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One Big Idea: A (Met) Life Without Snoopy

October 20,2016

As the company and business model evolves, MetLife recently debuted a new brand identity - the first major marketing change for the life insurance company in 30 years. With the rebrand, MetLife has chosen to part ways with Snoopy and the Peanuts gang. At a time when the Peanuts brand is surging after a renaissance, what does this move mean as the brand moves forward? In this week's episode, Bill provides comment on the rebrand and decision to drop Snoopy. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!

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Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all. This is Real-World Branding, I'm Bill Gullan, president of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. Today is One Big Idea. Forgive us, if you would, we've taken a few weeks away from this with a promise of getting back to it in earnest as the fall continues. This is, unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how one looks at it, the result of a busy life here at Finch Brands as projects come and go and clients certainly occupy a lot of the head space and hands and resources over here. Sometimes that leads to us having to shift our schedules a little bit, but we're back.

This week's topic is something that actually broke this morning it seems. At least, I became aware of it this morning. We were talking about an article, I think from last week, about the Peanuts brand and how it really was a moment of renaissance for a deeply cherished brand that's been around many decades. There was a big movie last year that I think did a couple hundred million. There was a TV show as a result of it. There's some interesting campaign work around Rock the Vote and other kind of civic yet non-partisan issues where you see the Snoopy character.

This is a brand that's definitely on the move and has contemporized in some ways. I’ve got to say, and we've spoken about this before on Real-World Branding, that I really appreciate the approach Peanuts taken compared to the Muppets, to pick another example of a brand that was occupied as a special place in the perception of families yet more recently has really turned their back on that equity which led to what one could only probably conclude as a money-grab. The more recent Muppets TV show that was far more adult in content and it disappeared very, very quickly. You know what, they probably deserved it.

To their credit, Peanuts, while updating some elements in terms of technology and some of the visual aesthetic, Peanuts has stayed sweet. The brand has stayed true to its roots and its emotional feel of being innocent and sweet yet atmospheric in some ways a bit melancholy, a little bit sassy depending on the characters that we're talking about. Seeing the Peanuts movie with my daughter, who at that time, I guess, was four, probably about five, it felt like a really fun opportunity to share something with her that was appropriate for her age. In any case, Muppets didn't do that, but Peanuts has.

The news broke this morning that maybe the most significant and best known marketing partnership that Peanuts has had, and Snoopy in particular has had with the insurance company MetLife, the company is moving on. That partnership is no more. Snoopy and MetLife are parting ways. Hopefully both retreating or moving in the direction of great success and it's a break up, ‘it's not you, it's me,’ but Snoopy and MetLife not together anymore. We dug around a little bit and of course some of the stories about this were more humorous, but in our world, it's a big deal.

It seems that MetLife has gone through a re-branding process that went live today. The company put forth a press release and other content. I think they've changed the website and the app and some of their other easier to change touch points to a new logo, new message, new tagline, and everything else.

When you read their press release, Esther Lee, who's the chief marketing officer, spoke about the fact that the world is changing and that the company took the opportunity to spend a lot of time with people around the globe. I think 55,000 people is what the press release said in terms of those who were part of the process, their customers around the world. They found that there was a really all-encompassing desire to demystify and cut through what is an overwhelming existence today of how quickly things are changing and looking for partners to trust to help them navigate these changes is what the company said.

The new tag line is ‘Navigating Life Together,’ which is directly from this consumer insights process it seems. The new logo in this re-branding effort is, you know, the logo's okay. It's got some blue. It's got some green. It is what it is. It seems to track very clearly and strongly with the direction of the brand that they're seeking to make. I think maybe even more importantly for consumers of the life insurance category and insurance in general, the company's really making reference to changes that are coming in terms of the customer experience and across touch points.

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It was interesting to read what Esther Lee said about how the Snoopy affiliation and the Peanuts connection, which really began perhaps 30 years ago or so. At the time, the Snoopy connection was really about a desire on the part of the company to make MetLife and the category a bit more friendly and approachable in a time when the insurance and financial services industry in general was seen as kind of cold and corporate and to use the company's word a little bit ‘distant.’ They used Snoopy over a couple of decades to help, again, create a bit of a friendly and approachable face to what is serious business and often fairly dense to those who don't know much about it.

