Actually, this is a story about how creative story completion and working with children's wonderful imaginations led us to discover a whole new way of looking at brands -- through children's eyes.
When the company first approached us, its brand was in decline. Quantitative research had established that a modified positioning needed to be developed in order to at least halt the decline and possibly reverse it. We needed to define the core brand strengths and we needed to build on these.
One perceived strength was the appeal of adventure. It was unclear, however, what adventure would be the most motivating -- although the research clearly indicated that the existing brand character was a strong draw. The real challenge was to learn how kids connected to the brand and characters. This required a research format that could ask complex questions of 6- to-8-year-olds. Not an easy thing to do!
Through a combination of drawings, pictures and words as stimulus for "start-points" of stories, the young people were asked to expand on how the adventures could develop by orally completing stories represented. Stories proved to be a fun and easy way for this age group to communicate which adventures were the most motivating, and how the brand character and the brand all fit together in that adventure. Young people at this age are not usually capable of talking abstractly about themes of adventure, and the "story format" overcame this obstacle and led us to start developing metaphors with which we could begin to understand the young people's connection to the brand.
The key learning was that although the direction of adventure may be somewhat important in developing the communication, the most important strategic consideration was the understanding of the use of conflict to increase interest in story and character -- and most importantly, increase desire for the food. Adventure with regard to this project, then, was the byproduct of the passion for the brand, and the compulsion to overcome all obstacles to get them.
We added power to the positioning by integrating the key lessons learned into the positioning statement and communication/creative strategy. Instead of "discovery and adventure" being the goal, we refocused the goal on overcoming obstacles to "get your brand." This focused on -- and upped the desirability of -- the cereal.
Interestingly, the suggestion of a bad guy was used unprompted by most kids to explain that the cereal was really desirable (it's not just the brand character that has the passion). Interestingly, the brand character always won his conflicts with "the bad guy"-- not by using force (that's bad!), but by out-smarting the bad guy. The kids' own stories were clearly a reflection of how "good guys" behave better to overcome "bad guys."
While initially the use of a nemesis seemed odd, this soon became a big idea in using characters as sponsors for a brand, and to gain increased involvement in the brand. After all, what would Luke Skywalker be without Darth Vader? -- Vader "ups the stakes" and makes the adventure more real and engaging. If our brand character had a recurring nemesis (who also has a passion for the breakfast cereal, but the passion has become selfish and obsessive), the character development of the brand character is enhanced.
As with all good stories, this one has a happy ending too. As a direct result of the research, a new style of communication was commissioned and actioned. This, in turn, not only halted the brand decline, it kick-started growth those many years ago. It also kick-started an award-winning approach in qualitative work with young people that has flourished and expanded, using stories and metaphors to more deeply understand consumer (kids and adults) connections to brands.