Could Your Brand Be a Movie?

Hollywood movies are so well produced that it’s easy to be seduced by the craft. But if you break it down, there is actually a great deal of structure to a well-crafted film. Many dismiss it as formula. But the more accurate truth is that the art of moviemaking is a complex matrix themes and elements that overlap seemlessly, when done right.
In The Matrix, when Neo first meets Morpheus, many elements of moviemaking magic come together. There are dozens of storytelling elements that encapsulate the movie’s premise and set up the structure and motivations of the entire movie—and they are executed with an extremely high level of artistry. It’s the entire drama of the movie in a two-minute nutshell, and many moviemaking magic tricks overlap perfectly.
Of course, many sci-fi fans would complain that the verbal explanations in The Matrix are excessive, and we concur. Many explanations are already inherent in the action and implications of the movie’s progression. some are completely unnecessary, and some could have been communicated visually instead.

Morpheus’ speech begins:
Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain. But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind… driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Relationships – Mentor/Hero:
Let me tell you why you’re here.
Though the overt relationship is Morpheus as teacher and Neo as protégé, Morpheus hints that those roles may be reversible when he says: “No, the honor is mine.”

Motivations – Physical/Emotional:
You’re here because you know something.
Action is an outward manifestation of an inner desire.

Mysteries – Explore/Discover:
What you know you can’t explain.
When Morpheus explains Neo’s choices, his explanation is purposely vague. The mystery keeps the audience interested.

Story Arcs – External/Internal:
But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life.
Neo wants to go to a new place, he will also face new challenges that will force him to grow as a person. The audience knows that Morpheus has other plans; he told Neo so much earlier in the movie.

Trinity hints at the premise shift when the normal cause/effect expectation is reversed:
“It’s the question that drives us. It’s the question that brought you here. You know the question just as I did. The answer is out there. It’s looking for you. And it will find you, if you want it to.”

Can your brand be a movie?
The answer will find you, if you’re open to it.

Chipotle Goes Long on Long-Form Propaganda

If you didn’t catch the four-part, 87-minute Chipotle miniseries on, I can save you some time…
Farmed Dangerous
Thoughts after watching the first episode (2/17/14)…

Chipotle debuted the first episode of its four-part “Farmed and Dangerous” miniseries on Hulu today, building on the success of its viral videos “Back the Start” and “Scarecrow.” While those two animated videos portrayed straightforward hero journeys, the new series is a satirical sendup of an exaggerated dystopian present.
Trying to elevate marketing to a form of beneficent propaganda, Chipotle hopes “Farmed and Dangerous” will also elevate the debate about sustainable farming practices (and sell more burritos, obviously). The first show introduces the premise that big oil and big farming are in cahoots, shoving new industrial farming methods down our throats (pun intended), while trying to keep down resurgent sustainable farmers.
A New Yorker article puts the campaign into historical perspective, citing several precedents, even as early as 1947 and the “Kraft Television Hour.” And anyone interested in whether movies or TV can actually move the needle might want to read a recent study called “Moving Pictures? Experimental Evidence of Cinematic Influence on Political Attitudes,” co-authored by Todd Adkins and Jeremiah Castle of the University of Notre Dame. expanded on the study’s thesis, explaining how at least seven movies have actually changed the beliefs or views of moviegoers through before and after surveys.
“Farmed and Dangerous” may succeed in showing how dystopian our current industrial farming is only if it continues to surprise viewers with levels of satire and irony. The first episode took its time laying out the premise, which is not all that revolutionary in and of itself, but it will need to continue to surprise to really drive the message home.
The success of a film like The Matrix, on top of all of its many levels of meaning and craft, benefits partly from the ingenious plot construction that keeps first-time viewers in the dark and leads to bigger and deeper surprises. The first big surprise comes a full 30% into the movie, where the entire premise of the movie is first revealed, and what seemed real in the opening scenes was only a construct of a dystopian future.
So much has been written about Apple’s 1984 Macintosh commercial that I would do well not to claim a blinding new insight here. However clever it is, it is not merely the cleverness and its metaphorical message that it contains that might have changed people’s perspective. Its profundity lies in the premise that computer users were already well into a dystopian future that they had scant hope of escaping—until, ironically, 1984 came and with it, the Macintosh.

