain took the remodel to heart and placed more emphasis on service, to further meet their patrons’ needs.

Brand Positioning for Men’s Grooming Products

dollar shave club brand positioning

The personal grooming market is experiencing healthy growth boosted by innovative packaging and viral marketing campaigns, and a large number of competitors that are very skilled in brand positioning.  To that end, male consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of using grooming products, according to Kline’s 2012 research report.

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Color Theory & Package Design

Custom Packaging & Color Theory

When it comes to branding and packaging, color is crucial.  Colors are often used to trigger sensory reactions and emotions, and to prompt consumers to make assessments about brands.

In an article in the Journal of Management History entitled Impact of Color on Marketing, researchers found that 60-90% of people make snap judgments about products within 90 seconds based on color alone.  “Prudent use of colors can contribute not only to differentiating products from competitors, but also to influencing moods and feelings – positively or negatively – and therefore, to attitude towards certain products.  Given that our moods and feelings are unstable and that colors play roles in forming attitude, it is important that managers understand the importance of colors in marketing.“

Marketing studies suggest that our habits prefer instantly recognizable brands, which makes color incredibly important when creating a brand identity.  Color Research & Application recommends that new brands choose colors that specifically differentiate them from established competitors (Coca-Cola’s can is red, Pepsi’s is blue, 7-Up’s is green… see where this is going?).

All that said, it is important to note that the symbiotic relationship between brands and color can work for you, but it can also work against you.  The reason is that there are hardwired connections between colors and the products they represent.  Yellow is often used to trigger hunger (Golden Arches, anyone?), possibly due to the fact that starches and breads are often yellow and brown.  Blue is subdued and suppresses appetite, and dominant blues and greens are historically unpopular in food packaging design (save in generic household cleaning products and cereals).

Researchers at the University of British Columbia showed fake ads to a group of students, and studied their feedback after seeing different colors.  Red produced a positive evaluation of the imaginary product.  Blue evoked images of water and tranquility: oceans, openness, peace, calm.  They found that blue in product packaging was successful to accomplish specific goals in consumers’ minds—a whitening toothpaste that stops tooth decay –– while red was best to illicit an emotional response and trigger memory.

While certain colors are closely associated with specific traits (e.g., brown with “ruggedness”, black with “sophistication” and “luxury”, red with “passion”), most design and branding professionals agree that it’s far more essential for a brand’s colors to support their personality and messaging rather than reinforcing color association stereotypes.  There is a strong correlation between the use of colors and consumers’ perceptions of a brand’s personality.  Predicting consumer reaction to a product’s color and custom packaging design is far more important than the color itself.  Remember, branding and packaging design can be aspirational… purchasing decisions reflect how the consumer wants their lifestyle to be, not as it actually is.

There are no absolute, concrete parameters or set of guidelines for choosing a brand’s colors and packaging color scheme.  Shoot instead to capture subtle feeling, mood, and brand image, because this has the ultimate power of persuasion.

With all that said, here’s an infographic from First Site Guide that speaks to many of these issues, as well as many others! 


Creative Packaging and the Male Consumer

Just how far will creative packaging take a product?  Can it create a new market out of thin air?  Or is it simply just another arrow in the marketer’s quiver?  In our humble (or rather, biased) opinion, product packaging is somewhere in between.  A recent article by the Australian design agency Truly Deeply got us thinking about this issue (its well worth the read).

When it comes to gender roles and gender cues, packaging is very effective at targeting in not so subtle ways.  The Truly Deeply article noted above features a student project by Dutch design student Annemiek van der Beek.  The project is a package design concept for a male-oriented cosmetics line, as seen below.

Creative Packaging - Masculine Cosmetics

 Clearly this creative packaging crosses boundaries from a gender perspective and introduces masculine visual cues into a very feminine product category.  Would something like this work?  Depends on the category and the consumer profile.  Its not entirely clear that there is a market for very masculine cosmetics.  That said, this concept–while somewhat extreme–demonstrates how innovative and creative packaging can be effective at repositioning a product for an entirely new (perhaps shockingly so) consumer segment.

