Will Twinkie Survive Head-In-The-Sand Brand Management?


Strong brands can outlive management ignorance

If ever there was a living–or dying–example of brand management’s lack of foresight, insight and innovation it is the venerable, and now vulnerable, Twinkie. The brand will probably survive but only after it is sold at a basement-bankruptcy price and then receives a significant investment in remaking its contents and brand.

The question is: Where was Hostess management’s head while the low-carb and healthy diet trend was marching past them like the Santa Claus parade. If you believe, like I do, that brands are “living things” that touch and delight consumers’ lives, then you will see this as an unnecessary financial and brand travesty.

Twinkies have delighted customers for 82 years (that’s a sustainable brand) and yet top management ignored all the signposts on the highway to decline. In 2004, a Globe and Mail article chronicled some history. In the 1970s there was the Atkins Diet, which promoted low-carbs, then came the South Beach and Zone diets (and now it’s gluten-free diets). A study showed over 40 million U.S. consumers were on low-carb diets and “… 61% of Canadians were limiting their carb intake … and sales would surge to $30-billion.” I see that as a market serving up endless opportunities for what I call “simple-adaptive” innovation–just make small adaptations to what you are already doing. Where was Hostess during this march to produce more low-carb products?

My guess – they had no idea how to innovate and no clue how brand value and the bottom line are connected. Today, they blame unions and spin other lame excuses, when in reality they failed to take the simplest of steps to innovate. What were they thinking when, in 2008, baker and entrepreneur Angie “Bakerella” Dudley became an overnight sensation with her “Cake Pops” – a simple, ingenious extension of a traditional product? Angie’s idea reflected the world around it – a shift to healthier lifestyles (smaller portions) and easy access for people on the go – “look ma, no fork!”

For me, the demise of Hostess is a blinding glimpse of the obvious. There was no innovative or entrepreneurial thinking inside the encrusted, status quo thinking of a sleep-at-the-switch corporation with its head stuck in the flour. And yet, the Twinkie brand might survive if a new company buys the brand and adds a large dose of innovation to its recipe.

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Does Your Brand Have a Distinctive Voice?


As a designer, I confess to a built-in visual bias when it comes to brand expression. I tend to experience a brand’s essence primarily through my eyes, by seeing how it draws me into its world.  And when I’m working with clients on a branding project, one of my first steps is to create a book of strategically selected pictures and graphics that create a feeling of immersion in the character and the unique ‘feel’ of the brand.

The next step though, is just as crucial. It involves the expression of the brand through words.

Most major brands have graphic standards that instruct internal and external communications people about how to maintain the brand’s integrity from a visual perspective. Fewer brands have similar guidelines about what the brand should ‘say’ to stakeholders.

Why is a brand story and a brand vocabulary so important?  Simply because your website, your brochures, your advertising and social media are all opportunities to draw customers into your brand world.  The words you use should reflect who you are and what makes you distinctive.  Take something as elementary as how you describe your customers. Westjet calls them guests.  Augusta National Golf Club, where the Masters Tournament is played, insists on calling them patrons. Most professional firms use the word ‘clients’.

The decision to use those terms is the first step on the way to creating a corporate vocabulary and a corporate story that differentiates and distinguishes. It’s just that most organizations never take the next step and end up sounding like every other organization in their communications.

Given that you have a unique story to tell, when you use the same phrases and thoughts as everyone else to express it, you’ll sound the same as everyone else.  Don’t tell me you’re innovative, tell me why.  Don’t tell me that you value your people, tell me how. Don’t tell me you go the extra mile, take me on the trip with you. As we constantly tell our children… ‘use your words’.

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What is a brand and why should it matter to you?

Branding Insights
One of a series by John Paulo Cardoso, Spyder Works Chief Creative Officer


As Michael Eisner says, “A brand is a living entity — and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.”

I love that quote because it takes branding out of MBA seminars and puts it directly in your loading dock or on the desk of your sales rep or in your next e-mail to a supplier.

Brand is the culmination of everything an organization believes in, stands for and aspires to be. It must have real value and meaning for customers… and for everyone else. In essence, a brand is what you believe in (values), what you do (offer) and what you say (message).

A brand is not a logo. It exists in the minds of the marketplace. The visual aids like a logo, colour, typeface and design are the visible cues of your brand that ignite your customers’ emotions and how they feel about your business. A great brand is the consistently positive feeling that your customers, suppliers and employees enjoy when they deal with your company.

A more concrete way to think of it is to replace the word ‘brand’ with ‘reputation’. Through the process of creating a brand, we’re personifying a company. Why do we need to attach human characteristics and behavior to a company?  Simply because we want our customers to have a real relationship with our business so that they will have positive feelings when they think about our products, services or stores.  In other words, ‘branding’ is the management of our reputation in the marketplace.  It’s how we manage those thousand small gestures.


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