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Posted on Harvard Business Review: March 1, 2011 10:57 AM
Miracle Whip's latest campaign is intended to be provocative. "Are You Miracle Whip?" asks us to take sides: do you love the not-quite-mayonnaise or hate it?
Some commentators like Robert Passikoff think that encouraging people to hate a brand is a risky move, but in reality the campaign is simply following a tried-and-tested approach to consumer engagement, one that is ideally suited to today's social media. Whether it is baseball, Justin Bieber's new haircut, or brands, people love to take sides and argue their case.
Miracle Whip's campaign features its own YouTube channel that solicits feedback from the brand's lovers and haters. As it states "If it's unfettered hatred, that's cool. We know we're not for everyone. We just ask you let it out on the right. And if you love us? Well, we love you too. Confess it on the left." The TV ads are nicely tongue-in-cheek, featuring, among others, political guru James Carville (lover) and "Jersey Shore" star Pauly D (hater).
American by citizenship but British by culture, I cannot judge whether people really love Miracle Whip enough to make this campaign to truly go viral. For this approach to create the buzz the brand undoubtedly craves, it must evoke passion not just passing interest. If it does then this is a campaign that could run and run.
When it comes to evoking passionate debate British brand Marmite has proven controversy can help build buzz and sales. This brown savory spread made from yeast extract has an incredibly distinctive flavor. 15 years ago Marmite's own "Love It or Hate It" campaign evolved out of a difference of tastes among the creative team at DDB London. One loved the brown, savory spread and one hated it. The campaign's longevity and fame reflects the fact that even in its country of origin, the brand's strong taste is "challenging." (Few Americans can even stand the idea of Marmite and it is questionable whether many Brits would if they had not been introduced to the taste as children.)
One of the original and most memorable ads in Marmite's Love It or Hate It campaign was "Apartment," aired in 1999. It features an young couple in passionate embrace. But the clinch ends abruptly as the young man gags. The ad ends with the now famous super, "You either love it or hate it."
The "Love it or Hate It" campaign brought to an end five years of stagnating sales and a weakening brand and led to sustained, penetration-led growth of around 5% each year for the next five years.
When sales once again started to slow in 2002 the campaign idea proved flexible enough to help revive the brand's fortunes once again. The campaign was enlisted to introduce a new, "squeezy" container and extend usage to sandwiches. Messing with a much loved brand is never easy, but astute brand management involved ardent fans with the relaunch and enlisted another British icon, Paddington Bear, to bring the brand back to growth. In 2010, the brand spoofed the British elections. Love and Hate parties battled it out to either build a shrine to the brand or rename it "Tarmite."
The fact that people are so passionate about the brand (for or against) means that Marmite's "Love It or Hate It" campaign is a natural fit with social media. According to Contagious Magazine, some 200,000 fans were already on Facebook as self-declared Marmite lovers long before the official page was launched in 2008.Today the brand has a fully fledged social media presence with over 500,000 people liking the brand and 182,000 liking The Marmite Hate Party (Dedicated to Stop the Spread of Marmite by reducing, and ultimately terminating, its production and consumption).
Will Miracle Whip be able to replicate Marmite's success? It is certainly off to a good start with over 63,000 likers on Facebook. For me, ex-Brit that I am, the Miracle Whip campaign is likely to remain a pale imitation of Marmite's. But does it really matter that the Miracle Whip campaign is such a close copy of Marmite's? Of course not. Tapping into people's instinctive desire to take sides provides a platform that both brands can build on. The two are clearly separated by geography as well as culture so few people in the U.S. are likely to recognize that the Miracle Whip campaign is derivative. And even if they do, it will not stop them having their say provided the passion is there.
Nigel Hollis is Executive Vice President and Chief Global Analyst at brand research consultancy Millward Brown, and author of The Global Brand: How to Create and Develop Lasting Brand Value in the World Market.
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