Why is This Content Different From All Other Content:
Passover Reminds us of the Relevance of Branded Content
By Chet Fenster, MEC
Over 90 years ago, American Jews celebrated the Passover holiday by eating matzo and unleavened treats, but when they reached for a beverage they shunned coffee in favor of tea. It seems there wasn’t a coffee brand certified, “Kosher for Passover.” In 1923, Maxwell House saw an opportunity and introduced the first “Kosher for Passover” coffee; others soon followed. Looking to solidify the brand in the minds of Jewish consumers, Maxwell House’s ad agency employed an innovative marketing tactic for the time: branded content.
Well, that’s what we call it today. In fact, Maxwell House decided to publish a book, specifically a Haggadah, and offer it to customers for free. (A Haggadah recounts the Exodus from Egypt, comprised of prayers, songs and stories which guide the Passover Seder.). The Maxwell House edition was an instant hit. Today, it’s the most popular Haggadah in the world, with over 50 million printed.
This Haggadah is so ubiquitous; it’s become difficult to find others. When I went to a Judaica shop in NYC looking to buy a nice set of Haggadahs, the salesperson suggested I hit the supermarket and pick up the Maxwell House edition: “They’re really good,” she exclaimed. Why has this piece of branded content endured generation after generation? Four underlining principals make the Maxwell House Haggadah the perfect case study in branded content:
- Branded content must serve a consumer need. Maxwell House wasn’t creating content for the sake of creating content; most likely, the agency lead didn’t have a secret ambition to be an author (or rabbi!). Instead, it began with a simple insight: Jewish families spend quality time around the Seder engaged with a Haggadah.
- Branded content needs to add value. Before Maxwell House published its own consumers purchased many different versions of Haggadahs. As the number of Sedar guests grew, people needed to purchase or borrow additional books and find the right match. Maxwell House made it easier to bring family and friends together year after year with one common text.
- Branded content should be organic, not intrusive. Besides the cover and introductions, Maxwell House’s Haggadah has no branding inside the book. A smart executive resisted the urge to have the Jews take a coffee break while fleeing the Pharaoh, or have Moses descend Mt. Sinai with the tablets in one hand and a latte in the other. They kept it simple, making sure that the brand enabled the content but didn’t interfere with it. Would we have the same restraint today?
- Branded content should enable communities and establish new rituals. It seems obvious, but by embracing the Jewish community, Maxwell House was able to build brand loyalty with a targeted consumer segment. Today we think of this in terms of multi-cultural marketing. It’s a very powerful idea to bring something to a specific community, be engrained in people’s rituals, and help establish new ones. For Jewish people, the ritual is a yearly pilgrimage to pick-up new Haggadahs and Maxwell House coffee.
These four principles could easily be rephrased into questions when examining your own marketing plans. (My grandma would kill me if I attempted to rewrite the Haggadah).
Even in the age of social media, digital series and custom apps, the Maxwell House Haggadah provides a great lesson in the right way to create content.
A tablet version of the Haggadah is probably in the works, where different portions are highlighted and distributed to those that are assigned the reading. But until that app takes over the world, the Maxwell House edition will be engrained in Jewish culture. After all, it’s tradition!
About Chet Fenster: Chet Fenster is the Managing Partner of MEC Entertainment, a division of MEC. He has no affiliation with Maxwell House or Kraft Foods, but seeing this in print will make his grandma kvell.