The Brand Story of Betty Crocker (And What We Can Learn From It)

for New Visions Design

The year is 1950. Scarcely a kitchen in America is immune from the allure of Betty. Fast forward nearly seventy years, and Betty Crocker is still a staple in U.S. homes. What can we learn from this iconic brand?

f you’ve never heard the story of how Betty came to be, it’s all here on the Betty Crocker website. Spoiler alert: Betty’s not a real person. The catalyst behind Betty was Samuel Gale, an advertising manager at Washburn Crosby Company (which later became General Mills). He didn’t feel that the housewives who were writing in asking for advice would be as receptive to an answer from a man, so he signed the letters with a friendly-sounding female moniker: “Betty Crocker” … And thus, in 1921, a brand icon was birthed.

Betty Crocker is an enduring and ubiquitous brand. As you yourself work to build a stronger brand, here are five lessons you can take away from its success.

Lesson #1: Give people something to connect with.

A brand character can be an incredibly powerful way of forging a connection with your audience.

Humanizing a brand is a smart move. So it should come as no surprise the depth and breadth of connection Betty inspired with people. Longtime consumers have stories about how Betty Crocker helped them through difficult times with her personalized responses to their letters; or how Betty’s tips and recipes created family traditions that have endured throughout generations. In her book, Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food, author Susan Marks remarked on the strong feelings of hope and nostalgia that Betty evoked, noting “The sheer magnitude —and longevity— of her popularity speaks volumes of the need she has fulfilled in countless lives.” In 1945, Betty Crocker was even named the second most popular American woman, topped only by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. That’s a pretty high honor for someone who isn’t even real.

Lesson #2: If you’re gonna do it, really DO it.

See an idea out to its fullness. How far can you take it? How big can it get? The most successful and enduring marketing efforts are those that see an idea all the way through — and beyond.

Betty Crocker was not just a name added to a few letters. The company ran with the idea of Betty Crocker completely and intentionally, and allowed Betty to take on a life of her own.

  • Betty had a distinctive signature. Female employees at the time submitted sample signatures to become the “official” Betty Crocker signature.
  • Betty had her portrait created. The first portrait was created in 1936, blending facial features of the female staff at Washburn Crosby Company.
  • Betty wrote cookbooks and pamphlets. The Betty Crocker Cookbook is still being sold today.
  • Betty was on the radio. “The Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air” was one of the longest running radio shows in American history.
  • Betty was on television. In the early 1950’s, Betty made television appearances on several shows, and even had her own, the Betty Crocker Star Matinee show.
  • Betty became an enterprise. From the Betty Croker Home Legion Program to wartime rationing advice by the “First Lady of Food”. From the Betty Crocker Kitchens to the Betty Crocker college scholarship competition. Betty was everywhere.

In other words, Washburn Crosby Company / General Mills didn’t do this halfway. They really did it. And it paid off.

Lesson #3: You can evolve with the times without changing who you are.

Once you have established an identity, stick to it, but don’t forget you also need to stay relevant.

Since 1955, Betty’s image has evolved many times to reflect the culture. In 1972, the updated Betty portrait featured a more business-like professional image to reflect the increasing role of women in the workplace. Her 1996 portrait was digitally composited from 75 diverse women nationwide, resulting in a more ethnically ambiguous Betty. To date, there have been eight versions of the Betty Crocker portrait through the years; yet, she always remained true to her essence, a caring motherly figure ready to dole out helpful advice (a perfect embodiment of the Caregiver brand archetype!). 

Betty Crocker through the years. Source

Besides this, the Betty Crocker brand kept up with technology over the years, modernizing its promotional efforts through its online presence, apps, and digital offerings. In 2011, the Betty Crocker Facebook page had over 1.4 million fans, many under the age of 35. In 2016, Betty was still highly revered. And now, at the time of this writing, the brand’s Facebook fans number more than 5 million. So, a 95-year-old homemaker brand is maintaining relevance even to (gasp!) millenials. You can’t do that without a bit of flexibility — but you also need a strong authentic core to fall back on. Which brings us to…

Lesson #4: Be authentic.

It’s nearly impossible for people to connect with something that doesn’t feel real to them.

This may seem a hypocritical point, seeing as how Betty Crocker is a fictionalized character that to this day, many people believe is real (case in point: “when did Betty Crocker die?” was one of the related search terms that popped up on my Google search). But it’s especially because of this that it’s important to bring it up.

When Samuel Gale was answering the original letters that birthed Betty, supposedly he didn’t just make up some fluff; he actually went out of his way to get real answers — in his case, asking the women of the Home Services department of the company to weigh in, since he knew they could speak more authentically to the questions. Find a way to speak to your audience from a real place. That is perhaps one of the greatest measures of authenticity. Arguably, the best proof of this comes by way of a 1945 Fortune magazine article, which revealed Betty as a “fake” and a “fraud”. Within all reason, this could have been a drastic hit to the brand. But it wasn’t. Even knowing Betty wasn’t real didn’t prevent people from feeling a connection or wanting to connect with her. People still kept writing to “her” for advice. People still kept buying “her” cookbooks. People still saw “her” as a caring and trusted authority. The brand remains strong to this day. The reason? Because even if the persona was fake, the spirit of Betty was authentic.

