Eat Cheese or Die: Building Brand Fans

Locked out of the bathroom where my sister is layering on makeup, her friend and I are bonding by blasting Youtube videos on my Mac: “The Coastie Song” (238,000 views), “The Sconnie Song” (94,000 views), “Minnesota Gurls” (1,828,000), “Teach Me How to Bucky” (1,822,000 views). We assert “bubblers” are a very natural thing to call a drinking fountain, and roll our eyes at those “‘Sotans” who just don’t get it…I mean, duck, duck, grey goose? That’s just plain wrong.

The episode reminds me of my summer in New York as a PR intern, hopping to networking hours looking for opportunities and my Sex and The City fourpack. At one event I met a girl who had studied at UW Madison and found myself bonding over the disheartening lack of batterfried cheese on the island, or 6+ blond men with haythrowing shoulders. We inevitably made a pilgrimage to Mad River, the Upper East Side oasis for the wasting waistlines of Badger alumni holding onto that experience that had bound them all: Buckying in the bleachers as they cheered on the best of the Big 10.

Outsiders speak of “fans” or “cults”, as in the Cult of Mac, but marketing insiders understand one of the most powerful branding motivations is the desire to belong. Whenever we meet someone new we are looking for commonalities which will allow us to build a bond. Without these, instinct says the outsider is “competition”, for resources, mates, space, the spotlight. If we find those commonalities however, we recognize them as part of our pack. This can as simple as a shared experience.

I’ve used this example before, a reference to the Mad Men Kodak scene, where character Draper describes the “potency of nostagia”, a “reminder of a place we ache to return”. Recently, beer companies have been moving away from the funny, booby, wacky ads towards experiential ads. These ads showcase the great times friends are having together and add in the beer almost subtly, as if to say “Just a reminder, our beer was there too.” The brand becomes part of the pack.

Another example are the 4G phone commercials showing moments captured and shared through instant downloads. Scenes include stealing the other football teams mascot, buying a cake for a coworker who just announced they were leaving and a flashmob. They take fun, real experiences from life and make the product a participant in the experience. The viewer connects the goodtime feelings with the brand.

Eat Cheese or Die was almost the slogan for Wisconsin. The “Dairy State”, or “Land of Lakes” was once “America’s Bread Basket”, an agricultural state which had been leveled of trees by immigrant farmers and turned into fields of wheat. Later the uneven land was filled with dairy farms and a council was put together to “rebrand” with a catchy slogan which would convey the state’s value add.

Needless to say, “Eat Cheese or Die” was not chosen to represent the state’s brand. Somehow the council didn’t think the image of the goodhearted Midwestern dairy farmer using Old World cheese making artisanry would appeal to national consumers under duress. Sitting on a barstool on the Upper East Side of Manhattan however, I have no doubt there are a few red and white-blooded top business school grads who would raise a Honey Kugel to their brand “Eat Cheese or Die”.

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