Image versus Recognition

Heinz, the renowned ketchup brand, held a marketing campaign that asked people from many countries to hand draw the ketchup bottles in their minds, and most ended up to be Heinz.

It’s obviously a “brand image” campaign that is not necessarily connected to sales volume as the target audience is already a group of regular users (so familiar they can even draw the bottle) but to solidify the brand recognition.

A good portion of this kind of campaigns come from brands in their “plateau stage”, which means:

  • The brand has become a “household name”;

  • Stable, long-term demand yet to be saturated;

  • Sales are also stable that virtually need no advertising to keep going aside from seasonal fluctuations or special incidents;

  • No imminent, formidable short-term competition from following contenders.

I once read a story on the Readers’ Digest. A traveler found a successful businessman on the flight and asked:

Traveler: Why do you still invest in marketing as your products are already selling by themselves?

Businessman: What’s the current altitude of our plane?

Traveler: 40,000 feet I guess.

Businessman: So why don’t the pilots shut the engines off and just glide to the airport?

In this case, the businessman didn’t shut off his marketing engine to:

  1. Keep the altitude from dropping;

  2. Keep the speed steady and controllable;

  3. Keep away from chasers, if any;

  4. Make sure the plane would have a safe, predictable landing.

Or to put it another way: you need only a fraction of a car’s entire horsepower to keep it run in a steady speed, and the “fraction” is your investment on marketing. Your car may keep running for a few hundred feet, but it would eventually stop and be surpassed.

Back to Heinz. The people they asked to draw the bottle “all” gave the same answer:

As Heinz being the indisputable leader in its arena, the result of the “study” can be extremely easy to manipulate with stunts like:

  1. Running the campaign only in countries with significant Heinz sales;

  2. Excluding results that were not Heinz;

  3. Arrange environmental or visual hints that link toward the brand;

  4. The inquiry to the people was actually “please draw a Heinz bottle you remember”.

These tricks might not have been employed, but I won’t be surprised if they have.

The hand-drawn labels can be seen as an amusing offline extension to the campaign within limited demographic and time span. You may want to buy a few for collection if you find it interesting, but people who are not aware of the campaign might mistake them as flaws or rip-offs.

The one thing that somehow disappointed me was that the campaign didn’t address my favorite change from Heinz: the flipped label on the bottle.

(It could be that the new design was not available in those countries though.)

It’s a fairly simple change, but it’s a UI (user interface) redesign based on very thoughtful UX (user experience) considerations.

The ketchup in bottles opened for some time tend to stick to the bottom, and many consumers (especially bulk users like restaurants) would put the bottle upside down for easy pouring.

Traditional bottles, like the ones in the picture above, are not good at standing on their heads; and the reversed brand name and text are also difficult to comprehend.

That’s where Heinz’s flipped label comes in: the new bottle with a larger cap stands firmly on the table and the ketchup comes out easily, while the brand names on each bottle are more recognizable from a distance — an excellent design that solves the problems for both users and Heinz itself.

To me, if Heinz could somehow focus more on the new design and its “Heinz make it easier” mentality rather than “we know how the bottle looks like”, the campaign would be more powerful and distinguished from simply a self-fulfilling branding event.

That’s why “image” and “perception” are sometime quite different. To consumers, “image” may only mean the existence or imprint in memory, which could be an advantage comparing to unknown brands, however it doesn’t necessary carry long-term, positive elements such as “goodwill”, “loyalty” or “satisfaction”.

Which ketchup (car, computer or phone) brand will you draw if asked?

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