Name the brands associated with the following:

  1. Walk into a restaurant and hear, “Welcome to…”
  2. Airline associated with peanuts.
  3. Warm gooey cookie served at check-in.
  4. Pink Cadillac
  5. Pink everything
  6. Blimp piloted by Snoopy
  7. Slice of lime in the beer bottle neck.
  8. Split your cookie before eating.
  9. Toy packaged with your burger

Here’s some brand trivia to go with the above:

  1. When Marvin Sprock launched Moe’s Southwest Grill he described the new burrito-building concept as “a Mexican Subway.”
  2. Southwest originally marketed itself as the “peanut airline” (meaning you fly for “peanuts”) and gave out brand-messaged peanuts on every flight.
  3. DoubleTree by Hilton gives out approximately 77,000 chocolate chip cookies each day adding up to more than 28 million cookies annually.
  4. Since 1969, Mary Kay claims that over 100,000 consultants have earned the use of a Mary Kay Pink Cadillac.
  5. In 1991, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation gave out pink ribbons to every participant in its New York City race. Ribbons as symbols of hope originated during the Iran hostage crisis. Today, hundreds of pink products are sold each October supporting the cause.
  6. The MetLife Blimp is the most recognized blimp in the country, covering approximately 70 televised events a year.
  7. Outside of Mexico, Corona is commonly served with a wedge of lime or lemon in the neck of the bottle to add tartness and flavor. One myth (of several) is that the lime was used for sanitary purposes back when modern hygiene was minimal in Mexico.
  8. According to Nabisco, 84 percent of men eat the Oreo cookie whole, while 41 percent of women pulled the cookie apart.
  9. When the manager of a Guatemalan McDonald’s introduced a kid menu, the kid concept made its way to the corporate ad agency. The agency CEO designed the Happy Meal package after observing his kids’ fascination with cereal boxes.

Standardized greetings, limes, and gooey cookies create strong brand connections for customers. Taken together, these are brand rituals.

Brand rituals offer tactile, visceral ways to engage with a brand. When I hear putter-putter in the sky, I instinctively sense the MetLife blimp overhead. Likewise, I can taste the cookie before I even enter a DoubleTree (Did you know? “Since 1995, Christie Cookie Company has been the keeper of our secret cookie recipe.” Okay, DoubleTree, don’t push it; you’re not Coca Cola.)

And for the record, keeping the Coke formula a super-duper classified secret in a special branded vault is totally a brand ritual!

We associate brand rituals with big budget, agency-driven national brands, but brand rituals can help every brand connect. Let me share a story:

Years ago, I was in the marketing department of CheckFree Corporation. Twice a week, Denise, the owner of a local quick-print shop would bring a box of Krispy Kreme donuts to our department. “Got anything for me?” she would ask. Invariably, we gave her some business cards or something simple to print. We had no idea what her actual printing capabilities were, just that she always came with donuts and provided over-and-above service.

Little by little, we gave “the donut lady” bigger jobs and before long she was printing and brokering a sizeable chunk of our corporate printing. One day I went out to the parking lot and noticed the back seat of her car stacked with donuts – she literally built her business through a brand ritual – donuts.

Similarly, our little community bank installed a corn popper just inside the front door. Everyone in town referred to Decatur First as “the popcorn bank.” If you missed lunch, making an afternoon deposit could keep you going.

When we performed a brand revamp for the Wing Zone restaurant chain, we re-focused the brand on flavor. We discovered that in addition to saucing your wings, the cook would swirl your burger or chicken patty in lemon pepper, garlic parmesan, and other sauces if you asked. Ah ha! We turned this into Wing Zone’s signature brand ritual: “Flavor Fuze™” i.e. wing flavors on everything.

The golden era of brand rituals emerged with airline competition in the go-go sixties. In 1965 Braniff launched the “Air Strip” featuring a Pucci-designed uniform with several layers that would be removed during a flight — vavavoom!

Not wanting to be outdone as sex objects, the National Airlines “Fly Me” campaign mandated attendants to wear suggestive “Fly Me” buttons during in-flight service.

In another stunt, Braniff placed a clock at the front of each cabin. Prior to take-off the flight attendant would set a second set of clock hands at the scheduled arrival time. If the flight landed 15 minutes after that time, attendants would hand out Fast Buck tokens. When one of the planes crashed, lawyers sued the airline claiming that the pilot raced to land in bad weather to avoid the payout.

Some brand rituals are concocted (“Welcome to Moe’s”). Others emerge organically as part of the product or culture (Splitting an Oreo). The creative challenge is to discover the inherent gold in your brand and flaunt it.

Bruce Miller
Miller eMedia | Messaging and Media to Grow Your Brand