Brand Reversal

“Bacon is health food” will never fly, but “pork, the other white meat” did pretty well.

Brands are assigned by the market unless you force the market to think and feel what you want them to. Before 1987, it was common wisdom that eating pigs was bad for the body, and not just from uneducated cooks serving up sides of trichinosis. Bacon was evil and even pork chops were off everybody’s diet, regardless of a lack of religious law. This was bad for pig farmers as an increasingly health-conscious America was jogging with Jim Fix and rediscovering vegetables. Even ranchers were winning as they promoted leaner cuts of meat and mom discovered how to trim the fat we used to grill and swallow.

pork-campaign-branding-reversalSwine sellers fought back by launching the “Pork, the other white meat” marketing campaign to change the pig’s brand image. Pork prices rose, sales jumped 20%, and American’s have adopted swine as a dietary staple.

What happened is a brand reversal campaign, one of the trickiest marketing chores imaginable. When the market has decided what they believe about your product, reversing their beliefs is slightly more difficult than realigning planets. But it is possible, as pigs can attest. There are some key ingredients in the recipe:

Connect to the opposite: Poultry, considered low fat and healthy, was the white meat. Chaining pig flesh to chick breasts was the first step.

Make the prospect of discover exciting: The National Pork Board also ran campaigns like “Taste What’s Next” and “The Other White Meat. Don’t be blah.” Pulling down disbelief is not enough … you have to add motivation to explore the new truth.

Back the action: With mom now examining lily white pork chops in the butcher case, she needed to know what to do with it. Matching their discovery messaging, the National Pork Board offered up recipes (exotic for Americans at that time) like pork cordon bleu, kabobs, pork à l’orange and orange glazed pork tenderloin (yum!).

Where brand reversal campaigns fail is by attempting just the first bit. When Jerry Seinfeld was at the height of his television popularity, Microsoft hired him (for a freight car filled with cash) to make Microsoft look cool. This was doomed to fail even before they let Bill Gates – the poster child for geekdom – walk onto the set and film a commercial with Jerry. In an attempt to battle Apple, Microsoft tried to out-hip Steve Jobs, and only managed to break their corporate hip. Similar situation exist in the world of top rated pheromone colognes and perfumes, companies have tried to market to men and ended up selling out to women. Curious how the world reacts in reality vs our projections, we are so rarely absolutely correct.

Challenging market perception is just the start. You must:

  1. Make the claim
  2. Tie it to something more acceptable
  3. Provide proof points
  4. Provide incentive to explore

Also, plan on spending some money because people don’t instantly believe the opposite. Now, if you will excuse me, this former cattleman has a couple of pork chops marinating and ready for the grill.


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