The Marmite case: Branding icon

9 minutes
Branding = experiences

The Marmite case: Branding icon

Marmite is a Branding experience based on friction.
9 minutes
I love their Branding but hate the product. Is it serious, doctor?

This is Marmite

Marmite is a British institution of breakfast and snacks. A savoury food spread made from yeast extract that was invented by German scientist Justus von Liebig and initially made in the United Kingdom. It is a by-product of beer brewing and is currently produced by British company Unilever. The product is notable as a vegan source of vitamin B, including supplemental vitamin B12. Traditional use is to spread it very thinly on buttered toast.

How did I discover Marmite?

Branding brought me to Marmite with their hilarious campaigns, and early on, they set the tone of friction with a divisive tagline stating that customers may love it or hate it. Their advertising was always funny, innovative, disruptive, and viral, with a British cultural background. Nevertheless, I had never tasted Marmite. I liked their cute vintage packaging and design with bold colours and illustrations of an old pot.

While researching, I discovered that the name came from the French word "Marmite", (\maʁ.mit\), which means pot. It makes sense because in France we have a saying that goes by "C'est dans les Vieux pots qu'on fait les meilleures soupes"(Best soups are made in old pots). In a nutshell, nothing surpasses experience!

My first taste

I was doing my groceries here in Paris, and I found a jar of Marmite; I was pretty surprised to find one here, knowing it's not common in France. It was not in huge quantities, so I understood the shop might have been testing this British emblem. I agree that the Branding of Marmite had been growing in me and the excitement as well. Marmite is a brand I value for its powerful storytelling and capacity to hook us. I was in awe and pretty joyful to give it a taste.

I thought to myself; it can't be that bad!

Here I am ready for the taste; I was prepared for an experience! I had seen and read how divisive it was, but I still thought, "It couldn't be that bad". My process was relatively easy, take a toast and put on a thin layer of the deep brownish paste.

From the packaging to the ads or social media posts, if you have not tasted Marmite yet, the experience is good. You witness a traditional brand that is always up to date, disruptive, daring you to give a taste, telling you it's your choice to like it or hate it: It's on you.

At the first bite, the verdict is pretty deep and full of truth; it was pure resentment; I did strike a face few people would dare to imagine. I discovered I was a hater, and I didn't expect that.
I loved the Branding of Marmite as a brand designer, getting inspired and excited by their mastery in storytelling and having dear respect for their clear messaging, but still, I never thought I would choose sides and not like the product.
They are great in Branding, but the product for me is so bad. How do we evolve from there!

Intriguing Paradox 

That is quite a paradox and an interesting fact about Branding as an experience because we associate a brand and its product. A brand is a product and vice versa; here we have a product that is so divisive at the foundation of a company that Branding cannot do anything more than play with the friction, to such an extent that the "Dare to taste and pick a side" becomes a brand asset.

Consistency in an intention

Marmite has always been consistent in their intention and messaging; they warn you: and by you, I mean everybody who tastes it. There is no demographic, specific, ethnic, group, or gender. The target audience may be British, but the product is an international Brand that exports itself. The customers are everywhere. The common denominator of all Marmite customers resides in the friction of their experience tasting and eating Marmite.

It is a powerful brand strategy; for Marmite, there is no need to overstudy a persona; the "love it or hate it" are the target audience, and that is a massive group of people. 

It becomes a virtuous circle of profit and experience; no matter who loves it or hates it, they are part of the Marmite experience.Whatever the tasting results, it helps spread the message, the mystery, comedy of situations, and conversations. They install the product experience (*their Branding) as a catalyst for conversations, debates with ambassadors, haters, just keeping the core message and feeling alive.

Art of including, not choosing

The magical Branding of Marmite resides in that art of including the target audience, which is funny enough everyone. What is even intriguing is the aftermath reactions, especially from those hooked by the Branding so far; there is a dissociative understanding; what I mean by that is that you doubt your taste a little. For example, in a couple, one is a lover of Marmite, and the other is a hater of Marmite; each person finds it so weird that the other person hates or loves this product. How come this person loves it or hates it? Did I read it wrong? Did I use the wrong protocol?

You need to taste it, discover which side you are on and move from there.

The success of Marmites Branding resides in your enticement to give it a second try. After a second taste, if you still hate it or love it, you have chosen your side for good and have to stick to it.

The power of the friction positioning resides in the inclusion. And it's all good for Marmite! If you hate it, you are still a part of the Marmite experience and family; it's all about you either loving it or hating it. You can say you hate it in front of someone who loves it, and it just creates all these funny, impertinent, and comic situations.

For example, in the DNA campaign ''It's in your DNA that you love Marmite'', they push the friction so far in comedy that it becomes iconic. Using our genes to discover if we were born a hater or lover is genius, and it sets the Brand as a scientific approved experience.

