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The Rise of Submissive Digital Branding

The process of branding is crucial to the success of any product and if done poorly a perfectly functional product or service will fail. In many other examples, companies have prospered after an effort to rebrand certain products without changing much about the product itself. The former president of Ogilvy and Mather A.E. Pitcher noted that branding is particularly important because however good a product is, it means nothing if the consumer doesn’t share this opinion:

‘A brand is not the producer’s but the consumer’s idea of the product. Branding is what makes otherwise parity products different.’

Despite this traditional stance, some brands have taken the step towards submissive branding in digital marketing. Various products from the food industry have enjoyed success by adopting this stance. Here we look at why the strategy was assumed and, more importantly, why it worked so well.

What Is Submissive Digital Branding?

Submissive digital branding is the term used to describe any marketing communications in which the product or message features more prominently and any codifying relating to the brand is drastically reduced from conventional advertising. Markedly different from branded content, which seeks to leverage the brand’s name against information or alternative products that appeal to the target demographic, submissive digital branding places the product front and centre of the consumer’s attention.

An example of an exponent of early submissive advertising was James Dyson, the inventor of the eponymous vacuum cleaner. The author of the influential book Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing Douglas Van Praet said that Dyson’s success was down to the fact that he offered proof it really worked. Unlike previous vacuum cleaners, Dyson’s used no bags and were transparent, allowing you to see the dirt that had been sucked up. Ultimately the brand wasn’t important, as Dyson managed to undercut the traditional response of long term memory when choosing a brand to source which ones work and which had been used before. In showing the dirt inside the vacuum cleaner, Dyson added an element to the process by showing a functional aspect had previously been unexplored.

Examples Of Submissive Advertising In The Food Industry

The crux of submissive digital branding will be to create a dimension in the decision-making process that is previously unexplored. One example of submissive branding comes from Huy Fong Foods, a hot sauce company from California. Whilst many may be unfamiliar with the name of the company itself, there’s no doubt that the product awareness is incredibly high, as Huy Fong’s signature Sriracha sauce can be found in restaurants and supermarkets across the UK.

The product itself is subtly branded with a green top, transparent bottle displaying the red sauce and a rooster (Huy Fong’s logo) adorning the front of the bottle. However, other brands such as Flying Goose have adopted similar branding in an attempt to co-opt the rise in popularity of the sauce. Despite this, Huy Fong remains the leading manufacturer of sriracha sauce and continues its stance to not promote the brand alongside the product name. Even today, Huy Fong’s brand name takes a back seat when sold with some online retailers such as Amazon compared to other sellers who include the brand name alongside the product name.

The Rise of Submissive Digital Branding | mporium

Huy Fong’s digital marketing communications also focus on the consumer rather than the product itself. Users who have made videos using the sauce can have them featured on the website.

Many also saw founder David Tran’s failure to trademark the term ‘sriracha’ as a misstep – however, his riposte was that this allowed for a vast amount of free advertising at a time when the company had a smaller budget. Although challenges lie ahead with Tabasco now marketing its own version of the sauce, submissive branding has allowed Huy Fong to position itself as the original sriracha sauce which again creates a unique question in the mind of the consumer when it comes to purchasing – is this product the original? Other famed brands such as Pepsi or Coca-Cola rely on loyalty over questions of ingenuity as this question does not exist in the mind of the consumer.   

Other companies have also attempted submissive digital branding as a part of overall marketing efforts. McDonald’s has recently looked to reap the benefits of submissive digital branding. A recent video prompted viewers to search for ‘that place where Coke tastes so good’. Although the video was codified with McDonald’s signature colours, there was no mention of the restaurant chain or its products during the video. A search for the term results in a number of articles detailing that Coca-Cola tastes better at McDonald’s. This again follows the same pattern as other forms of submissive digital advertising in creating an extra step in the decision making process by comparing McDonald’s apparently superior soft drinks against places that have made no such claims.

Another American chain Chipotle has also launched an unbranded content campaign. Taking the form of an animated TV show designed to subtly teach children about healthy eating, the show contains no direct advertising but it is hoped that its positive message will encourage parents to frequent its locations more often.


A lot of the time, consumers aren’t bothered by brands but only affiliate with a certain brand as they are intrinsically aware of its benefits. The process of using submissive digital branding or unbranded content is to create value in areas that other brands haven’t and by proxy leverage an advantage over competitors when it comes to the decision making process.

The example from Huy Fong shows that consumers are increasingly interested in products rather than advertising. Seeing a product in its natural environment may be more appealing to consumers, particularly those who are searching on a second screen based on the content they are viewing. For this reason, tools such as mporium IMPACT are increasingly important for those looking to take advantage of the Micro Moments that matter as submissively advertised products can still be searched when appearing on television or other media.

Have you ever used submissive digital branding? What is your opinion on this strategy? Get in touch with us @mporiumgroup.

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