This masculine design makes us think of a couple of other creative packaging examples that we were recently struck by, per below.  Any interest in yogurt, gentlemen?

Creative Packaging - Masculine Yogurt

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Shrewd Chocolateering From Hershey’s

Not sure whats going on at Hershey’s, but it seems that they are constantly in the news these days with innovative and cutting edge new business initiatives.  Seems to us that the company has taken a more aggressive position on investing in growth, and it also seems that this change has been a huge success.  It has not only increased the company’s sales (which it has), but more importantly its market share and brand value.  Below is a look at an interesting case study in building a brand – a ubiquitous legacy brand – courtesy of Hershey’s.

Building Awareness

Hershey's: How to build a brand

In a recent article from Adage, we were surprised to learn that Hershey’s did not launch its first national ad campaign until 1970.  And even then, Hershey’s has historically been fairly conservative with its ad spend.  In recents years, however, that trend has started to change.  Since 2006, the company has increased its ad budget from a little over $100 million to almost $600 million per year.  This sea change in strategy has not only affected signature brands like Reese’s, but it has also served to support many of its smaller niche brands like Rolo, and more recently, Take 5.

Leading with Technology

As you may have seen, Hershey’s recently announced a partnership with 3D Systems, a leading 3D printing company that also happens to produce 3D printers that can print objects out of food (including chocolate).  With this arrangement, Hershey’s has not only identified one of the fastest growing technologies in the world, but it has also become a pioneer in bringing this technology to the whole food industry.  Most people dont think about 3D printing as a food manufacturing process, but that is a very real application for this technology.  It has the potential to disrupt the existing supply chain for food manufacturing, while at the same creating dramatic new revenue streams for food companies that partner with 3D printer manufacturers (or become 3D printer manufacturers).  Whether selling branded 3D food printers, raw materials, components, food products, or other accessories that are beyond our imagination, the potential opportunities for food manufacturers are astounding.  And it speaks volumes that Hershey’s was among the first – if not the first – to act in that space.  As outsiders, hard to imagine that Mars is not negotiating a deal with Stratasys or ExOne as we write this.

Strategy & Innovation

In the realm of product development and innovation, Hershey’s has introduced a number of successful new product launches around the globe, while demonstrating great vision and timely execution.  For instance, in the U.S., the company has seen success with various new and creative line extensions such as Reese’s Minis, Hershey’s Drops and Rolo Minis.  Moreover, a few weeks ago Hershey’s announced that it will extend its brand into the world of chocolate spreads.  Not certain whether this will be an outsized hit for the company, but it just makes so much sense to use the Hershey’s brand as a springboard into the chocolate spread category (not coincidentally the fastest growing category in the U.S. spreads market).  All that said, perhaps the most interesting part of the Hershey’s story is its laser-like focus on international growth, and particularly the Chinese market.  The company has made clear that China is at the top of its priority list.  Accordingly, it sports a fulsome product pipeline in that country, with Hershey’s Kisses, solid chocolate globes, and more recently a new line of soft caramels that will soon be finding their way into the U.S. market.


Brand Stories: Old Spice and Its Millennial Rebrand

Old Spice Rebrand - Before and After

Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice has served as an internationally recognized men’s grooming brand for more than 70 years. Throughout the years, they have aimed to bring the best male grooming products to men of all ages, but were becoming stale with the younger generation. To catch up with the changing market, they launched one of the most successful rebrands of the decade.

Featuring new commercials, new packaging, a new site design, and a complete upheaval of their entire marketing scheme, Old Spice completed a full rebrand in an effort to attract a broader, younger customer base. From the introduction of “The Old Spice Guy” to the assortment of witty, comical commercials and must-see viral videos that began in July 2010, they garnered the attention of their target audience both on television and on social media networks.

