The Press, October 2009

The award for “kraftiest” marketing of 2009? It would have to go to the team behind the launch of the spread formerly known as iSnack 2.0, a cheesy variation on that traditional staple Vegemite.

Last week Kraft, the US multinational that manufactures the product, shelved the iSnack 2.0 name after a huge public backlash. Selected from a list of 48,000 possibilities provided by Australians and New Zealanders in an online competition, iSnack 2.0 was widely ridiculed.

As one Australian journalist wrote, the major question was “how very terrible were the other 47,999 competition submissions that Kraft was left with iSnack 2.0?”60 Facebook groups sprung up against it, Twitter was and is still alive with condemnation and YouTube was peppered with video epitaphs. The passion a humble spread stirred up was incredible.

Kraft responded to the iSnack 2.0 outcry by backing down and returning to the product’s roots to find a more acceptable brand name. Born during the Great Depression of the 1920s as an Australian alternative to the British Marmite product, Vegemite was named after a public competition which offered a 50 pound prize.

The 2009 equivalent produced the more ‘palatable’ name CheesyBite after 33,000 people voted online.

So was it a cock-up or a conspiracy? Conspiracy theories are popular for things like 9/11, but the chances of government agencies being able cook up something like the 9/11 conspiracy are slim given their inability to successfully deliver relatively simple things like health and education. The private sector might be a bit more capable of manipulating us over a yeasty spread.

How else could you explain an apparent blunder of such magnitude? Surely Kraft couldn’t have consciously chosen such an awful and inappropriate name without it being a stunt. They said it was designed to appeal to the young, cool online demographic but they were the very people who shot it down.

The public believe it was a fabrication – an online poll conducted by Australian media company BCM last week had 75% of 1250 respondents convinced the whole affair was cooked up.

Can you blame Kraft? A typical supermarket is estimated to carry 50,000 products, triple what was stocked in 1980. Manufacturers are also racing to introduce products, with thousands of new brands launched onto supermarket shelves each year.

The iSnack 2.0 farce has been a huge success in terms of building awareness for the new product. A huge proportion of punters would now be aware of the product and therefore willing to consider it on the next trip to the supermarket.

Kraft’s timing is also very good. Food manufacturers have increased advertising as recession-battered consumers are staying home more and going back to traditional food products. Food brands are promoting themselves more aggressively to take advantage of this trend making it an ideal time for Kraft to be launching and promoting a new spread.

Of course the whole affair could simply be incompetence by Kraft’s Australian marketing team. According to the New York Times, Kraft’s US-based CEO is trying to devolve more responsibility to its subsidiaries so they can be more flexible and response to the market. I’m not sure this would be an example of what the US bosses were thinking.

The iSnack 2.0 name broke many of the basic principles of naming. Brand names should broadly fit with a customer need. Spreads like Vegemite are about things like family health, looking after your kids, eating healthily – and iSnack 2.0 just doesn’t fit.

There are some other basic rules: a name needs to be memorable, pronounceable, relevant and inoffensive. Whether you’re in a consumer or business market is also a consideration, as is the complexity of your sales process and what sort of promotion you do. For example, in a highly technical business-to-business market with a direct sales model, a descriptive name will be more effective than an abstract one.

Fundamentally though brand naming is it about what experience the product or service delivers for the customer. Whether or not your name is clever or cute matters far less than what perception your customers build of it over time.

I’ve heard experts say Google is a brilliant brand name, but its origins are actually as a misspelt version of ‘googol’ (the number 1 followed by 100 zeroes). As a name it is no better than Webcrawler, Lycos, Excite, GoTo or the many other search engines that have tried and failed. The Google name has become great because the company has given consumers enormous value.

Perhaps if Google had been called CheesySearch or SearchMite it would have been at a disadvantage. The aim with brand naming is get it roughly right i.e. fitting broadly with the customer need you are trying to fulfil. A great experience will do the rest.

At the end of the day that’s what will ultimately ensure the success or otherwise of the newly dubbed CheesyBite. Kraft, intentionally or otherwise, have given it a great start by putting the brand name on everyone’s lips.

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