Thoughts after watching fourth and final episode (3/10/14):

The fourth and final episode of the Chipotle-produced miniseries “Farmed and Dangerous” posted on this morning. It’s a lot to ask an audience to wait for punch lines of satirical jokes drawn out over four weeks an hour-and-a-half of buildup.
While some are worth the payoff, some maybe fall a little short. But if you only watch the final episode, you probably get the premise, the moral landscape, and the punch lines.
The extra time did give the producers time to be pedantic and point out all the bad ways Big Oil, Big Ag, and Big Industry are corrupting our society. And PR, for that matter. In the final episode, the villain Buck Marshall quips: “McDonald’s doesn’t own Chipotle, that’s just a rumor I started.” (Fact checker: McDonald’s was a major investor from 1998 to 2006.)
The fill-in time supplies propaganda (the word is not only negative) about the main sustainability topics of the day, from the negative effects of GMOs to the true costs of food products on retail shelves. The drama hinges on the female lead, Sophia, having a conscience and choosing sustainable farming over her father’s PR firm promoting Animoil, the offspring of the marriage between Big Ag and Big Oil.
Chipotle is trying to springboard off the success of its viral videos “Back the Start” and “Scarecrow.” A New Yorker article last month puts the campaign into historical perspective, citing several precedents, even as early as 1947 and the “Kraft Television Hour.”
Plot twists are few once the premise is set, but there are a couple of choice-cut ones at the end that are worth a chuckle. Whether the new form has legs is reliant on the density of the information, the level of the subversiveness, and, of course, whether it’s actually entertaining. This experiment erred on length, discussion, and detail to appeal to very wide audience. It was a long way to go, but not as long as the journey back to more sustainable farming practices.
The producers tipped their hand for a joke, making the point that all media is, after all, propaganda, when one flack suggests: “What if we produce a satire that pulls back the curtain on the disturbing world of sustainable farming?” Satirizing the satirists is an even trickier proposition, but the proposition hits close to home.

Lending a Helping Hand for Innovation

The payoff for a packaging innovation is almost impossible to quantify beforehand. Nevertheless, truly helpful ones, like this great example of a trigger sprayer incorporated into a bottle design, courtesy of Packaging World.

Innovation is not easy. It’s usually very hard. It’s not a flash of inspiration out of the blue. It’s a flash of recognition after 1,000 other ideas hit the cutting room floor. But when it connects with consumers at an intuitive level, the package itself can become the biggest marketing asset that brand can leverage.

The Wet & Forget Shower Cleaner succeeds on many levels. The trigger is functional and appropriate. It’s easy to remove from the handle and easy to install. The cap doesn’t even have to be removed, saving one small yet significant step. But maybe most importantly, shoppers “get it” right away standing in store aisles.

The biggest hurdle to innovation is not the creative spark. Instead, it’s managing the usually-too-many cooks that tend to spoil the stew. Ideally, all the cooks should have cross-functional capabilities that make communicating between departments efficient and effective. In addition, establishing a chain of command is essential to get the recipe right.

But always start with consumers. What are their unmet needs? What could make life easier for them? What new value can you add? Only then can you determine what innovation might mean in the real world.

Here’s a list of things to consider when developing an innovation mindset that I put together for Packaging World magazine. This article was pulled from a series of “Playbooks” I wrote and edited that came out in April 2013. Check out the “Package Development,” “Labeling,” and “Flexible Packaging” editions for more brand and package development tips from yours truly.

Good and Good for You…Cheerios

Studying the history of heritage brands always turns up some odd plot twists. Cheerios, for instance, first built its point of differentiation around taste and convenience. Over the years, the brand position has moved with the times, and is now firing on many “healthy” cylinders simultaneously. Its authentic positivity, resolutely stated, has kept the brand highly relevant through the years.

