January 28, 2021

The Thrill and Threat of Unconscious Brand Recognition

French fries have only one best friend 

Quick, think of tomato ketchup. What pops into your head? Red bottle and white top? And the classic label that says Heinz, right? 
Kraft Heinz Canada anonymously asked people to draw ketchup, and most people drew the classic Heinz bottle from memory. The brand has unmistakable brand recognition. The resulting video was used to launch a contest where customers submit their drawings of the condiment for a chance to be featured on a custom bottle. 

How did the brand become so memorable? Heinz ketchup has been around since 1876, after its start with J.H Heinz selling pickles, kinds of vinegar, and sauces near Pittsburgh. Heinz became a household name through years of marketing and ad campaigns and its consistent commitment to quality. 

The iconic glass bottle was born in 1948. It now comes in plastic, but you can still find the glass bottles many of us grew up with — at least in diners. If you grew up with a specific brand, that recognition and brand trust are deeply rooted…as long as the product you know and love stays the ‘same.’

Most importantly, the brand marketer’s challenge can be how to bring ‘new’ to a product or service yet still stay ‘true.’  

New Coke is an often-cited example of that disastrous miss. Reebok has gone round and round, mostly unsuccessfully, thought it too was never a Chuck Taylor, Adidas, or god-like NIKE.

Heinz, too has tried to add new products over the years. 

Package innovation brought the ‘upside-down’ bottle to acclaim. On the other hand, recall the failed EZ Squirt colored ketchup in the 2000s. Other recently added SKUs like organic, no added sugar, and spicy meet customer’s new needs. 

More recently, Heinz added the divisive Mayochup, half ketchup, half mayo. Consumers had been doing this on their own for years, but the jury seems split on denigration vs. celebration. 

Despite the pandemic, lack of cookouts, and gatherings last year, 197.92 million Americans used Heinz ketchup in 2020, according to Statista data. And U.S. sales grew 7.4%, according to Kraft Heinz Q3 quarterly report.

It’s interesting to note that in some ways, what people recalled in this brand marketing effort was, at times, not the WORD Heinz, but the classic product form. In fact, Coke too has leveraged its curvy glass bottle to great effect as well. Pause for a shout out to package designers everywhere, and that key role, especially when brands stick with a patented ‘look.’

That said, our key takeaway is this: when one has a brand that becomes basically synonymous with a product category, it’s critical to handle innovation even more carefully. This sample shows how appropriate and essential it can be to point to the iconic in one’s brand, if one is lucky enough to have it, and smart enough to maintain and nourish it.

Pass the Heinz, please. 



Kraft Heinz Canada flips amateur artwork into ketchup labels — MarketingDive
The untold truth of ketchup -Mashed 
What Were They Thinking? The Day Ketchup Crossed The Line From Perfect To Purple — Fast Company 
‘Heinz Mayochup’ US launch was a ‘no brainer,’ says director of marketing — Food Navigator-USA