How brand linguistics rescued Kellogg’s

brand linguistics - Marks & Methods
brand linguistics - Marks & Methods

How brand linguistics rescued Kellogg’s

The Indian subcontinent is inhabited by a significantly large population and the people speak languages belonging to three major language families: Indo-Aryan, Dravidian and Munda. These three language families have dozens of languages under them and these languages have some traits that are common and also entirely unique (compared to other language families) at the same time. It’s needless to say that India, as a linguistic area, is a living laboratory of linguistic evolution.

Not knowing the diversity of comprehension and expression of Indians, many global brands have ventured into the market in the baby steps of globalization. Some of them were embraced by Indians. Some were rejected. A few were given a chance to improve according our likes and dislikes. One such brand that was given many chances was Kellogg’s. After tasting a series of successes in the west, this brand landed in the land where nearly 1600 languages are living. Almost all MBA graduates and marketing professionals know the case of Kellogg’s as a brand, which took decades to own a place in the Indian market. They all have dissected the case in and out. They tried to understand why it failed initially, what Indians like for breakfast, what they usually eat, which taste do they prefer and how can they position the brand to appeal to the consumers. However, they all missed one simple thing – they missed exploring the languages they speak.

They ignored the tip of the iceberg.

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Kellogg’s has struggled to stay relevant on the shelves for decades. Somehow, Indians were not buying the idea of ‘corn flakes’. After extensive research, they marketed the same product as ‘Basmati Flakes’ which did well with numbers for a few years. Identifying this make-over, Andre Lefevere, a noted professor and critic, mentioned in his essay ‘Composing the other’ that this change in the name made all the difference. He reminded that even when Indians speak multiple languages, we still have something ‘Indian’ in all our languages and cultures, that nudges people towards belongingness.

India is such a country which is open for any amount of foreignization until it comes domesticated. This is the reason why we love paneer pizza along with coke and we are up for a Meetha-Paan at the end. So, when brands are forced to fish or cut bait like Kellogg’s, it is advised to look up brand linguistics.

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After decades of persistent trials and punctual errors, it got an identity as a good option for breakfast. Of course, the domestication of the name ‘corn flakes’, the positioning and the marketing of the brand, and the introduction of newer flavours helped the brand to find a niche, but it is brand linguistics that held things together – not letting them fall apart. Concurrently, the proof of the pudding is in the eating

Twitter, sandwich, donkey, economics & advertising

Marks + methods - Chicken Blog Post
Marks + methods - Chicken Blog Post

Twitter, sandwich, donkey, economics & advertising

A few tweets made a popular restaurant run out of chicken sandwiches in a week.
Are we missing something here?

Twitter & sandwich

The end of the last decade has shown us what brands actually mean to their followers. Brands meant so much to them that they started a small battle on twitter and ended it as quickly as they started.

In Aug ‘19, Popeyes, an American fast food restaurant chain started making chicken sandwiches for the first time and they posted about this on Twitter. Chick-fil-A, another American fast food restaurant chain, also tweeted about their already famous chicken sandwich claiming that they invented it. Popeyes, being cocky for a while, replied to that tweet whether ‘they’re doing alright’. It all started off on a lighter note but escalated quickly. Fans and followers of both the brands came on board and continued retweeting this issue until it took a ride across the country. Popeyes claimed that their sandwich is the best, which was challenged by Chick-fil-A, which has been making sandwiches for a long time now. Eventually, both the companies sold sandwiches like never before. No amount of advertising has helped them run out of food in their entire lifetime.

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While both the parties occupied the battlefield, a third player entered. It was another American fast food restaurant chain named Wendy’s. With no intention to win the war or conquer the followers of the former, they just tweeted with peace. They said their chicken sandwich is the second best. They tried to have a bite of the market and eventually succeeded. After a week or so, it was reported that Popeyes’ sales soared in a short period and one of its store even ran out of sandwiches one day

The philosophy of the ass

French philosopher Jean Buridan expounded about free will with a hypothetical situation of an ass/donkey that is hungry. He asks, if there are two identical (in appearance & quality) haystacks lying equidistant from the ass, which stack would it choose to eat? For this, the philosopher’s answer is rather sour. Buridan argues that, unable to choose one, the ass dies of hunger. There are other versions of the same paradox with different variables, but the point of interest is about choice between two equal objects and equal forces.

If we read the chicken sandwich story against this philosophy, it appears that when we ought to choose one among two options, we try to evaluate the available options considering different parameters or wait for the conditions – in which we are placed – to change. So, if the object is a sandwich, we will not die of indecisiveness of course, but would choose any one or just walk away disliking both. As an add-on, if we have a third option to evaluate, as in the case of the chicken sandwich ‘tweet war’, what would we do?

The economics of searching

Suppose you decided to change your car, what would you do first? You go see what is trending in the market and you may read some reviews about the options you are considering. Then you may take a test drive and then get home one which pleases you the most. For all this, you spend some money and time. The sum of this money and time is defined as ‘search cost’.

So, at a nano level, suppose you are searching for a good chicken sandwich. Given a chance to decide on one chicken sandwich (so that you need not try different sandwiches later in your life) how much would you spend? Now that there are three options at hand – Popeyes, Chick-fil-A and Wendy’s – one would obviously try all the three and pass their judgement. Because the search cost is too less here, it works. Unlike Buridan’s ass, we settle down with at least one. The search cost helps us to choose between equal looking options.

The argument may seem flimsy but it apparently sold more than anticipated.

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Marketing or advertising or just proper branding?

Now the debate stops at the Wh- questions – the whats, whens and whys. No party in this case advertised extensively but managed to sell what they wanted to sell. People may argue that it is just a momentary marketing technique, which burns out in no time. But isn’t all advertising short-living in nature and isn’t selling the ultimate goal of any advertisement? So, why did tweets work in the place of advertising?

There could be multiple reasons for this to have worked out so well such as the season, the brandscape, history of the respective brands and the brand equity they possess. As professional brand consultants, we see something basic here. It is the presence of these brands on social media and right branding that worked like magic. Brand advocates and followers, who usually hibernate, rise to the occasion to defend their favourite brands as in the case of the chicken sandwich. Advertising may not work all the time but branding does.

Slowly, brands are acknowledging the fact that the brandscape has moved from magazines and billboards to social media.