Mamma Mia! shows a new way for brands to beat the blues

We started doing research back in July about “Recession-proof branding”. Since then, of course, things have gone from bad to worse to almost apocalyptic. 

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All the 20 marketing directors we interviewed were cutting costs and focusing ruthlessly on their most profitable products/services. In addition, many were trying to care for their hard-up consumers by “sharing the pain”. Their communication overtly acknowledged the tough times, and offered help by cutting prices or offering cheaper alternatives. My last post was on's price comparison service, prompting shoppers to consider cheaper alternatives. Other examples:
– Sainsbury’s: “Feed you family for a fiver”
– Premier Inn (budget hotels): "In hard times, our prices soften the blow",
– The Sun (newspaper): “Britain deserves a break”

However, there is another way to maintain and even strengthen the emotional bond with your consumers that is used by fewer brands. It’s illustrated by the mind-boggling success of Mamma Mia, the movie version of the Abba-inspired musical, starring Meryl Streep and Piers “James Bond” Brosnan. The movie cost $40million to make, and has so far grossed $500million, making it the number 81 movie of all time. And I expect the CD and DVD sales to double this figure.

So, what can brands learn from Benny and Bjorn’s blockbuster?

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1. Entertain, instead of sharing pain:
Mamma Mia has shown that sharing the pain by acknowledging that times are bad is only one way forward. An alternative is to give people a little lift, make them feel better. The CEO of the Cinema Exhibitors Association commented: “In times of economic gloom, people seek affordable and escapist feel-good entertainment”. One brand that springs to mind here is Coke. The UK marketing guy I saw talked of Coke offering “optimism in a bottle”, and said that Coke’s most effective communication was based on this idea.

2. Look back to what made you famous:
Mamma Mia shows the power of looking back in your brand archives for ideas and inspiration. Abba’s songs from the 70’s are still fresh today. What about the marketing mix from your brand’s history, such as slogans, music and symbols? If they were good back then, they may still be good today. For example, Mars has recently gone back to its roots with its “Work, rest, play” slogan.

3. Tap into universal values:
the global success of Mamma Mia
shows that there are some values and stories that appeal from
Manchester to Mumbai to Manhattan. The movie is based on themes
including identity (which of 3 guys is really the heroine’s dad?),
unrequited love and striving for success against the odds. In the same
way, its possible to find a big idea with global appeal, that create
economies of scale, and help in the drive to cut costs. For example,
Unilever’s Persil/Omo detergent brand now has a global mix based on the
idea of “Dirt is Good”, encouraging parents to give their kids freedom
to play and get dirty.

4. Re-purchase is ke
y: Mamma Mia is a great reminder of the power of a great product to drive re-purchase. Many people, including me, enjoy the film so much they go back and see it again. My kids are pestering me to go a 3rd time, and have already asked Father Xmas to bring them the DVD. The power of a great product is of course also word-of-mouth. I’ve told at least a dozen friends to go and see the movie. And I’m doing the same with you now.

5. Renovate the core: The core Mamma Mia product was already good. But even more sales have been generated through “upgrading” it with singalong versions! Yup, same movie, but with total freedom and permission to get up and sing. Bit like a movie and karaoke in one.

Anyone got other examples of brands thriving in the recession by entertaining, rather than sharing the pain?