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Brand Characterization: Lessons from Stephen Colbert's Riff on Wheat Thins

If you missed Stephen Colbert reading the memo on Wheat Thins brand guidelines, do yourself a kindness and watch this. It's hilarious.


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We had a good laugh at this in the Account Planning lair. We've written phrases like "the brand is not a rebel" and convinced ourselves it was directional enough to be strategy; what planner hasn't? The Wheat Thin memo probably makes perfect sense to the brand team and their agencies. They know the Wheat Thins brand in and out, but if we take Stephen Colbert at his word, which is always a risk, he was given this memo to help him stay on brand in a unique context - a sponsored segment on his show. He ended up making the memo itself the joke.

I now know that the serving size is 16 crackers. 17 crackers is overconsumption and off-brand.

But the funny memo got us thinking. How do you write strategy and tactical guidelines for social media and other spontaneous, evolving branding moments without being prescriptive and limiting? After all, the traditional creative brief is designed for one-way messaging, not continuous two-way interaction.

We've been experimenting with input documents for our creative teams that are directional without being limiting, but address the motivations and behaviors of the brand, so the brand can be understood and "performed" by community managers on social platforms.

Our latest experiment is a Character Sketch. We're finding the tools of the acting trade extremely useful. Regular readers will recall that a bunch of us are taking Improv classes. As we play with developing brands as characters and forge a new strategic toolkit, we're using Colbert's joke about Wheat Thins as a cautionary tale. He warns us that the input document and brand guidelines can go too far and become a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing.