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The Marmite case: Branding icon

9 minutes
Branding = experiences
November 15, 2021

The Marmite case: Branding icon

Marmite is a Branding experience based on friction.
9 minutes
I love their Branding but hate the product. Is it serious, doctor?

This is Marmite

Marmite is a British institution of breakfast and snacks. It is a savoury food spread made from yeast extract, invented by German scientist Justus von Liebig and initially made in the United Kingdom. It is a by-product of beer brewing and is currently produced by the British company Unilever. The product is notable as a vegan source of vitamin B, including supplemental vitamin B12. Traditional use is to spread it very thinly on buttered toast.

How did I discover Marmite?

Branding brought me to Marmite with their hilarious campaigns, and early on, they set the tone of friction with a divisive tagline stating that customers may love it or hate it. Their advertising is always funny, innovative, disruptive and viral with a British cultural background. Nevertheless, I had never tasted Marmite. I liked their cute vintage packaging and design with bold colours and illustrations of an old pot.

While researching, I discovered that the name came from the French word “Marmite”, (\maʁ.mit\), which means pot. It makes sense because in France we have a saying that goes by “C’est dans les Vieux pots qu’on fait les meilleures soupes”(Best soups are made in old pots). In a nutshell, nothing surpasses experience!

My first taste

I was doing my groceries here in Paris when I found a jar of Marmite. I was pretty surprised to find one here, knowing it’s not common in France. It was not in huge quantities, so I understood the shop might have been testing this British emblem. I agree that the Branding of Marmite had been growing in me and the excitement as well. Marmite is a brand I value for its powerful storytelling and capacity to hook us. I was in awe and pretty joyful to give it a taste.

I thought to myself; it can't be that bad!

Here I am ready for the taste. I was prepared for an experience! I had seen and read how divisive it was, but I still thought, “It couldn’t be that bad”. My process was relatively easy, take a toast and put on a thin layer of the deep brownish paste.

From the packaging to the ads or social media posts, if you have not tasted Marmite yet, the experience is good. You witness a traditional brand that is always up-to-date and disruptive. They dare you to give a taste, telling you it’s your choice to like it or hate it: It’s on you.

At the first bite, the verdict is pretty deep and full of truth. It was pure resentment; I did strike a face few people would dare to imagine. I discovered I was a hater, and I didn’t expect that.I loved the Branding of Marmite as a brand designer, getting inspired and excited by their mastery of storytelling. I have dear respect for their clear messaging, but still, I never thought I would choose sides and not like the product. They are great at Branding, but the product for me is so bad. How do we evolve from there?

Intriguing Paradox 

We associate a brand and its product which is quite a paradox and an interesting fact about Branding as an experience. A brand is a product and vice versa. Here we have a product that is so divisive at the foundation of a company that Branding cannot do anything more than play with the friction. To such an extent that the “Dare to taste and pick a side” becomes a brand asset.

Consistency in an intention

Marmite has always been consistent in its intention and messaging. They warn you: and by you, I mean everybody who tastes it. There is no demographic, specific, ethnic, group, or gender. The target audience may be British but the product is an international Brand. Customers are everywhere. The common denominator of all Marmite customers resides in the friction of their experience. All you have to do is taste and try Marmite.

It is a powerful brand strategy. For Marmite, there is no need to overstudy a persona. The “love it or hate it” are the target audience, and that is a massive group of people.

It becomes a virtuous circle of profit and experience. No matter who loves it or hates it, they are part of the Marmite experience. Whatever the tasting results, it helps spread the message. The values of mystery, comedy of situations and conversations. They install the product experience as a catalyst for conversations. A set of debates with ambassadors and haters, keeping the core message and feeling alive.

Art of including, not choosing

The magical Branding of Marmite resides in that art of including the target audience: everyone. What is even more intriguing is the aftermath reactions. Especially from those hooked by the Branding so far. There is a dissociative understanding; what I mean by that is that you doubt your taste a little. For example in a couple, one is a lover of Marmite and the other is a hater of Marmite. Each person finds it so weird that the other person hates or loves this product. How come this person loves it or hates it? Did I read it wrong? Did I use the wrong protocol?

You need to taste it, discover which side you are on and move from there.

The success of Marmites Branding resides in your enticement to give it a second try. After a second taste, if you still hate it or love it, you have chosen your side for good and have to stick to it.

The power of friction positioning resides in inclusion. And it’s all good for Marmite! If you hate it, you are still a part of the Marmite experience and family; it’s all about you either loving it or hating it. You can say you hate it in front of someone who loves it and it creates all these funny, impertinent and comic situations.

For example, in the DNA campaign, ‘’It’s in your DNA that you love Marmite’’, they push the friction so far in comedy that it becomes iconic. Using our genes to discover if we were born a hater or lover is genius, and it sets the Brand as a scientifically approved experience.

