Every brand needs an anthem. Most settle for a humdrum mission statement or competitive benchmark instead.

In my recent “Brand Laddering” cartoon, I parodied brands that stretch too far beyond believability, trying to make corn chips stand for world peace. I think there’s just as much to make fun of with brands that don’t try to stand for anything at all.

Too often we define our brands only by how we stack up versus our competition. The Fast Food market works this way. Brands typically pivot off of each other, claiming Cheaper, Bigger, Tastier, etc. Taco Bell asked consumers to Think Outside the Bun. Quiznos introduced Toasty as a point of difference versus Subway.

Chipotle traditionally marketed like every other Fast Food restaurant, with billboard ads like this one focused on big burritos.

Yet Chipotle made waves at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity a couple weeks ago with the following anthem called “Back to the Start”. In a simple animation voiced by Willy Nelson, Chipotle elevated their ingredient sourcing story to a rally cry on how our culture sources food as a whole.

Having an anthem inspires, not only our consumers, but everyone on our extended teams who touch the brand.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away one signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. I’ll pick one comment. Thanks!)

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11 Comments

  1. Lawrence says:

    Interestingly enough, I have seen far too many companies that have been able to get away with this strategy because 1) they have the cash to outlast most emerging technologies 2) the have the cash to buy out the winners of the bloodbath that ensues when competition for new markets and consumer engagement is waged.

    I will say that the companies that have been able to surmount radical change are those who have been able to drive internal adherence to the new vision by ensuring all aspects of their businesses are focused towards the same goals. It’s not enough to have Marketing chant the new direction. Every business units right down the the front line customer service representative have to embrace it as well!

    Keep up the excellent work Tom! It’s such a treat to follow your work!

  2. Dan Thornton says:

    Oddly enough when I’d been working for myself for a while I decided to co-opt a song as an anthem for what I’m doing and striving for…

    In my case it was ‘The Cause’ by NOFX. I haven’t gone as far as playing it every morning, but it definitely helps to keep me motivated..

  3. Lisa Whalley-Smith says:

    A company needs a mission statement so that they have a target to reach and therefore a path to follow. Every piece of activity should take them one step further along that path and closer to their target. A company should be aware of their competitors and the possible impact they may have on their journey but must provide something that is unique that differentiates them from their competition. Not always easy! This is where brand building comes into play – building brand equity and ultimately a level of loyalty so that consumers choose that company’s product or service over s competitor.

  4. Steve Troncoso says:

    I think the this post and the laddering post speak to an interesting dichotomy. You do need parts of the brand that are timely and some that are timeless. For timeless, I would say a vision statement or something that is a bit aspirational is appropriate. You want to strive for something a little bigger. Maybe not always ending in world piece but it is good to strive for something beyond the bottom line. For the timely part, the mission is a great place to start (as noted above). You need to act/talk in a certain ways to move you in the right direction. This may change. As we’ve seen with companies like Apple, they have always set out to think differently and provide simple elegant design and user interfaces, but before they were just a computer company…now they are much more. I am sure that on the inside they had to adjust their “mission” or 5-10 year plan to see what else they want to achieve to further realize their vision.

    This post is important because it shows the need for both components. One of the major constants, which it looks like Chipotle has done, is to make sure it is believable and authentic to who YOU are …not who you are not.

    Thanks for listening :) Love the site, Tom!

  5. Jim Brashear says:

    Most mission statements are like the daily astrology column; they sound nice but mean absolutely nothing. Google might as well drop “Don’t be evil” and adopt “We’re Capricorns.”

    A mission statement has different purposes than a marketing message. The entire organization needs to rally around around one mission statement, but an organization can have multiple marketing messages targeting different demographic groups. The key for both is a simple, clear, credible, memorable phrase that inspires the target audience.

  6. Bill Carlson says:

    What resonates from the responses here is the idea that a brand needs a balance — Steve says it well by referring to timely and timeless. And Jim points out what I would have said which is mission statements are one of those things which aren’t well understood and even then, aren’t the same thing as positioning, messaging and overall marketing strategies.

    Anyway, first comment is that I don’t have a problem with the strategy in the cartoon (uh-oh, there goes any chance of finding a client here!). Wait! Let me finish — provided they stick to it consistently AND add the word “better” in there somewhere. Sure, I know all the arguments on this, no lectures needed, but for some companies this would be an improvement over flitting from one approach to another to another without investing enough or allowing enough time for any one of them to actually deliver results.

