How does your brand taste?

Why every single brand of detergent, insurance, refrigerator, light bulb, motor oil, plant food, semiconductor, investment counselor, industrial robot manufacturer, disposable dust mop and galvanized roofing nail needs “taste copy”.

When I was a young copywriter I had the privilege of working on several Anheuser-Busch beer brands (to be clear, I was one of a small army of copywriters and art directors sharing that privilege). One of the great parts of that job was attending Beer School, where we learned about the magic of beechwood aging, what several tons of hops and malted barley smell like (delicious), what a barn full of Clydesdales smell like (also, surprisingly delicious) and the difference between lager and pilsner

One of the not-so-great parts of that job, at least to a young copywriter’s way of thinking, was being forced to internalize the sacred mantras of the Anheuser-Busch brands’ “taste copy.”

Each A-B brand had a set of words – mostly adjectives – that were used to describe the particular flavor of that particular brand. Budweiser was always “distinctively crisp and clean.” Michelob was always “smooth and mellow”. Michelob Light was always “rich and smooth.”

Those words were to appear in that order in every piece of communication, whether it was a TV commercial or a coupon ad. And woe betide the high-spirited, creative puppy who took it upon him or herself to “improve” on that copy.

Of course, at the time, being high-spirited, young creative puppies, we rankled under these rules. Wasn’t it our job to push hard against this boundary? Wasn’t it our duty to rend and sunder rules like these?

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Every Anheuser-Busch brand had a set of pre-approved adjectives that described that brand’s unique taste. This “taste copy” was sacrosanct

In fact, no, it wasn’t.

Especially not if we ever wanted to see our work produced. So, we all grumbled and made dark, cynical jokes and “crisped” and “mellowed” until our fingers grew numb on the gray keys of our beige IBM Selectrics.

Whether they tasted “rich and smooth”, “smooth and mellow” or “crisp and clean”, as a young copywriter, Anheuser-Busch’s mandatory taste copy made me nuts. As a not-so-young branding strategist, I find it not only darned smart, but an idea that’s well worth stealing.

So, flash forward a few decades and witness this former, high-spirited creative puppy beseeching clients to work with their researchers, planners and creatives to craft, agree on and enforce the “taste copy” for every brand.

Taste copy for every brand of what? Every brand of everything.

As young creatives, all we could see was that the fascistically-dictated taste copy prevented us from stretching our creative wings and describing Michelob as “brisk and refreshing.” What we didn’t see was all the good things the taste copy did:

  • It stopped territorial squabbles between client-side brand teams before they could even start. Budweiser owned crisp and clean. Michelob owned smooth and mellow. Period. There was nothing to discuss. Dismissed. Go sell more beer.
  • It streamlined the work because nobody at the agency or the client got bogged down reacting to focus groups’ opinions about whether or not Michelob Light really tasted “rich”. It did. It said so in the taste copy.
  • And, perhaps best of all, at least from a pure, marketing standpoint, the taste copy enforced consistency of message across all media. And this is where the concept becomes especially relevant today.

Back when I was pecking out the fifteenth variation on This Bud’s For You, “across all media” pretty much meant TV, radio, outdoor and print. Now it means all that plus web, earned, viral, social, guerrilla, buzz and body art. Which is terrific. But since creating content for each of those media can conceivably be handled by a different set of people, enforcing a consistent description of your product, what it does, how it works and what it stands for begins to look a lot less like creative handcuffs and a lot more like common sense.

Please. Use the handcuffs.

Your features are fungible and your price can be undercut. The only aspect of your brand that can’t be copied is the connection it has with your customers’ hearts and minds.

The harder trick, of course, is to create the right “copy” – I’m using that term in its loosest sense, to mean the core message that pins a brand in the heart and mind of its intended buyer – that not only appeals to the senses, but also to peoples’ need to make emotional connections with the brands they buy.

It’s not easy because people are not necessarily willing to admit (in many cases they’re not even aware) that their choice of an insurance company, light bulb or analgesic is making a critical emotional connection for them. But finding those connections – or, more specifically, finding where there may be a lack of connection and crafting your brand to make one – is the most important job marketers have in this world. Especially when competitors can steal your features and undercut your prices faster than you can say “Mexican Outsourcing Partner”.

So, by whatever means possible, discover the emotional connections that your brand can make, craft your “taste copy” accordingly (commercial: one real good way to accomplish this is to hire us to use Motiv to create an Emotivation-based Message Architecture for your brand. Ok, end of commercial), then enforce the use of that copy with draconian ruthlessness. Demand to see it everywhere your brand is written about and to hear it each time your brand is spoken of. Defy anyone to “improve” it.

And if, by chance, somebody does come up with something better, well, buy them a beer.

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