Lesson #5: Capitalize on unexpected outcomes.

View challenges as opportunities to strengthen your brand attributes.

Betty is perhaps the most impactful fluke in brand history. She wasn’t planned ahead of time. The need for Betty was unexpected. Betty was born because of the sheer volume of letters, completely unanticipated, that came flooding in after a somewhat unrelated marketing campaign. The letters presented an interesting challenge for the company. But it reflected that there was a need, so Washburn Crosby Company found a way to build a brand around that need. They weren’t trying to pound a square peg in a round hole, they simply found an intuitive way to respond to their customers as the needs presented themselves. In hindsight, it feels quite natural. But at the time, there were a number of ways this could have played out. Creating Betty was one way, and we can probably all agree it was a good one.

Now… What will YOU do?

I know we’re talking about Betty Crocker here, but just think about a few other famous brand characters: Mr. Clean, Pillsbury Doughboy, Ronald McDonald. These also represent enduring brands, thanks in no small part to their memorable characters (even though these guys are obviously made-up with no chance of being mistaken for real!). Whether you rely on a fictional persona, create an animated character, or if your brand is based off of a real person, make sure the human element is front and center — and then let your brand personality shine!

What can you do today to make your brand more human?

Nyla Smith

NYLA SMITH

Nyla is a Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Front-End Web Developer and Consultant with over 15 years of experience. She is the owner of n-Vision Designs, LLC in Hampton Roads, Virginia, which exists to provide marketing support and brand consulting to small- and medium-sized businesses needing creative solutions. Contact Nyla if you’d like to discuss your next creative project. She can usually be bribed to a meeting with a cup of green tea and an oatmeal cookie.

Brand Archetypes — Meet the Caregiver

  • The Caregiver brand archetype can be summed up in two words: compassionate and self-sacrificing. Picture the empathetic nurse or the helpful concierge, and you will see how the Caregiver archetype is a personality fit for brands which aim to nurture or serve others, from healthcare, to nonprofit, to hospitality industries.

All About the Caregiver

The Caregiver derives meaning from helping others. This brand archetype is moved by compassion and generosity, and strives to make people feel nurtured and secure. For the Caregiver, the worst fears are 1) neglecting loved ones and 2) instability, due to the impact it will have on the less fortunate.

The Caregiver archetype is often associated with the maternal and paternal instincts parents have in protecting their children, to the point of self-sacrifice. They give of themselves to make sure others are cared for.

This archetype is seen in teachers, nurses, and at the organizational level, churches, insurance agencies, and hotels. Well-known examples of the Caregiver archetype are Mother Teresa, Princess Diana, Habitat for Humanity, Campbell’s, and The Salvation Army.

The Caregiver in Action

To see the Caregiver around you, look no further than healthcare, insurance, and financial planning industries, as well as nonprofit or charitable organizations. Less obvious may be brands that have to do with maintenance or fixing broken things — activities such as cleaning, mending clothes, gardening, or general upkeep all call on the Caregiver’s tendency to nurture. Companies who do these things on a large scale can tap into the Caregiver archetype quite successfully. Auto brands who emphasize the safety of their vehicles may also project the Caregiver mentality effectively. No parent would ever consider an unsafe car for his teenager, after all!

The marketing strategies of Caregiver brands will revolve heavily around providing helpful experiences and nurturing relationships. Marketing will often appeal to sentimentality, happy memories, the comforts of home and family, and the feelings of safety and security. Visuals or multimedia may pull on soft color palettes, family imagery, and touching music.

Internally, a Caregiver organization will foster a relational culture and is typically highly structured or bureaucratic (in order to ensure an atmosphere of stability). Caregiver companies tend to treat their employees well; although, if the culture is not healthy, there is risk of employee burnout due to the level of sacrifice expected from them. The well-functioning Caretaker organization treats both their employees and customers with a high level of service, aiming to anticipate needs in advance and going above and beyond to accommodate them. In fact, exemplary customer service is a hallmark of a Caregiver brand. They just do nice things for others.

The Different Levels of the Caregiver Archetype

Each of the 12 archetypes exist in levels. The lower levels are less advanced while higher levels are more evolved.

Level 1 of the Caregiver brand archetype includes caring for one’s dependents.

Level 2 involves finding a balance between caring for oneself along with caring for others.

Level 3 speaks to an altruistic concern for the world at large.

All in the Family

The Caregiver archetype can be viewed from a few different angles, depending on which specific attributes are at play. The book Archetypes in Branding breaks it down into a family of sub-archetypes (including the primary Caregiver archetype) for a total of five.

