We swoon at Mr. Peanut’s wisdom. We dance along with Cheesasaurus Rex. We jump for joy at news that Ms. Brown—the brown M&M kept under wraps for far too long—has finally come out of her shell (pun intended).
But the practice of assigning our food a persona is a funny thing—a bit odd, even. How can cuteness whet our appetites? How civilized is it to adore both a creature’s big, goofy eyes and find comfort in its taste? Is this not a bit hypocritical…or, dare we say, crude? Does this love-yet-devour behavior go against all that modern society stands for?
Food Personas Bring People Together
Of course the answer to the latter is a rash no. We aren’t morphing into loutish monsters as we roll crescent dough with the Pillsbury Doughboy’s laugh on mind. Nor are we breaking ethics codes by relishing in the latest Mini-Wheats character’s cuteness as we shovel that very cereal into our mouths. Indeed, it is safe to say our food mascots are not the downfall of humanity.
The reality is quite the contrary; putting a friendly face to our food makes us more human. These positive characters make way for positive shared experiences, of which harvest relationships that shape societal identities. Suddenly, a lighthearted personification becomes an icon of a time. So often we talk about people and brands growing closer together, but we neglect to mention how brands can bring people themselves together.
Facebook Evolving Food Personas
Facebook brand pages are enabling these food personas to expand even further, making their cultural impact even clearer. No longer are food icons a mere television spot every few months. Nope, now many enjoy robust character development, vibrantly growing through constant on-voice posts and the power to engage in ongoing conversation that continues well beyond the brand voice exclusively. Facebook users spread the joy—igniting conversations with the community and sharing the content over further networks.
Food Voices via Facebook
But not all food brands are created equal. As one would predict, brands are approaching the issue of a Facebook persona in varying ways. Some have indeed deemed it best to align their Facebook personas with their overall brand personas. Some have not. Still others have found a way to mix these two approaches.
The following Facebook brand pages offer a glimpse into this range of social food voice selection:
The Frosted Mini-Wheats Facebook page is strictly hosted by Mini, the animated Mini-Wheat used across the cereal’s print and television ad platforms. The youthfulness of Mini in offline promotions continues online. He wins over Facebook community members with lighthearted questions and comments revolving around the Mini-Wheats product. Endearing photos of Mini in various settings also create extremely smile-inducing, sharable content.
Like Frosted Mini-Wheats, Cheetos sticks with its offline brand persona to solely fuel its Facebook brand page. But unlike Mini, Chester Cheetah’s page contributions channel his bold attitude. Chester’s edge is reflected through quirky links, clever references and snappy comments. Much of this is pulled from the character’s dynamic microsite—“Chester’s Feed.” Also noteworthy? Chester is not the actual food; that is, Chester is a cheetah rather than a Cheeto.
Rice Krispies’ Snap!, Crackle! and Pop! mascots may be extremely well-known, but the Rice Krispies Facebook page does not use these characters as narrators. Quite the contrary, the brand’s Facebook persona is a nondescript voice that appears to seek resonance with moms. Content is wholesome, kid-centric and resourceful—mainly providing kid-friendly recipes, activities, questions and advice.
M&M’s uses multiple pieces of the voice pie. The Facebook page maintains a level of conventionality with some posts simply coming from “brand,” but all six M&M characters make appearances, too. Respective character names at the end of posts and/or photos signal these voice control changes. Content generally includes carefree displays of character interaction and development, simultaneously promoting new M&M products, events and campaigns.
Determining Your Brand’s Social Voice
The sample above sheds light on an important point: While longtime food personas are often a hit, they may not always be the clear-cut solution when choosing an appropriate social voice. By honing in on these examples, we can deduce crucial checkpoints for determining who exactly should be “speaking” to a brand’s Facebook community:
1. Know thy product
What is the product at hand? Is it a serious, life-dependent asset, or is it a more trivial, simple pleasure? Chances are the latter would be more likely to set the stage for a happy-go-lucky, fictional character. A more complex product is likely to require a more complex social voice.
2. Know thy audience
Who is seeking online content from the brand? Is it the same core audience of your brand at offline purchase point? It is important to recognize that the people engaging online with a brand can be starkly different from the brand’s traditional target, opening up avenues to build brand equity with otherwise overlooked groups. Whatever the audience, the social voice must cater to this demographic’s particular online content habits, preferences and priorities.
3. Know thy purpose (taking into account #1 & #2)
This is where social voice selection drastically differs from general brand voice selection. What is the core equity of the brand? This equity sets expectations for social and, ultimately, the Facebook brand page. Are people looking to the page for mere entertainment, or are people seeking a resource? If the page is expected to be a resource, what kind? The social voice selected must be appropriate to carry out the desired function. Of course putting a finger on the former two points—product and audience—greatly aids in defining this said purpose.
For the People
And through it all, these food brands cannot lose sight of thinking in terms of culture. They must consider: How can they leave a footprint in time? Eating is already a social activity; how can the brand build off of this to create a significant experience for people to enjoy together, relevant to the brand? Good times yield good memories. Good memories undoubtedly yield positive associations. Driving people-to-people will drive people-to-brand.
Long live playing with our food!