The classic overview

Personal and corporate brands all rely on knowing their target audience to propose the best user experience and improve trust, value, and sales. Here we have a brand that promotes an experience to a feeling: rather than a specific "persona".

Marmite succeeds in something pretty pure in Branding, in such an intelligent way. They know their product so well, they are daring enough to install a choice, they don't tell you what to do. It's up to "You", not up to us to like our product, we provide a transparent and exciting experience, but it's your choice to like the product. We welcome you onboard whatever your preference; we even have the goal to convert you to a lover. 

Our product is what it is; it's a secret recipe; it's even the oldest recipe, and we claim it. 

They state they can convert haters to lovers, and in that case, it is an educational process and an allied strategy. The lovers will always remind the haters that they are missing something, and the haters do the opposite. The constant friction nourishes the icon value of Marmite and its growing storytelling.

Branding is motion

Suppose a brand keeps reinforcing its message by a strong lead of people who love the product and dislike it, then longevity benefits friction. People talk, debate, share recipes, try to convert the other side; the process becomes a system or machine that grows in a way by itself.

Building a brand in the friction of lovers and haters becomes the secret ingredient of storytelling. It is so divisive that it allows and entices even more people to test it, creating content around the timeless controversy. What a powerful and soft power branding. The Brand evolves by observing trends, society improvements, causes, etc., and infuses those outputs into their storytelling, but the core message stays the same.

Marmite's secret recipe may have evolved, but it keeps the same robust taste as its signature. The product is as old as their name, but their Branding and storytelling have refined themselves through time. The advertisements of Marmite are classic icons for experts; they showcase with humour A British way of life, family evolutions, diversity, economic shifts, and so on.

Effective Branding

We may not be aware of it, but Marketing and Branding don't do the work the audience does, and in that resides the power of effective Branding, especially for Marmite.

A product that is so divisive but still has a powerful stretch and expansion.

The result of hating the product doesn't mean you hate Marmite, and that is a powerful place to be as a brand. I'm not too fond of the product, but I still respect Marmite profoundly and its branding vision even more. Growing in the friction of their target audience and message allows them to be super innovative, bold, and playful. Very few brands have reached that capacity to install a divisive enthusiasm, and that is such an educational tool for brands, experts, writers, researchers.

Good or bad testimonials enhance the brand value because it is part of the core strategy and positioning. It creates dynamic conversations, experiences that, good or bad, don't tarnish or break a brand. Positive and negative feedback nourishes each other.

Marmite, is it Branding or marketing?

For me, It's both; the pushing of the message through the campaigns, playing with foundational brand values, is the Branding having a louder voice. The formula evolved, with different versions of Marmite adapting to trends, but the Brand's speech stayed the same.

The formula continued to evolve, with different versions of Marmite adapting to trends, but the Brand's speech remained the same. One of the strengths of Marmite is an excellent example of how controversial storytelling becomes viral.

The tendency of people to taste food from different countries is more than just a tendency. It's a fast-forward advertisement and a temptation to say that you dare to experience something completely different from your food and habits. There is a change in marketing, Branding, and cultural transparency. Brands don't have to overdo campaigns for people to test and experience. Our new system revolves around sharing your opinions about products, and therefore brands—the era of opinion power.

If your product is divisive, how do you position yourself? 

The Marmite case is an exciting example of a powerful and genuine strategy full of inspirational and adaptive resources for Branding. Using friction in Branding positively and enthusiastically and being well received by haters or lovers is a powerful place for a brand.

If your product is very disruptive and makes people choose sides, perhaps the key to owning your position is by creating a Branding and marketing that enhances the positive friction between those who love and those who hate your product. It may be more difficult for new brands to push for divisive products in the era we live in. Technological product innovation is less about the ''taste'' aspect than the practical use of products. If the product is inefficient, it will not hit the market. This strategy is easier to understand and implement in the food, fashion, or even music industries.

In the aftermath, what brands make you feel, good or bad

For Marmite, whatever the aftermath, good or bad, the Branding is still effective and converting. Marmite's Branding is excellent, but the product is controversial. It creates a sense of loyalty and respect from both sides that is quite interesting. It is an empowering strategy for any brand that ventures into playful friction as a brand value.

What a brand makes you feel afterwards, it's Branding. You like it or hate it so much that you speak about it.

After reading this piece, I encourage you to (re)discover Marmite if you don't know the Brand, taste it and discover your side. You are part of the Marmite experience and vector of innovative Branding.

Advertising has made me aware of the uniqueness of Marmite, shedding light on its friction-based brand experience. Let's unveil the Branding of this British Institute with such a divisive feel.
Founder of Keva Epale Studio

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Advertising has made me aware of the uniqueness of Marmite, shedding light on its friction-based brand experience. Let's unveil the Branding of this British Institute with such a divisive feel.
Founder of Keva Epale Studio