The company's re-brand is designed to herald, or at least they claim, is heralding a shift, in terms of the way they do business and the way they think about product development, the way they think about interacting with their customers. I guess the overriding lesson here is that I love Snoopy, but really to what MetLife says it will do, it's time to break free. I applaud them for doing so decisively. This is a long time in coming.

Life insurance has a clear marketing template, it's gauzy emotional pictures of families with the unspoken sense that things happen and that we're here when it counts. This is a template. Everybody, at least the larger advertisers in the business, seem to communicate in a very similar way. The selling structure within life insurance is almost a cliché at this point. It's the insurance guy or gal at the party who's always selling. There's a lot of fine print. There'd been a lot of legal actions over the years about consumer awareness of some of these elements of legal contracts in the insurance marketplace.

This is a category that, by virtue of doing business in an old-school way, may not be as educational or consumer-friendly as it has the potential to be, so it's exciting that MetLife is, at the very least, thinking about doing this a little bit differently. I guess the proof will be in the pudding about exactly how that takes place and what that means for folks like you and me who are out here trying to protect our dreams and our family and our most important assets.

If that's true and if MetLife is truly thinking differently about its business model and trying to up-end some of the ways in which insurance in the life insurance category has marketed and interacted with the consumer, then it is absolutely the right time to think differently about their most high-profile marketing partnership.

What did Snoopy really earn for the brand today? Maybe 30 years ago, it created a smile and a greater connection and sense of friendliness, but more recently, certainly eyeballs, recognition, some vague sense of, you know, if you like the Peanuts brand, then maybe that led to some preference for MetLife, but generally speaking, it's time to move on.

When we have cherished brand assets, whether it's logos or names or specific marketing partnerships or ad campaigns, whatever it is, that are well-recognized and have a life of their own in terms of how seriously and deeply they are valued by the company, sometimes it's hard to evolve. Some of these deeply cherished brand assets are incompatible with brand evolution.

We spoke on an earlier podcast episode about how brand strategy and brand identity evolutions can be a catalyst to herald and underline shifts in business strategy. Well, the opposite of that can be true. Sometimes shifts in business strategy don't take hold or can't manifest themselves as strongly if they are cloaked within the familiar to too strong a degree.

We applaud MetLife. I'll say ‘I.’ I'll speak for myself, because, as with everything else, this is a topic where I'm sure there are opinions all over the map, but I applaud MetLife. I wish them the best. I think all too often one goes through some degree of change merely for the sake of change.

Despite the fact that we do a lot of work around brand evolution, strategically and creatively, we never want our clients just to change for the sake of change. Sometimes you need to do a cosmetic re-branding to contemporize your look and feel, but brand is not the way for an executive to make their mark – if that's the only reason or for a company to do something different. The look and feel has to be tied to something significant, something greater. It seems in the case of MetLife, the re-branding process and the difficult, I'm sure, decision to move away from their relationship with Peanuts is an example of this.

Applause for MetLife. We'll certainly be watching. We wish them the best and, of course, Peanuts certainly doesn't need our best wishes, because they are a juggernaut when it comes to family-friendly entertainment and other programming. Our sense is that everyone will be just fine. Every now and then there are really interesting branding questions like this one and so it's fun to think about and talk about.

As always on Real-World Branding, there's three ways to support what we're doing. We'd love it if you'd click the subscribe button, so even if we take a few weeks off, you won't have to wonder when that next episode's going to come in, because as soon as it's available, if you're subscribing to it, it'll download into the device of your choice. We'd love a rating if we deserved in the app store of your choice. We understand that that does help, particularly for those that rate us highly, others to find us who may find some interest and joy in this content. Lastly, let's resume or keep that dialogue going on Twitter @BillGullan or @FinchBrands. We always love ideas for guests and topics and questions and everything else.

As fall is here and leaves descend, we'll sign off from the Cradle of Liberty.

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