Monday, 28 March 2011

♔ Altoids® and Branding Authenticity

For any number of reasons, despite constantly shifting trends, styles and distractions, the Altoids brand has remained curiously strong since the reign of King George III, (referring to the high concentration of peppermint oil used).  It stems to reason then that Altoids digital agency (Big Spaceship) might suggest that Altoids celebrate their centuries of authenticity. 

CelebratING Authenticity 
Big Spaceship's campaign focused on finding meaningful ways to "honour genuineness in the digital space". 
 Rather than boast their own confidence, Altoids would honor authenticity by spotlighting those who stayed strong and unchanged, despite pressure to do otherwise.  Each week featured a site on their homepage that represented a person or group who followed their own path. Altoids highlighted the site, allowed fans to share it across social networks, discuss it on Facebook, and explore past featured selections. Fans were also invited to submit their favorite authentic sites, groups and people. essentially became a compendium of the authentic.

Spotlighting groups of craft swappers, a jet-setting museum lover and even a man who builds robots in his garage, Altoids message "follow your own path, and stay true to yourself". In other words, remain “Curiously Strong.”  

Alongside their celebration of authenticity, Big Spaceship highlighted another facet of the brand's steadfastness with Tune Out, a mobile and desktop application that lets users tune out the noise and tune in to their favorite people on Facebook (and Twitter.)

Strategy REDUX
In an increasingly shiny, fabricated world of spun messages and concocted experiences, where nearly everything we encounter is created for consumption, elevating a brand above the fray requires an uncommon mix of creativity and discipline. And nowhere do you see the challenge more starkly illustrated than in the quest for authenticity. "Authenticity is the benchmark against which all brands are now judged," notes John Grant in The New Marketing Manifesto. Or as Seth Godin quips in Permission Marketing: "If you can fake authenticity, the rest will take care of itself." Playing the authenticity game in a sophisticated way has become a requirement for every marketer, because the opposite of real isn't fake--it's cynicism. When a brand asserts authenticity in a clumsy way, it quickly breeds distrust or, at the very least, disinterest.

Both the promise and the peril of "getting real" are, indeed, very real. "Authentic" is derived from the Greek authentikós, which means "original." And unfortunately, there's no recipe for originality. Each brand must build its own primary source code for the authentic. Still, there are some larger lessons (and pitfalls) that anyone charged with overseeing a brand would be wise to consider.  Driving authenticity may be deemed necessary, but it cannot be compelled.  And therein lies an authentic paradox: A brand doesn't feel real when it overtly tries to make itself real.

Authenticity also constantly requires reinforcement, and it can come from a number of sources: craftsmanship, timeliness, and relevance. But it is a brand's values--the emotional connection it makes--that truly define its realism.

‘Curiously Strong’ versus ‘Authentic’

Ubiquity might not be toxic to authenticity, but it certainly dilutes it. When a brand spreads far beyond its home turf, its branches almost invariably (though not inevitably) weaken.  Therefore, while extending consumers a message of ‘authenticity’ is not a bad idea per se (it’s all revealed in the execution), we suspect the ‘curiously strong’ message would have been much easier to demonstrate and reinforce.  More importantly, it’s a stronger somatic marker then simply reinforcing the brands two hundred year pedigree.

Certainly to maintain its integrity, Altoids must remain true to its values. However, to be relevant--or cool--the brand must be as dynamic as change itself.  Any authentic brand reconciles those two conflicting impulses, and finds ways to be original within the context of its history.
From a strategic standpoint both messages (authenticity and strength) are relevant, however, ask yourself whether Altoids is really differentiated in its space more by being authentic or being strong?  We’d suggest the later.  Therefore, any/all brand communications should strive to reinforce ‘strength’ and create an emotional connection between the strength of Altoids and the positive results.  One could further surmise that Altoids has remained essentially unchanged for 200 years because men have essentially remained unchanged for 200 years.  The need for a stronger breath mint has never disappeared.  Therefore, creating a campaign that allowed consumers to both evidence and reinforce the many ‘authentic’ situations where a stronger breath mint is still required today is likely more memorable, reinforcing and easier demonstrated. 

Why?  Simply because then the consumer is looking to emotionalize, reinforce, and evidence the products primary differentiation whether comforting or fearful.  As this engagement is aimed at the limbic brain it stimulates emotional reactions.  These feelings are then linked to the perception of the product. This is how emotional reactions influence attitudes and values (as they affect our attitude about the product being sold before the cortical brain even knows what is being sold.)  Reinforcing messaging as to what is ‘authentic’ in comparison is a broader and more convoluted expression ---as it means entirely different things to everyone, while not really paying off the brands core value. 

Can you be authentic when you're trying to be authentic? By definition, isn’t everything authentic? While certainly powerful in its meaning and association, it’s also a tenet that is being utilized and reinforced by so many brands today, its diluted immediately (by definition). With so many brands claiming to be authentic, all are seemingly discredited.  Any Altoids campaign or promotion should therefore seek to influence consumers without their conscious awareness of having been influenced.  The ‘curiously strong’ message is the perfect vehicle to do this.

What does it mean then to be curiously strong?  What is the real value of things that are curiously strong in unique situations?  Confucius said to never ‘use a cannonball to kill a mosquito’ - however there must be situations in our lives where ignoring this pragmatic wisdom is a lifesaver.  

Imagine a campaign that evidenced the other things in our lives that added real value that are curiously strong?  What are things in the consumer’s lives that are curiously strong yet necessary?  Bear spray, Shark repellant, a first-aid kit; essentially all the things in life that we may not always use, but should always have them nearby in case we need to use them.  By encouraging consumers to identify and evidence these things in their own lives, they are (subconsciously and repeatedly) attributing the same unique value to Altoids (while this attribution slips undetected under the radar of critical judgment.)  The value proposition is deemed real and associated.  Moreover, what also becomes real are the experiences and the connections that Altoids facilitate – like having the opportunity to talk to an attractive person even after we’ve eaten an entire garlic-laden Donair. 

Just our two-cents of course, however focusing on the ‘Curiously Strong’ message versus the ‘Authenticity’ affords a far more relevant, powerful (and sustainable) way to shape consumers perceptions.  What do you think?