A large part of my career focused on marketing to kids, beginning when I was at P&G looking to launch a new brand in the kids juice drink category, which evolved to the acquisition and re-launch of Hawaiian Punch. "How 'bout a nice Hawaiian Punch?" I cherish the lessons learned as a kids brand manager, because they revealed some basic truths about how our brains, adult and kids, process information, which has been pivotal to the balance of my career as an insight and innovation consultant, and central to my philosophy of #insightfulthinking.
The primary lesson I learned was about Concrete versus Abstract thinking, and its consequences for branding. You see, kids under the age of 8 do not process information the same as tweens, teens, or adults. Their cognitive development is referred to as Concrete Operational. Yikes, I'm no psychologist, but I hired one who helped me understanding the significance of this concept. Dr Lang Rust is an educational psychologist, who early in his career worked with the developers of Sesame Street. The lessons he shared with me were many, but the one that really stands out for me is a simple way to understand concrete versus abstract thinking.
The exercise is this: when I say a word, I want you to tell me if a picture comes to mind, or not? OK, here we go. The first word is DOG. Do you see a dog in your mind? Can you describe it? Heck, you can probably even imagine the dog barking, or doing a trick, or whatever you want really. You might even feel some emotions based on how you feel about dogs. It's easy.
The next word is TRUST. Any pictures come to mind? Not as easy, right? If you work it you can begin to make trust more concrete by coming up with metaphors or analogies, but other than picturing big letters in your mind, there doesn't seem to be a visual representation of the abstraction of TRUST.
So, what does this have to do with brands? Everything! The fact is that while we eventually develop the ability to think abstractly as teens and adults, it doesn't come as easily, or as quickly. Literally, concrete ideas stick, and abstract ideas don't. In this regard, concrete versus abstract thinking is very much related to Kahneman's concepts of System 1 (instinctive, intuitive, fast) versus System 2 (logical, deliberate, slow) ways of thinking. See previous blog post.
How 'bout a nice Hawaiian Punch? Sure! By communicating the brand via a concrete character---Punchy--- we were able to deliver an instant cue to the brain that Hawaiian Punch is funny and fruity, but most importantly we made the brand mentally recognizable.
Moving to an adult beverage example, what comes to mind when I say Corona? Beach, bottle with lime, sun, etc. All good things. What comes to mind when I say Michelob Ultra? You get the picture! Or not.
This blog offers stories and discussions on how to build more relevance and differentiation for brands. The author is Timothy Coffey, Chief Revolutionist of Launchforce Strategy, a consumer research consultancy that specializes in highly creative qualitative methods. His experience ranges from brand and research management at Procter & Gamble to innovation management at Tupperware to founding and leading an integrated marketing strategy agency. He is the author of three books, Innovation Myths & Mythstakes, The New Super Consumer, Mom&Kid, and The Great Tween Buying Machine.