“Heart-healthy” has been a main product feature in recent decades, but the brand has not always fully embraced what has become a matter of fact. That is, for the many parents who avoid processed foods for infants at all costs, Cheerios is the first packaged, branded product that those parents trust.

The brand is returning again to that message on several levels. First, with a “controversial” TV ad that should not have been controversial in this day and age. More engaging on a personal level, though, is a bold new packaging campaign that breaks convention with a spare back panel on Cheerios boxes. Words like “Trusted” and “Smile” are writ large and centered on a wide yellow field that glows ever so slightly behind the text.

The “Trusted” box proudly states: “Tried and true, Cheerios is the first finger food so many moms trust for their little ones.” The “Smile” box says: “Perfectly familiar and crunchy, there’s something about the taste of Cheerios that kids never outgrow.” These messages are authentic and resonant to brand loyalists as well as consumers that may be thinking about returning to the brand.

The original “Cheeri Oats” recipe was 75% ground oatmeal and 25% corn and rye flours. Today, the first of seven total ingredients (only seven!) is still whole grain oats. The oats are now combined with corn starch and wheat starch, and just a little sugar and salt.

The convenience angle in the early days was that kids and adults could get their morning serving of oats without having to cook them. That should make the whole family cheery! The brand promise was in the brand name, deftly combined a few years after its introduction into one word, Cheerios.

Dropping the “oats” from the name was a tradeoff. It served one targeted purpose for the times, as it downplayed negative associations with healthy food to compete head-to-head with sweeter competition. Yet, in the long run, it negated a broader gain, that of its hearty, healthy position. The brand would have to wait for the culture pendulum to swing back before pushing that benefit hard again.

I may be an anecdotal anomaly, but I didn’t realize the relative healthiness of Cheerios until my toddler’s doctor approved of the cereal. This was a funny realization after eating and loving cooked oats for breakfast… for decades! For whatever reason, the oats connection in the “o” of Cheerios didn’t come through to me, an oats lover.

Nevertheless, Cheerios succeeds in many positive messages, whether it’s a heart shaped bowl on its front panel or a campaign that promotes reading at a young age. One last positive, sustainable message on the package is given rather low prominence, at the bottom of one side panel. In a small rectangle, the text says:

Our Mission is Nourishing Lives
We guarantee your satisfaction with the quality of our products, and we are committed to nourishing lives, to protecting our environment, and to giving back to our global communities.


Cheerios through the years

Sustainable packaging initiative video

National Cereal Day

A Conflict of Two Branding Maxims

I’ve always been a conflicted person. Passionate on the inside, but reserved on the outside; Cautious in the long term, yet impulsive in the short.

Like anybody, I love a good aphorism or maxim. But what happens when two of your favorite maxims come into direct conflict?
Maxim #1: “Look before you leap.”
Maxim #2: “He who hesitates is lost.”

What should I do? Is there a compromise here? The corollary to #1 to make it more compatible with #2 would be: “But don’t look too long.” The corollary to #2 to make it more compatible with #1 would be: “But if you’re you’re near a cliff, some hesitating and looking would be advised.”

With branding, the warning against leaping without looking is a serious one. Critical mistakes are made when making changes just for the sake of change. The warning against hesitating is a warning to avoid “paralysis by analysis.”

Many consumers probably don’t notice that packaging “refresh” design campaigns happen all the time these days. For instance, without thinking, guess which of these two packages is the “old” and which is the “new.”

To combine the two maxims in a less-absolute, more reasonable fashion, one might say: “He who hesitates is lost, but take a quick, deep look before you leap.” When to revitalize branding and packaging is a critical business decision that should be analyzed through many lenses. This takes time and discipline—and patience.

Of course, product or packaging innovation that creates new value requires a leap of faith. Finally, getting it done in the real world requires management and political skills.

Here’s a list of things to consider when revitalizing package designs that I put together for Packaging World magazine. This article was pulled from a series of “Playbooks” I wrote and edited that came out in April 2013. Check out the “Package Development,” “Labeling,” and “Flexible Packaging” editions for more brand development tips from yours truly.

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