To complete such a successful rebrand, Old Spice worked with Interbrand to determine what it would take to bring the brand into modern times. In the summer of 2011, they also teamed with advertising great Wieden + Kennedy and the creative minds at Landor  to create a campaign that would foster a strong relationship between Old Spice and their customers. They worked to build a strong online and social media presence to attract new customers and update their packaging to suit customers’ changing preferences.

The ultimate goal was to target Millennials because both older men and teenagers want to feel like they are in their 20s, so this marketing campaign appealed to more than just the Millennials. In only one short year following the rebrand, sales increased by more than 100%.

Old Spice created an interactive website and eye-catching packaging design using new colors, typography, and graphics. The more modern imagery has placed Old Spice in the running as the best male grooming products for men ranging from older gentlemen to teenage boys. They have also intensified their mobile marketing efforts because research has shown that more people are willing to accept ads via their mobile device.

This hugely successful rebrand has honored the original customers while attracting a new demographic of younger men. In fact, following the implementation of the new packaging design, Nick Patterson, Associate Director of Shopper Marketing at Procter & Gamble, stated that “Old Spice was reinvented and became one of the fastest growing brands in the category.”

Following the redesign, Old Spice has taken many other efforts to attract customers, including hiring a new marketing director and partnering with other notables and celebrities for wildly successful online and design campaigns. They have offered a noteworthy example of how branding and packaging makeovers can create significant market change.

Brand Extension Done Right

As we all know, the world of consumer packaged goods is littered with products that just don’t make sense.  The business environment is extremely competitive, and that competitiveness drives brand managers to constantly experiment with new products and innovations.  In many cases, these new products are so misaligned with their brands that consumers are left confused, and often even worse – irritated.  Buzzfeed recently featured a list of some of the most ridiculous (and hilarious) product failures of all time, which is worth a quick read.   Pizza Hut body spray?  Cheetos lip balm?  Yes please!!!

All that said, from time to time you see products that are so well-developed and so well-aligned with their brands that they just seemingly can’t miss.  We recently came across two such products, and of course we wanted to share with you all.  Below are a couple of products that, well, just make sense.

Texas Pete Cha!

Sriracha Brand Extension

We have long been surprised by how few Sriracha products exist on the market.  Sriracha is a Thai condiment that is made from a paste of chili peppers and vinegar, among other things.  It has very recently become one of the most popular condiments in the US, and it’s amazing that no national brands have entered into this market given its size and momentum.  To that end, there is only one dominant brand of Sriracha, which is produced by a little known company named Huy Fong Foods.  That said, Texas Pete, the maker of the #3 hot sauce in the country, is now planning a nationwide launch of its own Sriracha product, “Cha!”

Their entry into the Sriracha market is such a logical brand extension, as they have built a popular niche brand that is closely associated with hot sauces and condiments.  Sriracha is a perfectly reasonable extension for Texas Pete, and will allow them to enter into a cutting edge and growing product category, with precious little competition.  While nothing in life is guaranteed, how can this not work?

Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups

Peanut Butter Cup Brand Extension

In January 2014 Nestle will be taking Butterfinger into the peanut butter cup world.  While peanut butter cups are a fairly crowded field (dominated by Reese’s, no doubt), we love this brand extension almost as much as the Texas Pete Sriracha (almost).  Butterfinger has built incredibly strong brand equity as a crispy, peanut buttery and chocolaty candy bar.  Seems to be a natural fit to extend this reservoir of brand equity while introducing the loyal Butterfinger fans to a new chocolaty and peanut buttery product, in a category that should be very familiar to them.  Nestle intends to introduce the Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups with a Superbowl ad, and we cant wait to see it (and to try it ourselves).

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Coca-Cola Goes With Green Products

Coca-Cola recently launched a unique print ad in limited markets which serves to promote certain green products in their line of diet beverages (see below). In the ad, the company took an affirmative stance in defending certain sugar alternatives that are used in their products (namely, aspartame). Predictably, this advertisement has generated some substantial backlash. For instance, the Center for Science in the Public Interest was critical of this advertisement, and argued that instead of spending so much time defending the artificial sweetener, Coke should be focusing on “phasing out its use of aspartame and accelerating its research into safer, natural sweeteners such as those extracted from the stevia plant.”