The classic overview

Personal and corporate brands all rely on knowing their target audience. The goal is to propose the best user experience and improve trust, value, and sales. Here we have a brand that promotes an experience to a feeling: rather than a specific “persona”.

Marmite succeeds in something pretty pure in Branding, in such an intelligent way. They know their product so well, they are daring enough to install a choice, and they don’t tell you what to do. It’s up to “You”, not up to us to like our product. We provide a transparent and exciting experience, but it’s your choice to like the product. We welcome you on board whatever your preference; we even have the goal to convert you into a lover.

Our product is what it is; it's a secret recipe; it's even the oldest recipe, and we claim it. 

They state they can convert haters to lovers. In that case, it is an educational process and an allied strategy. The lovers will always remind the haters that they are missing something, and the haters do the opposite. The constant friction nourishes the icon value of Marmite and its growing storytelling.

Branding is motion

Suppose a brand keeps reinforcing its message with a strong lead of people who love the product and dislike it: then longevity benefits friction. People talk, debate, share recipes and try to convert the other side. The process becomes a system or machine that grows in a way by itself.

Building a brand in the friction of lovers and haters becomes the secret ingredient of storytelling. It is so divisive that it allows and entices even more people to test it. They create content around the timeless controversy. What a powerful and soft power branding. The Brand evolves by observing trends and societal improvements. Those outputs infuse into its storytelling, but the core message stays the same.

Marmite’s secret recipe may have evolved, but it keeps the same robust taste as its signature. The product is as old as its name. Its Branding and storytelling have refined themselves through time. The advertisements for Marmite are classic icons for experts. They showcase with humour a British way of life, family evolutions, diversity and economic shifts.

Effective Branding

We may not be aware of it but Marketing and Branding don’t do the work the audience does. The power of effective Branding, especially for Marmite, resides in that understanding

A product that is so divisive but still has a powerful stretch and expansion.

The result of hating the product doesn’t mean you hate Marmite. That is a powerful place to be as a brand. I’m not too fond of the product, but I still respect Marmite and its branding vision even more. Growing in the friction of their target audience and message allows them to be super innovative, bold, and playful. Very few brands have reached that capacity to install a divisive enthusiasm. That is such an educational tool for brands, experts, writers, and researchers.

Good or bad testimonials enhance brand value because it is part of the core strategy and positioning. It creates dynamic conversations, and experiences that, good or bad, don’t tarnish or break a brand. Positive and negative feedback nourishes each other.

Marmite, is it Branding or marketing?

For me, Marmite is both Branding and Marketing. By pushing their message through campaigns and playing with brand values enhances their voice. The formula of the product evolved with different versions of Marmite adapting to trends but the Brand’s speech stayed the same.

The formula continued to evolve with different versions of Marmite. Even though they adapted to several trends, the Brand’s speech remained the same. One of the strengths of Marmite is its ability to transform controversial storytelling into a viral reach.

The tendency of people to taste food from different countries is more than a tendency. It’s a fast-forward advertisement to say that you dare to experience something completely different from your food and habits. There is a change in marketing, Branding, and cultural transparency. Brands don’t have to overdo campaigns for people to test and experience. Our new system revolves around sharing your opinions about products. For brands — it is the era of opinion power.

If your product is divisive, how do you position yourself? 

The Marmite case is an exciting example of a powerful and genuine strategy. It is full of inspirational and adaptive resources for Branding. Using friction in Branding positively and enthusiastically and being well-received by haters or lovers is a powerful place for a brand.

If your product is very disruptive perhaps the key to owning your position is to create Branding and marketing that enhances the positive friction. It may be more difficult for new brands to push for divisive products in the era we live in. Technological product innovation is less about the ‘’taste’’ aspect than the practical use of products. If the product is inefficient, it will not hit the market. This strategy is easier to understand and implement in the food, fashion, and even music industries.

What brands make you feel, good or bad is the aftermath

For Marmite whatever the aftermath feeling, their Branding is still effective and converting. Marmite’s Branding is excellent, but the product is controversial. It creates a sense of loyalty and respect from both sides which is quite interesting. It is an empowering strategy for any brand that ventures into playful friction as a brand value.

What a brand makes you feel afterwards, it's Branding. You like it or hate it so much that you speak about it.

After reading this piece, I encourage you to (re)discover Marmite. If you don’t know the Brand, taste it and discover your side. You are part of the Marmite experience and vector of innovative Branding.

Advertising has made me aware of the uniqueness of Marmite, shedding light on its friction-based brand experience. Let's unveil the Branding of this British Institute with such a divisive feel.
Founder of Keva Epale Studio

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Advertising has made me aware of the uniqueness of Marmite, shedding light on its friction-based brand experience. Let's unveil the Branding of this British Institute with such a divisive feel.
Founder of Keva Epale Studio