Wagon Wheels (Reliving The Lunchbox Experience)

My parents were of European heritage so food was important to us. As a child attending public school in suburban Ottawa, my brothers and I rarely ate in the school cafeteria. Instead, my parents would make us lunches that we would schlep to school regardless of weather conditions (this included months of sub-zero temps as Ottawa was second coldest to Moscow).

In my early school days, I remember that plastic lunchboxes were all the rage. Not just any lunchbox, but the coloured “Thermos” ones that often came with pictures of your favourite superheroes or TV show characters. The lunchboxes would come with a good size Thermos container (attached with a clip) that would provide needed warmth with soup or hot chocolate on those endless bitterly cold winter days.

Included in my lunch would always be a sandwich – usually salami, cheese or peanut butter – to give us extra protein. Back then, our lunchboxes weren’t refrigerated at school so it’s amazing none of us came down with food poisoning. I still remember my parents buying those monster size salamis which sometimes looked like small baseball bats. Being a daughter of parents of European heritage, dessert was always a much anticipated treat to find in my lunchbox. If we were lucky, our lunches would also include a small size DelMonte pudding cup (usually chocolate). The cups came with sharp, pull off lids so you had to be careful they didn’t slice your fingers as you rushed to pull them off.

But the item that stands out the most as having the most impact on my day was when I saw a Wagon Wheel in my lunch. These tasty treats (resembling a Joe Louis by Vachon for those of you who grew up near Quebec) consisted of a generous portion of marshmallow sandwiched between two chocolate covered soft biscuits.

As a kid, I knew it would be a good afternoon if my lunch included a Wagon Wheel.

Today, the product hasn’t changed much except that with most consumer products, the size seems to have shrunken a bit. What’s funny is that I still occasionally buy it for a treat. The brand has the incredible ability to take me back to the carefree days of my childhood when a simple treat in my lunchbox was able to make my day.

Eating a Wagon Wheel makes me experience my childhood all over again as in spite of its seemingly smaller size, not much has changed with the product. The taste is still unique and I sense I am that same kid all over again.

What is it about some brands that make them so timeless?

I looked at the new packaging for Wagon Wheels and not much seems to have changed either except for the fact that I’m now looking at it from the eyes of an adult. The font looks the same (quite retro) and each piece is individually wrapped. In what is probably an attempt to bring us back to our Wagon Wheel roots, the company makes it a point of saying the product is “original.” Which is true, because that’s exactly how I remember them.

Yet what hit me the most on the package was the five word line printed directly below the product name “Ideal snack for the lunchbox.” The image right next to it features a yellow lunchbox with a Wagon Wheel and wrapper sitting directly outside of it.

What’s even more intriguing is that I wrote most of this post BEFORE I even took a look at the packaging. Dare Foods totally nailed it. As a consumer, you can’t get any closer to a brand experience than that.

In a world cluttered with competing messages, to me that’s brand genius. Timelessness, taste, experience and meaning make this one brand story that’s destined to be around for a long, long time.

Wagon Wheels






Nostalgic Over Heinz

Heinz is one of the world’s most iconic and memorable brands. To this day, I refuse to buy any other ketchup than Heinz ketchup. The topic of brand loyalty has long intrigued both manufacturers as well as advertisers and academics. What makes a brand so good – that consumers will go out of their way to buy it every time – regardless of price or the wide array of other options on the grocery shelf?

Iconic global brands have several qualities, but perhaps the most dominant is their ability to invoke some sort of emotional connection in the consumer. By consuming a product represented by a global brand, we are often transported to a different place and time. A time when things were simpler and less rushed. A time when we were perhaps surrounded by family gathered around the television set watching the Flintstones or Walt Disney.

Take Heinz spaghetti. To some, it might be just another option to soup on a cold winter’s day. But to me, the idea of eating Heinz spaghetti has a far deeper connection and meaning. Having grown up with 3 brothers, I remember us all eating Heinz spaghetti on (usually wobbly) TV trays  watching our old black and white TV on those long and cold winter days. On some days we might have come home for a quick lunch from school. My grandmother would open up a couple of cans, then serve them to us sprinkled with Kraft grated parmesan cheese.  I still remember shaking those large green containers with the red lids. I also remember watching the spaghetti boil as the odour of tomato sauce filled our house.

