The dogs in this story are those whose owners treat them to the occasional biscuit. The biscuits in question have been manufactured for the past few years by Brother Curry's Breads, a bakery in Belfast, Maine. Brother Curry is a one-armed Jesuit priest with a Ph.D. in theater history from New York University, who blended his love of performance, his understanding of disability and his calling to help those in need to create the National Theatre Workshop for the Handicapped-and then started the bakery to help raise money to support the workshop.
Problem was, the dog biscuits weren't selling as well as the pumpkin bread, as Brother Curry (who answers to the first name Rick) was relating to Ken Roman (who once ran Ogilvy Worldwide, one of the world's pre-eminent marketing-services companies). So Ken introduced Rick to Allen-that would be Allen Adamson, who once worked on the General Foods account at Ogilvy and who danced with Cora, the Maxwell House Coffee lady, at her retirement party. Allen now runs the New York office of Landor, the brand-marketing specialty firm which, like Ogilvy, is now part of WPP.
Allen knew immediately how to get more bites by giving the biscuits more bark. "Brother Curry is the story," he said. "Because great brands are good, simple stories."
The issue, of course, was how to crystallize the story in a fashion so compelling that the little bakery in Maine could compete for shelf space and mind share with the Canine Cookie Jar, Red Barn Pet Products, Sophie's Barkery, Yappy Treats, Wookies Cookies and the seemingly endless array of other firms filling the pooch pantry. "The plain white bag with the Jesuit seal on it didn't tell the story," recalled Ken.
Look, let's concede that a lot of what passes for branding could fill a chapter in Prof. Harry G. Frankfurt's current best-seller. Let us further grant that much successful brand development involves hunches, luck, inspired hackery and a great color palette. But let's also allow that real research, structured thinking, team meetings and organized brainstorming can, more than occasionally, get you a brand.
Because that's what happened here. The Landor team considered nine separate market positions for Brother Curry's biscuits-hard science, soft science, professional tool, simple treats, fun treats, gourmet treats, luxury treats, fashionable-story treats and cute-story treats-before judging that the "people with disabilities" connection was the most salient and available. That would serve not only to entice the market, but to inspire the disabled theatrical students who actually bake the biscuits.
But the positioning presented a challenge-the "smarm factor," as Brother Curry put it, that underlies too many products created by or for the disabled. So the Landor team designed packaging that was aggressively brown-paper-bag-plain and as direct as a Maine summer's day is long. Their slogan ("Great Treats/Great Cause") tells the whole story.
Well, almost. There was a moment of "aha!" that produced a single word that brought everything together: Miraculous, as in "Brother Curry's Miraculous Dog Biscuits." It tweaked the clerical origins of the theater workshop in a way that evokes a smile. "But the real miracle is that the whole thing was done by disabled people," said Landor's New York creative director Richard Brandt. "And it performs a miraculous benefit."
The rest-the hang-tag with a photo of Brother Rick Curry and his sheepdog Hepburn, the stickers on the bag hand-applied by the disabled actor-bakers-are just icing on the biscuits.
Randall Rothenberg, an author and longtime journalist, is director of intellectual capital at consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton