Brandz Meanz Heinz!Posted by Tom Bristow in blog September 5, 2012
In 1896 an entrepreneur called Henry Heinz took a moment to gaze out of the window of his train as it trundled through New York City, and found his eyes drawn to a billboard advertising shoes. Underneath the shoe brand was a promise that the company provided ‘12 styles’. Super salesman Heinz was intrigued by the idea of promising varieties to strengthen his brand, and decided to adopt a similar slogan for his own products, regardless of how many his company actually produced.
Now, you’ve probably never wondered about the ‘57 varieties’ promise merrily singing out from the label on your ketchup. Or maybe you have, it depends how much excitement you get in your day-to-day life. Regardless, it’s important.
What Heinz based his business on, and what the 57 varieties slogan helped him achieve, was a strong brand. Specifically, one that provided consumers with a trustworthy promise that Heinz’s wares were of a high quality. It also promised just a hint of excitement – the possibility of trying out another 56 Heinz products.
Combining his promise of variety with trust and hardnosed salesmanship, Heinz used his brand to encourage a very significant shift in behaviour. Starting in the US, families increasingly began to depend on processors for their food needs, instead of growing it themselves. During Heinz’s childhood, his mother, Anna, spent long hours preparing food for the family table – including grating and bottling her own horseradish sauce – seen as essential for its taste and healing properties.
Heinz started by mass producing this product, and American housewives were freed of the arduous task of making it at home, reducing the amount of time they had to spend cooking. Horseradish sauce, the condiment of Women’s Liberation.
Trust and quality assurance gave Heinz, and his successors in the food revolution, their edge. His was just one of the first modern brands to change the way people live forever, and for the better. It was America’s newly built railways that made it possible for Heinz to ship his goods all over the country, but shifting his foods far away from his home market made the use of a brand of quality essential.
Developments in communications technology, such as social networking, are the equivalent of Heinz’s railways today. They provide new challenges and opportunities for brands to give us a leg up, and to make money while they do it. However, like Heinz, they need to innovate and create new ways of connecting with people to achieve it.
Futerra’s latest piece of thought leadership – Planet Brands – indexes the 100 companies that could give us positive solutions to the climate change problem. Brands like Unilever and General Electric are already leading the way, bringing in cash selling genuine sustainability. However, what’s different today is that brands cannot simply be content to earn consumers’ trust. We are exposed to thousands of brand messages every day, and most of them fade into the background. Havaz Media found in its meaningful brand index that most of us wouldn’t care if 70% of them disappeared.
The answer is for brands to try harder, to engage with people and forge genuine emotional connections, and maybe even throw us a challenge now and then. Otherwise, brand fatigue could stall their ability to push boundaries. Nike is already making waves in this kind of engagement, using social media to organise huge running events around London. Nike is actually asking us to use its products in the way they are advertised – its marketers previously couldn’t care less if you only used your new shoes to waddle to the chip shop.
If our Planet Brands index represents a call to action, then it is also a gentle reminder to top brands that their position is unsustainable in more than simply environmental terms. On average, a Fortune 500 company only has a life expectancy of 40 to 50 years. As Havaz media concluded, the lucky 30% of brands that consumers do care about are the ones that push boundaries and actually make life better for people – and these will be the ones that survive.
Heinz forged one of the greatest brands in history by forming a strong bond with his customers. When he showed off his wares at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, crowds flocked to his stall to see products that were pretty mundane by today’s standards. With the right vision, and communications, every brand could use sustainable business practice to generate that kind of buzz.
Information on Henry Heinz is taken from Nancy F. Koehn’s brilliant article: “Henry Heinz and Brand Creation in the Late Nineteenth Century: Making Markets for Processed Food.” The Business History Review, 1999.
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September 05, 2012
Interesting! I like blogs that tell me something new… But… can’t help wondering… if Heinz chose ’57′ as the number of varieties on a mere whim, does this suggest that he was being a little economical with the truth? And what does this say about the credibility of brands in general – ‘Planet’ or otherwise?
September 06, 2012
Can you also comment about social sustainability, i.e. sustaining society; how brands / multinational corporations can contribute to this? To sustain society as we know it, we need to nourish community cohesiveness, sense of place and identity, emotional and physical wellbeing, public services, fairness and health. We also need to limit things like status anxiety, inequality, image obsession and so on.