We loved Heinz spaghetti, and I still eat it today when I want to feel nostalgic. That’s one reason comfort foods exist. When it comes to brands, it’s not so much what they ARE – but what they DO to us that represents their true quality and value. A brand is a promise of quality, and I know that whether it’s today or 10 years from now, Heinz will still offer me the same quality product I experienced when I was 10.

Perhaps most importantly, it will offer me the same brand STORY I experienced when I was 10. Brands offer context, and whenever I eat Heinz spaghetti I’m transported back to childhood. It represents comfort food and reminds me of a time when we were all together as a family.

To me, it’s not just another can of convenience food. It’s a promise that what I experience when I eat it will contain good memories and will make me feel good about the purchase. That’s what iconic brands do – and will always continue to do. It’s what makes them unique.

Are there any other brands you can think of that offer you a similar story? Are all brand decisions based on price, or do you sometimes buy something just because it reminds you of another place and time?




Design By Story: The Psychology of Car Design

0708auto_5A recent article in CAA magazine discussed the emotional reasons that people are drawn to cars. According to Lars Perner, associate professor at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California,"a car is a kind of extension of the self - it seems to send a message about what kind of person one is and one's sense of values and style."

This view of a car possessing qualities that relate to us on an almost human level is common to timeless brands. For a brand to be timeless, it must relate to us on both a rational and emotional level. Certain car brands relate to certain types of personalities. Think of the Ford Mustang. According to Cheskin, Mustang had emotional meaning to the American public as it represented an animal that was "rugged" and "fast." Americans could identify with these qualities, and the styling of the Mustang was in harmony with the name.

Anthony Prozzi, design manager for Ford in Michigan, explains that "part of a designers job is to play psychologist, anthropologist and sociologist, and knowing those things helps you read consumers and know what puts a smile on their faces."

Cars have personalities, just as humans do. Prozzi, who once designed menswear at Donna Karan, uses the principle of story when he designs cars. He says that even before he puts a pen to paper, he needs a good story. He does this by asking the questions "Who is this person or group of people? How do they live? What do they respond to and what are they sensitive to?"

Even the colour of cars can have psychological impact and meaning. A current trend is to show shades of colours meant to represent everything organic. Green could be modified as a reaction to the environmental movement.

What type of car do you drive? What colour is it - and what do you think that colour says about you? 

Meaningful Brand Experiences - Design Management Institute

I'm on the mailing list for the DMI (Design Management Institute) and am intrigued by the nature of their research and innovative seminars. The organization is based in Boston, and is an "international nonprofit organization that seeks to heighten awareness of design as an essential part of business strategy." It has become the leading international resource and authority on design management.

In an upcoming seminar entitled "Strategies for Designing Meaningful Brand Experiences", Dave Norton, Principal and Lead Strategist for Stone Mantel, will be teaching design managers and strategists ways in which to innovate new experiential offerings. Testimonials for Dave's course read like a "Who's Who" list of Powerbrands: Kraft, Disney, AOL and Campbell Soup Company.

The seminar outline states that the most pressing need for today's consumers is the need for meaningful brand experiences. In a world cluttered with what seems to be a neverending supply of marketing messages, the notion of incorporating "meaning" into brands and consumer products makes a lot of sense.

When I think back to certain milestones in my life - or events that simply made me happy, I could mark those experiences on what I call my own "personal branding chart." The chart would include certain brands (or artifacts) that relive the story of certain events in my life - or bring back some sort of memory or feeling about the event I experienced at the time.

For example, when I was sick as a child, a bowl of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup would always make me feel better. To this day, I get those same feelings (and almost relive the experience of feeling cared for and healthy) by sipping a bowl of Campbell's soup. I remember days at the cottage spent sipping the occasional Molson beer. When I see people enjoying the beer, my mind wanders to those days by the lake. The mere mention of the Quebec resort Mont-Tremblant lingers up memories of winters spent gliding down black diamond runs in minus 30 degree temps. I can still see the ice crystals forming on my goggles!

The point is this...successful brands are able to create some sort of meaning for consumers. The "meaning" will have value depending on the person's experience with the brand and, if successful, the brand will hold value for that person throughout their life. It will come to MEAN something to them.

Every brand tells a story. What story could you tell on your own "personal branding chart?"