By Allen P. Adamson
CREATIVE CAPITALISM: BRANDING LESSONS FROM
It would be hard to find anyone who doesn’t think Paul Newman was a super movie star. It would also be hard to find anyone in the marketing business who doesn’t think Paul Newman was a super branding guy.
When he launched his line of Newman’s Own products in 1982, he understood that clearly defining a brand’s purpose would help differentiate it in the minds of consumers, especially in categories as commoditized as those in which he competed, like salad dressing, lemonade, and pasta sauce.
This thought came to me when I read about a concert being held at Avery Fisher Hall with performances by Paul Simon and Trisha Yearwood, Josh Groban, and many others who were coming together to pay tribute to Newman, who died in 2008, and to raise money for his Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a magical place he developed where kids with serious medical conditions can come and play and just be kids. The company’s long-standing and simple purpose is to make stuff that tastes really good and to use the profits to do a really good things for people, like letting kids just be kids. While I admit that it certainly helps to have Paul’s charming, irreverent countenance on all of the brand packaging, I still maintain that there is a lot we can learn from this master of branding that has nothing to do with being a Hollywood idol or a major philanthropist.
To begin with, Newman’s Own is built on a simple, believable promise. The products that Paul concocted with his buddy, author A. E. Hotchner, are his own old family recipes that taste really good. In fact, the company got its start after friends suggested that the two fellows market the delicious salad dressing they had been making and bottling at home and giving out as gifts. The products that followed are also in categories as credible as being homemade. It’s easy to imagine P. L. and A. E., as they billed themselves, hard at it in the kitchen discussing the best recipe for a chocolate chip cookie or a spicy marinara sauce and then donning aprons and getting down to the business at hand. It makes a nifty mental picture.
Also nifty is the way this simple promise has been executed across all points of customer touch, another measure of powerful branding well understood by his company. Everything having to do with the brand has been brought to life in perfect alignment with its promise, starting with the name: Newman’s Own. Having his signature on every wrapper underscores this point. The packaging itself looks like it was designed in the same kitchen in which the food was cooked up—no hint of slickness or artificiality, literal or figurative. Most important is that the food tastes great (although our family pet would have to vouch for the dog food!). And when you’re selling food, ensuring that the taste of the food—the “table stakes”—meets expectations is a given. Delivering on a core competency is another of the basic tenets of smart branding being followed by the folks who successfully carry on in Paul’s stead.
Perhaps most interesting when looking at why the Newman’s Own brand is successful, even after its founder’s passing, is how ahead of his time the actor-brander was in linking his brand promise to its purpose and making this the hallmark of his endeavor. He understood that he needed a purpose for his organization beyond the actual food and the shiny name under which it was marketed. While many companies are philanthropic, especially in this hyper-socially conscious era, Newman’s Own is defined by its philanthropic purpose. Consumers are deeply aware of what the brand stands for, and they care deeply about it, which is central to its continuing success.
Even back in 1982 when the number of product choices and media choices were far fewer, Paul Newman recognized that he couldn’t compete on good-tasting products alone. There had to be another way to differentiate his brand of pretzels and coffee and frozen pizza from all the rest. Good food that does good is how most people think about this brand. Given his cheeky humor, Paul, without any false pretense, put it forward as “Shameless exploitation in pursuit of the common good,” a tagline that’s as on-brand as every other of the company’s branding initiatives.
Now, with all due respect, we are talking about Paul Newman. He got the Sundance Kid to jump off a cliff. He conned Doyle Lonnegan into falling for his sting. He would certainly have been able to get a number of consumers to buy whatever goodies he was selling. However, the point is that he knew he would need more than his baby blues to build and maintain a winning brand. He started with a simple, believable promise that was relevant to people. He made sure this promise was executed brilliantly in all aspects of the branding. And he aligned his promise with a purpose that helped differentiate it in a highly competitive marketplace.
Four years after his death, Paul Newman’s vision for new structure and leader-ship keeps the company’s “shameless exploitation in pursuit of the common good” alive and well. Paul personally donated to charities an average of $9.6 million in after-tax net profits per year during his 25 years as the private benefactor of the company. Recognizing that this unstructured business model was not sustainable without his presence, Paul worked with long-time friend Robert Forrester to establish the Newman’s Own Foundation in 2005.
Since Newman’s death, Forrester has worked, as CEO of the company and president of the foundation, to marry Paul’s whimsical attitude toward business with a more structured model. He is responsible for changes such as replacing the non-existent advertising with the likes of the brilliant, very Paul-esque advertising mentioned earlier. Under the direction of loved ones who carry on Paul’s original vision, values, and spirit through a new business model, the company has a new average donation of $21.5 million per year. The exploitation continues, stronger than ever.
While Paul Newman’s name and stature as a star might have helped at the beginning of the brand’s run, it was adhering to the basic rules of branding that made this company a star on supermarket shelves.
This excerpt posted to aef.com with permission. To purchase The Edge, visit amazon.com.
Allen P. Adamson
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved.