Kraft has rebranded its salad dressing as “anything dressing.” Kellogg’s “Project Signature” is intended to change the way consumers experience breakfast. Both companies are enamored with the ideas, emotions, associations and appearance of their branding.

And both companies are clueless.

You wouldn’t know it from the fawning media coverage that takes even the most inane comments at face value, like when Kellogg’s says its brand has a “powerful and strong relationship in the role it plays in people’s lives.” The industry’s Greek Chorus doesn’t have anything but praise for the “content” yielded by these new strategies, such as Kraft’s faux romantic break-up movie in which a head of lettuce features as a jilted lover.  Every description of these efforts includes all the prerequisite buzzwords, like engagement, leverage, and platform.

Perhaps the problem is that everyone who passes judgment on these efforts has skin in the game, since the media need access and content to talk about, and industry experts want future clients. So nobody speaks the truth.

Kellogg’s literally invented the premise that a bowl of cereal was the right way to start the day over a hundred years ago; the idea emerged from the nutty (sorry) theories of whackjob sanitarium innovator John Harvey Kellogg, and subsequent generations of consumers adopted the routine. Now, the company faces serious challenges. People aren’t eating breakfast, or doing so as regularly as they once did, and when they do eat it they often grab a power bar or gulp a milkshake. The cereal business is horribly competitive, with rising commodity prices and lower retail prices squeezing margins, and criticism of sugar and other ingredients challenging the very ‘healthy’ premise on which Kellogg’s breakfast routine was based.

So the company’s response — the “most significant in [its] 106-year history,” according to the CMO — is to”identify the brand’s core purpose” of unlocking the possibilities of each day, and spend almost a year separating Kellogg’s cereal from Kellogg’s “masterbrand” through graphic design courtesy of pricey consultants Interbrand.


Kellogg’s can’t overcome its very real problems with imaginary brand relationships or any of the picture-perfect branding content it will produce. It needs to reaffirm its functional differences, and if those truths aren’t relevant to today’s consumers, then come up with new ones that are. Enable operational actions first, and only then find ways to communicate the benefits of its products in ways that scream truth, not simply rely on the cheap tool of entertainment or its glib sidekick, authenticity.

Kellogg’s can’t find what its brand means by peering into consumers’ subconsciousness or playing to the Twitter trend of the nanosecond, but rather it must define what it does by understanding what it does. Nobody is going to revive the concept of a sit-down family breakfast because they love the Kellogg brand.

Instead, stay tuned for lots of noise from its Olympic Games sponsorship, as if it can buy its way to truth and relevance by positioning its beautiful branding next to athletes (when the only truth is that it’ll get schwag tickets from its agency partner).

Kraft is clueless in a different way, in that its brain trust confuses means with ends.

The company also recognizes that consumer behaviors are changing, as people are eating healthier which is good news for a maker of salad dressing. Further, since folks are so busy and have less time or interest in preparing real meals, they are looking for ways to quickly make things more palatable, and company research has told it that folks are putting dressing on chicken wings, using it as a dip for vegetables, etc. It’s this second realization that moved the company to rename its salad dressing “Anything Dressing” and create the silly video about abandoning lettuce.

Starbucks did something similar when it dropped “coffee” from its logo, or Blockbuster when it deleted “video.” Kraft is going further, though, and actually blowing up its connection with salads as if that association is so eternally embedded in consumers’ consciousness that it can rely on it. Its advertising literally makes this move into a joke.

So this is supposed to get people using more dressing on other items?

No, it’s intended to get people engaged with content. There’s no strategy to identify, illustrate, enable, or deliver such new and different uses. No brand promises or values. Nothing that dares suggest people actually do something other than be entertained.

Of course, “anything” dressing could be synonymous with “nothing” dressing, and remember that every new use of the product identified by Kraft’s certainly exhaustive research was accomplished while said product was identified for use with salads. The branding didn’t preclude those uses. Instead, maybe it was central to the truth of the product’s benefits and marketing opportunity? Is it possible that the various ends to which the products were and are put has something to do with the brand’s utility (and emotive association) with salads?

Like Kellogg’s, Kraft buys into the “create content and they will come” theology that is inspiring lots of companies to squander their marketing dollars. It would be funny if the consequences weren’t so serious. Both Kraft and Kellogg spent decades building their reputations and the right to be on consumers’ tables. Now they’re both spending that value based on the presumption that consumer decisions are no longer based on truths, benefits, or uses.

Like I said, they’re both clueless.

Original post: