The power of brand assets: Rudi ist zurück!

Never change a winning team or, in Heineken’s case, the winning horse. The pub terraces are finally opening again and Heineken has brought out its winning horse. Iconic ski instructor Rudi – Remember that “Heeee, Biertje” commercial from 2002? – dusted off and reintroduced on April 20th immediately after the cabinet announced the easing of the lockdown measures. The result is the #Heteerstebiertje (the First Beer) campaign.

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Heineken has planted this well-known brand asset seed to give us a little nudge in the right direction for the reopening on 28 April. They want to see as many happy faces on the pub terraces as possible, ideally with Heineken on their minds. All consumers are urged to join in and mark their first beer (#heteerstebiertje) by snapping and sharing pictures of this memorable occasion via social media. Sure, we’re only allowed to enjoy a cold beverage until six o’clock but let’s savour the moment: “I’ll have one of those beers, please!”

How Brands Grow

Why is this campaign such a success? Everything comes together. The timing (the pub terraces are reopening), the two old brand assets (the well-known ‘Biertje?’ slogan and Rudi, the ski instructor) and a clear call-to-action. Order, enjoy and, above all, share your enjoyment. In other words; creating social proof and copying behavior: everyone is doing it, so join in! Buying the product could not be made easier. Byron Sharp would be satisfied. His mantra, after all, is: Make it easy to buy.

If you want people to recall, consider and buy your brand more often, you need to build the mental availability of your brand. This can be done by claiming a relevant situation in the daily life of the consumer and by linking this to a strong brand asset. Finally, the product (beer here) must be easy to buy: physical availability (finally we can order it at the pub again!). If the complete picture is relevant for a large group of people (a.k.a. 'mainstreamness'), everyone can potentially recall, consider and buy you. The end result is: brand growth. That’s the theory of How Brands Grow in a nutshell.

What are brand assets?

Once etched into our minds, Distinctive Brand Assets (DBAs) – the meaningless perceptual elements that make consumers recall a brand – are unforgettable. The red star, the green letters, a moving “e”, Rudi’s famous pub entrance and his trademark catchphrase ‘Biertje?’: they can only represent one brand. Without the right context or occasions to buy your product (a.k.a. Category Entry Points [CEPs]), they neither mean nor communicate much. But linked to a relevant situation – the first snow, a Champions League match or the very first order on a sunny terrace after a year without pubs or restaurants – the brand asset is a perfect trigger for activating the mental network of Heineken.

As the consumer’s brain is primarily on efficiency and avoiding stress – being bombarded daily with thousands of commercial messages – your brand must be easily and intuitively recognisable. A pay-off, a spokesperson, a jingle or even a scent can be a powerful and automatic brand activator. Do some DBAs work better than others? Yes, Jenni Romaniuk describes them in the third How Brands Grow book: Building Distinctive Brand Assets.

A brand has more chance of being spotted if you cover more senses, and when you do so in a unique manner. Think of communication styles (RedBull’s comic strip characters), funny (Fido Dido of 7Up), a sound (the ‘plop’ of the Grolsch swing top bottle) or a product's shape Tony’s Chocolonely unevenly segmented chocolate bars). Scent is another extremely powerful implicit

trigger. Ever been to Abercrombie & Fitch store? You will most likely leave it in a cloud of musky perfume, having unintentionally just become a living A&F sandwich board. These types of assets communicate distinctiveness much more strongly than, for instance, logos or brand colours. They work, independent of a category or culture and are therefore universally effective.

Colours and logo elements are often confused with what are sometimes called ‘category codes’: these are generic assets that are limited in number and often synonymous for a specific industry, or a trend in that industry. In the energy market, for instance, the colour green, windmills and the sun all stand for clean renewable power (a.k.a. sustainability). Apart from having only temporary significance, everyone uses these generic signals, which deprives them of all distinctive strength. So think out of the box for a change!

Stick to your best racehorse

Most large brands have just two, at most three, really strong brand assets. These DBAs are effective because they are widely known (Fame), specific to a single brand (Uniqueness) and long-lasting. Nevertheless, brand assets are changed with some regularity. A new marketeer or creative director may, for instance, want to put their signature on the brand. As a result, brand assets are pimped, tweaked, forgotten or even transformed beyond recognition. Often with disastrous results. Mistakes like which can cost companies millions.

The fruit juice brand Tropicana made such a faux pas in 2009. The brand has existed since 1947 and felt it was time for something new. The orange on the pack with its red-and-white straw was looking a little out dated, so it was completely discarded. An entirely new packaging design was launched with an elaborate story. Within a month the whole operation was called off. Tropicana had insufficiently realised how important consistency is and how recognisable the ‘old-fashioned’ packaging was. People were no longer able to find ‘their’ Tropicana on the shelves and left the store with a different brand costing the company 65 million dollars in revenue.

Measure to Manage

Heineken and brands such as Ohra (who dusted off their purple “ administrative nuisance” crocodile) and Duracell (briging back the energy bunny) know the power of well-chosen brand assets. But there are still lessons to be learned.

Our own research among 35 Dutch brands revealed, for instance, that the asset brand sound is in poor shape in the Netherlands. A mere 3 sounds are immediately linked to their correct brand, and even then by fewer than half of consumers (n=1000). No less than 20 sounds activate the wrong brand more often than the correct brand after 3 seconds of listening. We also saw that assets are sometimes unwisely discarded. The Grolsch ‘plop’ is a case in point. Our research shows that many consumers still fondly – and strongly – associate this sound with the brand. Why is it no longer being used, or even promoted? This is ideal comeback material, is it not?

Like Romaniuk, we see that some assets work better than others. For sound, five tested variations – jingles, audio logos, a sound, tune and song – show that jingles and audio logos get the highest recognition scores. A jingle is a commercial tune with a sung catchphrase that is specifically composed for the brand. One well known example is ‘I’m loving it’ by McDonalds. An audio logo is the sound variant of a visual logo: ‘Jammajajajippiejippiejee’ … This man-cave yell of DIY store Hornbach was the best scoring brand out of 35 sounds. Who would have guessed.

To make assets work for your brand you need to know what assets you own, which ones are distinctive, and which are consciously (or, better yet, subconsciously) ingrained in the consumer’s mind. Heineken nailed it in resurrecting Rudi to mark the reopening of the terraces of Dutch pubs. Such opportunities don’t occur every day. And Heineken obviously planned this choice very carefully. You can also be one step ahead of the market. By measuring which brand assets are already strongly linked to your brand (or your competitors’ brands), you can make strategic choices about when and where you can best deploy which asset.

In short: Get to know your winning team (and its best horse) and stick with it.

Want to know how much impact your assets have?