Coca-Cola Goes With Green Products

Coca-Cola Goes With Green Products

Source: AdWeek

On a related note, Coke recently launched a “natural” soda named “Coca-Cola Life”, which is flavored with Stevia. Coca-Cola Life is currently only available in Argentina, which is effectively functioning as a test market for these new green products.  Its an innovation product that required a new and unique beverage package design.  Stevia’s use as a replacement for sugar and aspartame products has been on the rise and Coca-Cola is now experimenting with Stevia with Coca-Cola Life (albiet in an international market).




Source: Branding Magazine

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Pop-Up Stores: Here to Stay?

In a recent article in Knowledge@Wharton, a leading business publication by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the authors took a close look at the pop-up phenomenon that has taken the retail industry by storm in recent years.

A “pop-up” is a physical retail store that can take many forms – from temporary stores that open for days or weeks to stores within stores that can be either temporary or more permanent in nature. The number of pop-up stores in the U.S. has grown by 30% over the last 3 years, and that growth shows no signs of dying off. One sign that this trend is turning into a full-fledged industry is the number of startup companies that are popping up (pun intended) to service this industry. For instance, you can now find a number of pop-up leasing agents and consultants ( and, among others), and the media has been tracking new developments in the space as well.

Retailers, branding agencies and consultants rarely think of this tool to build awareness, buzz and “hip factor”, but it should not be overlooked.  One of the first large brands to venture into the pop-up world was Target, which opened a temporary Christmas store at Chelsea Piers in NYC in 2002. Target has since done 20 pop-up stores, mostly in the U.S., and hundreds of large and small brands have followed this trend. One notable example discussed in the Knowledge@Wharton article is the world-renowned California restaurant French Laundry, which opened a pop-up restaurant in London for 10 days in 2011, and offered nine-course meals for $400 each.

While the most profitable pop-up stores have tended to be specialty stores that open around the holidays (i.e., temporary Halloween stores), many brands are using this strategy for the marketing and promotional awareness aspects rather than just focusing on turning a short-term profit.

While this trend has not yet blossomed into a full-fledged industry, it is on its way. And moreover, it has created a new shopping experience for many consumers while adding a cool factor that has been lost with the growth of big box retail.

A Growth Spurt That Even Zuckerberg Would Envy

There are precious few companies in the world that have experienced the kind of explosive growth that Facebook and Google have enjoyed. And of those few companies, the vast majority have a silicon valley area code. Given all that, you might be surprised to know that in recent years a food manufacturing company based in upstate New York has experienced growth that even Facebook and Google would envy.  Call it brand building on steriods. That company? Chobani.

In case you have been avoiding the supermarket for the last decade, Chobani is a Greek-style yogurt that has taken the world by storm. As a recent CNN Money article states, the growth that Chobani has experienced “is unheard of, particularly for a startup, in the packaged-goods business—and rare in the tech world.”

That being said, this company’s success clearly has a lot to do with (as most often times it does) the person behind the brand: Hamdi Ulukaya. In 2000, Mr. Ulukaya borrowed $1 million to buy an 85-year-old yogurt factory in upstate New York. Five years after selling the first case of Chobani, the company reached $1 billion in revenue. Mr. Ulukaya has always been the 100% owner of Chobani, and has used an innovative business model that is anything but a corporate one. He doesn’t believe in customer research, as all feedback from the website goes directly to his BlackBerry. He doesn’t value one employee over the other – he values the person who answers the calls just as much as someone in the purchasing department.

What’s more, from the start, Mr. Ulukaya has and continues to give 10% of Chobani’s after-tax profits to philanthropy. His motto? “Nothing but good.”

To read the CNN Money article, click here.