  1. Caregiver
    The Caregiver is good, compassionate, and empathetic, with a sacrificial concern for others. This sub-archetype remains calm in a crisis and remains optimistic. The challenge it faces is an inability to say no, always wanting to help even when it is detrimental to self.
  2. Guardian
    A defender of others, the Guardian is fiercely protective. Providing nurturing guidance and loving oversight, the Guardian tends to keep to traditions and values. The main challenge of the Guardian is the potential to be overbearing or misuse their power.
  3. Samaritan
    The Samaritan is selfless and kind in its quest to love thy neighbor as thyself. This sub-archetype demonstrates compassionate action. It finds meaning in relieving others’ suffering. However, the Samaritan may face the challenge of self-martrydom, if not careful.
  4. Healer
    Strong on sensitivity, the Healer acts as a conduit to wholeness by creating optimal conditions for healing to happen naturally. With healthy doses of optimism and empathy, this sub-archetype remains full of faith, while remaining perceptive to others’ emotions. Unfortunately, the Healer can succomb to ego if holding too tightly to the idea of having the only right answer.
  5. Angel
    The Angel sub-archetype exudes purity and humility. With infinite compassion, the Angel brings joy and laughter while providing aid and comfort. As the name implies, the Angel can help guide others to change their lives for the better — including facilitating spiritual connection and miracles. For the Angel, the challenge lies in having an unrealistic outlook — ignoring anything negative to focus only on the positive.

Real world Example of the Caregiver Brand: The Salvation Army

The highest level of the Caregiver archetype is the altruist, focusing on serving the needs of the world at large. At this level, the Salvation Army serves as a fitting example of the Caregiver archetype.

For years, The Salvation Army has been ranked among the most trusted nonprofit organizations in America. With a tagline of “Doing the Most Good”, they have strongly branded themselves while providing social services to those in need for over a century.

They post their brand strategy online, which includes their Brand Personality: “Passionate. Compassionate. Brave. Uplifting. Trustworthy.” and their Brand Positioning: “To those who want to positively affect their world, The Salvation Army is the charity that maximizes contributions.”

Whenever you hear the sound of a ringing bell during Christmastime, there’s a good chance one of The Salvation Army’s red kettles is nearby to collect shoppers’ loose change. The red kettle is an integral part of The Salvation Army brand. One of their seasonal marketing pushes is “Red Kettle Reason” which is a campaign run during the holiday season to encourage giving to their organization.

Celebrity personality Nick Cannon is highlighted in a commercial from their 2015 campaign, in which he recounts his own childhood experience of being helped by The Salvation Army, while and espouses the shared values of faith and the responsibility of caring for others.

Do you notice in all of these videos that children appear somewhere? With this, the brand manages to speak to the most primitive instinct we all have, to protect and care for our kids, level 1 of the archetype, even while communicating on higher levels about helping society at large.

The Salvation Army as Hero?

With the Salvation Army also providing disaster relief and humanitarian aid, you’d be forgiven for thinking the brand could be a Hero archetype (as is another organization that occupies a similar space, the Red Cross). Indeed, these two archetypes are similar in that they help others in need, and The Salvation Army may feel heroic to those who are on the receiving end of their help. However, the motivations of the Caregiver and the Hero are different. The Caregiver is driven by the desire to meet the needs of others, a social motivation. The Hero is driven by the need to prove worth through courageous action, a self-driven motivation.

The Christian foundation of faith and sacrifice are possibly what tie The Salvation Army and Caregiver together so strongly. The Caregiver motto to “love your neighbor as yourself” is decidedly Christian, coming straight from the Bible, and aligns with The Salvation Army’s stated goal to “support everyone in need in His name without discrimination.” While the Red Cross and The Salvation Army occupy much the same space and provide similar services, it is their demonstrated brand positioning, culture, and values that set them apart from each other.

The Caregiver Consumer

Caregiver consumers are constantly trying to achieve balance in caring for others (kids, aging parents, the world at large) versus themselves, so brands that can speak to this struggle will resonate with those individuals. Following, the Caregiver consumer also likes to be recognized occasionally for their service, as it is a task that is often unappreciated or goes under the radar.

The Caregiver consumer isn’t easily fooled by everything it hears; it look for brands that show they care instead of those that say they do. For brands looking to target the Caregiver consumer, it is imperative that the brands show authentic action — walk the walk.

Is Your Brand a Caregiver?

Ask yourself: Do you place a high value on serving or protecting others? Is your goal to help people care for other people, pets, society, or the world at large with a sacrificial devotion? If you answered yes, it is very likely your brand is a Caregiver. To have the biggest impact, you should do all you can to communicate these values clearly and consistently, including in your marketing.

Still not sure which archetype defines your brand? Take the brand archetype quiz to find out your results and then check out an overview of the 12 brand archetypes to learn more.

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