    Secondly, sometimes we may get consumers thinking harder than intended… The Chipotle video got me thinking about going vegan! (Refer to the “law of unintended consequences.” :)

    Loftier claims/messages need to stand up to scrutiny and some will ask if it is being consistently applied. In this case, for example, someone will eventually be asking if the vegetables are grown organically and if not, cry foul (not “fowl” ;)… In a market where even a small number of consumers can infest social media and get disproportionate attention and response (okay, some bias there), this could be one of those things which turns into a headache.

    To that point, Taco Bell’s campaign always struck me as elegantly smart AND simple, actually. Consumers in a fast food frame of mind who are conditioned to fast-food burgers and competitive claims like “bigger” burgers, “different combinations of ingredients” burgers, stack-of-burgers, etc. are being encouraged to consider a completely different fast food category.

    All without getting pretentious like trying to connect eating Mexican food with improved international relations that increases the potential of world peace… :) (But if anyone steals the idea, happy to provide address for royalties!)

  7. Gina says:

    I listened to this early this morning in my kitchen. My bleary-eyed husband walked out and said, do I hear Willie Nelson singing Cold Play? This is really awesome on many levels. It’s simple, warm-hearted and powerful. And the music is perfect – Willie represents older generation values and authentic “farm” feel, Cold Play brings in the younger audience – probably more of Chipotle’s demo – and makes it revolutionary. LOVE it (probably because it combines passions of mine – good marking and real food). Bummer for Chipotle is that their ingredients really do differentiate them but they continue to play the “us too but better” game because Fat America responds to “bigger.” So they really have a differentiator but either research or a scardy cat marketer is preventing them from being consistent with it. I LOVE this comic and analogy, you are very talented Tom!

  8. Larry Burns says:

    Just completed reading a simple, short, and quite brilliant ‘book’ by Umair Hauque; Betterness: Economics for Humans (Kindle Single, ebook) (Harvard Business review Press – published 12/19/11).

    I would highly recommend it to all of us in the marketing space and frankly in the executive suite as well. It challenges our foundation assumptions about “business” as defined by the ‘paradigm’ that has come to exist over the past no more than 150 years or so. The one that says ever increasing profits and financial capital and measurements are the be all and end all to everything we, as businesses, do.

    I actually found it remarkable that in one LGA to ORD flight so many of my belief systems, that frankly, I had already been struggling with could be crystallized so elegantly. How about instead of “vision” we have a company “ambition”, instead of a Mission Statement how about a company “intention’ and within the 6 short chapters Umair goes on in tremendously recognizable ways to do what Tom often does in a panel – make us wake up and smell the “BS”.

    I could go on and on and will in a blog post of my own – but Tom, again thank you for pointing out one repeatedly true issue with “mission statements” – far too often they are NOT something that inspires humans toward a useful goal. We’ve all seen this lead fairly directly to disengagement or worse apathy. Conversely we have seen such work on mission/vision actually produce a desired effect. Of course a company or brand needs a direction, a reason to come to work in the morning (and trust me I have been directly involved in writing MANY) but I have always felt far too often all the effort yielded something that was ‘good work’ and ‘well crafted’ but somehow lacking.

    There are many things afoot in our rapidly changing world – the move to ‘local’, the questioning of “too big”, the creation and/or destruction of a middle class, values, sustainability, contributions to society, and the list could goe on and on. I suspect brands and companies that aspire to have a rational ambition may do better than this ‘toon suggests or the corn chip = world peace ‘toon a awhile back.

    As humans we do seek to aspire to something greater than ‘increase shareholder value’ – the trick moving onward in the 21st century is how do companies/brands reflect a real interest in humans as people. Maybe a seemingly simple yet damnably hard first step is to try hard to drop the lexicon of “consumers” from our vocabulary. Try it and you’ll discover hard it is to have a marketing conversation without placing all of the unique people you are actually trying to impact into the semi-amorphous blob at the end of a production line, there but to buy, buy, buy and consume. When in fact if you ask people what they are here in their lives very few would say “to merely consume the output of the massive industrial complex”.

    Before any of the trolls leap upon my back – I am a CEO, a “job creator” if you will, a firm supporter of capitalism (until someone shows me something better that actually works), and I have no qualms about achieving monetary rewards for hard work and effort.

    I just am wondering if perhaps we are reaching a tipping point to step back and ask – is there perhaps a better way? Just sayin’

  9. Allen Roberts says:

    Tom,
    Once again, you have “nailed it”
    Great cartoon, more proof, if any more was needed that a picture tells a thousand words.
    Allen

  10. Mariano says:

    Are you in the office besides mine? I didn’t know we worked in the same company !!!!

  11. tomfishburne says:

    Hi all,

    Wow, thanks for taking the time to voice your thoughts on my cartoons. I love the conversation that’s happening in these comments. I always learn so much from you. This week’s cartoon print winner is Steve Troncoso. I love the insight around timely and timeless.

    -Tom

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