Believe it or not the Milkybar Kid is fifty. Time to give the little dude a change of clothes and a bit of a scrub up, you might think. So that’s exactly what we did last year and this week our update of one of the UK’s most enduring brand icons finally found its way into the shops.
As part of the redesign Coley Porter Bell developed a whole world for The Kid as well as a psychologic profile, describing what he thinks, how he reacts, his interests and motivations. Not only does he now have a clearly identifiable moral code, he is active fun, generous and fair and just a little bit cooler than his recent incarnations.
Predating the film Bugsy Malone by a good fifteen years, he used to be the sheriff of a small town peopled by kids. Now he is leader of a small posse which includes Bluebell the Cow, Scruff the dog and Sonny the horse. Their different interactions and adventures allow for The Milkybar Kid to appear in many different scenarios and scenes. Inviting consumer to construct their own narratives around his activities.
Ok, you might think that creating a back story for a cartoon character selling chocolate is a bit, well, pretentious. But like any marketing update, any micro change, it tells you something about the way that consumers and society at large are changing.
In this case it’s all about the humanisation of brands. While our Milkybar packs are clearly in the analogue world, the demand for brands to become more ‘human’ is actually being driven by the virtual world of social media. As US marketing guru Gary Vaynerchuck puts it: “Social media have taken us back to small town rules. You can no longer stack it high and see it fly.” ie You have to have a real personality and use it to interact with your consumers.”
There are various strategies available to achieve this. One is to literally make a person the face of the brand or corporation. Richard Branson, Stelios and Remington’s Victor Kiam are prime examples in the real world.
A modern variation on that theme is the construction of a social company or brand on-line. US on-line shoe firm Zappos was established in 1999 and now has sales of well over $1.2bn a year. The company was built largely on Olympian service which in turn was based on the idea of showing that the company is made up of happy individuals that you’d really like to get to know, says Chief exec Tony Hsieh. He takes pains to lead from the front in this respect and astonishingly takes the time to reply to every Twitter addressed to him. What better way to communicate that this is a social company than to use social media?
A third approach is to humanise the brand through tone of voice. Probably the best example of that is innocent which has built a stunningly successful business based on pure ingredients and fresh natural vocabulary. It’s personal, informal and even a little cheeky
They use back of pack copy to engage, charm and make people believe in the brand “We’re perhaps not as sophisticated in database management as we’d like to be but we do realise the value of direct contact, ” said communications chief Charlotte Rawlins a couple of years ago.
The Milkybar Kid, isn’t a CEO, he isn’t a tone of voice, but he is very human and in a world dominated by the internet, that counts for an awful lot these days.