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4 things fast food merchandise teaches us about the brand experience

What does brand identity mean when it has become so intertwined with a person’s identity? Are people buying products because they are loyal to the brand or to fulfill their own personal interests? Unnati and I discuss this topic in our latest podcast episode: But, is it the brand?

We find this shift super interesting because it challenges the idea that brand identity is singular. Once we loosen the strict guidelines, it gives brands so much more room to play, and to become more creative in how it behaves. For this episode, we learned four things from the trend of fast food merchandise about how culture is changing the brand experience.

This is a condensed transcript of our podcast. To get the full context of the episode and the examples, please listen here.

The first Taco Bell wedding was surprisingly stunning”. Photo source: Internet

Taco Bell Weddings: Collaborate with memories

Unnati: Taco bell stores aren’t anything special. So it’s really bizarre to me that anyone would want to have a wedding at Taco Bell. It would be different if you did a wedding at Versace because it’s luxurious. But Taco Bell is something that everyone goes to drunk at 2am.

Rica: Our starting point is to think about how the brand can collaborate with a person’s memory to create an experience. I can imagine that Taco Bell represents something to them. Maybe it’s where they had their first date, maybe the girl was having a shit day and the guy brought her a Taco Bell because it would brighten her day. When you think about the brand/product as an enabler of these memories, this becomes a more interesting way to place your product or brand.

Unnati: Hmmm. I would never have a Taco bell wedding but something that holds a lot of importance in my life is Harry Potter. I would totally have a bouquet made of Harry Potter pages at my wedding.

“NYFW 2019 Included a Runway Show from Cheetos’ Haus of Flamin’ Haute Couture.” Photo source: Internet

Cheetos Fashion Show: Reverse bootleg the brand

Unnati:Cheetos had a fashion show in New York which was inspired by people who were posting makeup tutorials inspired by Cheetos. Some captions included: “looking like a snack.” What’s the connection between Cheetos and fashion & makeup? How do you even arrive at that?

Rica: I find this really interesting because it feels so WTF. In my line of work I always look outside of the brand, category & competitors. Culture is so vibrant outside of the brand. And if you’re paying attention to it, you can find interesting ways to play with your brand.

Customers are always going to be bootlegging the brand in ways you never thought they would. Let them bootleg it. Then use that as inspiration to find new ways to play with your brand. So now Cheetos is part of culture. And people are participating in it. It’s fun. It’s something that elevates the brand beyond the product and into a new category.

KFC Have Released Their Own Merch And It’s Actually Not That Bad”. Photo source: Internet

KFC merchandise: Turn people into channels

Unnati: KFC burgers are not expensive. They have very nominal value, but they are selling sweatshirts for $80. For a fast food company that sells 2 dollar burgers, how is that justified? Why are people snapping it up? It’s not like the brand is Versace.

Rica: Sometimes people are willing to pay more for the experience of something than the product itself. In this way the merchandise is the brand’s way to get permission to participate in culture and become a living breathing extension of the brand. Then the people who wear your brand’s merchandise becomes prime advertising space. They can go to places that a brand normally can’t enter. It’s a different way of looking at channels. People are your channels. And if you get them to wear it, they can reach new places.

“America can literally run on Dunkin’ with these new shoes”. Photo source: Internet

Dunkin Donuts: Running Shoes: Speak to hybrid states

Unnati: Dunkin donuts released a special line of shoes right before the Boston Marathon. Runners actually bought these shoes. I find this funny because it’s completely the opposite. Running is a serious thing. And for you to buy a pair of shoes from a fast food company is bizarre.

Rica: Dunkin Donuts is playing into the idea of opposites which is super interesting now that we’re living in a world with no rues. We can smash things together in surprising and unconventional ways.

If you think about it, wearing donut shoes could be symbolic of all the donuts you couldn’t have. There are dualities in everyone. You can be the most health oriented person but there are days when you want to stuff donuts in your face. And people usually move between these 2 states. My point is that we can be both and if brands can speak to both sides of people, that’s a powerful thing.


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