There’s been a lot of talk recently about how brand loyalty is disappearing. I don’t think that’s true.
We answer to a higher authority. Oh, I’m not talking about me or Brand Keys, although I suspect on some existential level, we’ll all, at some point, ultimately answer to some higher authority. No, I’m talking about hot dogs. The Hebrew National brand of hot dogs in particular. The “we answer to a higher authority” brand.
That slogan dates back to 1965 and has been used to market Hebrew National as the superior choice in hot dogs. To reinforce that position, a TV campaign was created in 1972 for National Foods, the then-owners of Hebrew National, by one of the famed Mad Men era ad agencies, Scali, McCabe, Sloves.
The commercial featured Uncle Sam getting ready to consume a hot dog. A regular hot dog. A hot dog that included ingredients permitted by Federal regulations. Things like frozen beef (Hebrew National doesn’t), artificial colorings (doesn’t do that either), beef by-products (nope), additives (no, no, no) and non-meat fillers (usually that means “pork,” which Hebrew National can’t because they’re Kosher.)
In the commercial, as the camera panned away from Uncle Sam (holding the now kinda-unappetizingly-described-though-federally-approved hot dog) up to the heavens, an ethereal voice pointed out Hebrew National couldn’t do any of those things. They had to exceed Federal regulations. Because they’re Kosher and – wait for it – have to answer to an even higher authority! A higher authority because Kosher foods are prepared according to dietary laws outlined in the Bible, 3,000-year old traditions known as “kashrut.” So, no pork (duh!), meat slaughtered according to Jewish law, and every ingredient in a Kosher hot dog having to appear on the package label.
Other campaigns followed, all of which recognized the fine line between the sacred and profane when evoking the Lord for commercial purposes, while the brand sought to offend no one and to be remembered by everyone. Which apparently worked since demographics indicate millions of Americans regularly eat Kosher products. It turns out only a quarter of them are actually Jewish.
“The noblest of all dogs is the hot dog; it feeds the hand that bites it”
Hot dog sales have been strong in the last year with Kosher hot dog sales growing at twice the rate of the total category. In 2020 almost 995 million pounds of hot dogs, representing nearly $3 billion in retail sales, were consumed by 256 million Americans. Oh, and what’s a baseball game without a hot dog? No coincidence that the top hot dog consuming cities – Los Angeles, New York City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, and Philadelphia – all host MLB teams.
Why the discourse on Hebrew National hot dogs? Well, I could say, “The noblest of all dogs is the hot dog; it feeds the hand that bites it,” or that I got caught up in Hebrew National’s cultural cache, but that’s not it. Or not entirely it. I was reading an article about Hebrew National and it got me thinking about brands. I spend a lot of my time thinking about brands, but in this instance, I was thinking of the notion of brands. The gestalt of brand, if you will.
Let’s work from a basic definition of brand; “A name, sign, or symbol attached to a product or service that stands for something in the mind of the consumer differentiating it from the competition, allowing it to create awareness and emotional engagement.” I think that covers off pretty much everything and, yes, I do know there are nuances, but let’s go with this for the moment.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about how brand loyalty is disappearing. I don’t think that’s true. I believe lots of things in the 21st century and over the past 30 years have morphed. They’ve transmuted. They haven’t disappeared, they’ve adapted to new consumers in a new marketplace. If it helps to think about “loyalty” to a brand as a consumer’s “emotional engagement” with a brand, I invite you to do so. In fact, I urge you to. Because emotional engagement is the 21st century paradigm for loyalty.
I’m betting that when you’re in the supermarket getting ready to buy hot dogs, you’re not thinking, ”Mmmm. You know what I could go for? A smooth-textured, 1.6 ounce pink tube of sheep intestine stuffed with chopped processed meat and meat by-products mixed with various curing ingredients, flavorants, and colorants, containing 13 grams of fat and 450 milligrams of sodium I can serve on a bread roll.” No, you think “hot dog,” and then think “what will best meet my expectations?” and in a nanosecond a brand name materializes.
And despite all the naysayers, you pretty much have one, maybe two brands that answer that expectation question, in this case as regards to what you expect from your “Ideal” hot dogs. And yeah, you might try another brand because something’s new or, given the pandemic, the brand that best meets your expectations is caught in some supply-chain snafu and you really have a yen for hot dogs. But the truth is that the brand you’re six times more likely to buy is the brand that you feel best meets your expectations and delivers best against your desires. Novelty has its place, but it almost never unseats a brand that best meets your expectations.
Anyway, back to brands. So, you engage with brands and you buy by brand, and you’re loyal to brands. But generally speaking, most consumers don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the conglomerates that own the brands and certainly aren’t buying by any kind of loyalty, aka emotional engagement to a conglomerate. See if you can identify which of the most-popular hot dog brands is owned by which conglomerate. Hint: Some conglomerates own multiple brands. Some Solace: Nobody buys by conglomerate. Everybody buys by brand. Just saying.
- Armour Conagra Foods
- Dodger Dogs Hormel
- Elkrich Kraft Heinz
- Farmer John Marathon Enterprises
- Hebrew National Smithfield
- Hillshire Farms Tyson
- Oscar Meyer
- A. Conagra Foods
- B. Hormel
- C. Kraft Heinz
- D. Marathon Enterprises
- E. Smithfield
- F. Tyson
Who Owns What: 1E, 2E, 3E, 4B, 5A, 6F, 7E, 8C, 9D
Oh, and the article? It had to do with the fact that the Hebrew National brand, established in 1905 on the lower East Side of Manhattan, was sold to Riviana Foods in 1968, became part of Colgate-Palmolive in 1976, and was acquired by Conagra in 1993, and now it may have to answer to a different authority. It turns out Conagra might sell Hebrew National to Brazil’s JBS. And while all that might matter a lot to investors, I’m pretty sure you don’t care and it’s not going to affect your loyalty, aka emotional engagement, with the Hebrew National hot dog brand!
Because it turns out no matter what the category, you’re the highest authority brands have to answer to!
Robert Passikoff is founder and CEO of Brand Keys. He has received several awards for market research innovation including the prestigious Gold Ogilvy Award and is the author of 3 marketing and branding books including the best-seller, Predicting Market Success. Robert is also a frequent contributor to TheCustomer.
Photo by Ball Park Brand on Unsplash