Why Is This Marketing Effort Different From All Other Efforts?

Passover Tips for Brands Striving to Last 3,000 Years

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Tonight, Jews all over the world, including me, will celebrate Passover, the holiday that commemorates the exodus from Egypt -- and the birth of experience marketing.
Major matzo maker Manischewitz continues a Passover tradition and a marketing one: Get 'em while they're young.
Major matzo maker Manischewitz continues a Passover tradition and a marketing one: Get 'em while they're young.

That's not what it says in the sacred texts, exactly. But the more you think about the unleavened bread all Jews are commanded to eat -- matzo -- the more it looks like a brilliant way to link Jews to their past as a people, as well as to their own personal Passovers past. As such, it is the prototype for any other great brand -- Levi's or Coke or Kodak, say -- striving to stir something noble, emotional and personal in its consumers.

Also for any brand striving to last 3,000 years.

The deal with matzo is that it represents the bread the Jews made when they finally got to leave Egypt after 400 years of slavery. Worried (and rightly so) that Pharaoh might chase after them, Moses told the Israelites: Don't wait for your dough to rise!

They didn't, and matzo is what you get when you don't. To this day, everyone says it tastes like cardboard (a joke older, perhaps, than the Exodus itself). And yet it's a thrilling thing to eat, because it's not the taste that matters, it's the experience.

Just eating something this seasonal is bound to stir up some emotions, of course. Candy canes do it at Christmas, as do Peeps at Easter (though if they keep making Peeps for ever-more-obscure holidays -- Peep pines for Arbor Day -- that might change). But matzo tugs even deeper, thanks to several reinforcing rituals.

For instance, the youngest child at Passover is expected to ask the famous "four questions," beginning with: Why is this night different from all other nights ... when we get to eat bread? Why do we eat only matzo?

Bam! From the moment they can read (or fake it), children are talking about the stuff. Assigning question duty to the youngest child just guarantees that every child will do it at some point. When they do, it's their first big moment in the family spotlight, not to mention the great river of Jewish tradition, guaranteeing it will be memorable to everyone at the table (especially to older siblings if their younger sibling blows it. Yes!).

You know how companies are always showing graduations and weddings in their ads, hoping to tie their product to a family high? Matzo did it first.

Then -- get 'em while they're young -- there's another Passover tyke tradition: A piece of the matzo gets hidden, and the children have to find it. Whoever does gets money or a toy. Yup. It's a treasure hunt with real cash prizes. (Major matzo maker Manischewitz has taken that tradition to a new level by hiding $1,000 winning tickets in its boxes of matzo this year. Oy!) Games and gimmicks didn't start with box tops. They started with the bread that tastes like a box top. (Sorry. That joke again.)

Finally, even after the two Passover dinners, there's still another week when eating bread and other leavened items is taboo. That's when matzo gets even more firmly imprinted through brief but intense overexposure.

Most Jews speak very fondly of the matzo brei (a sort of French toast) they eat this time of year. Then they neglect to make it for the next 51 weeks. I'm not quite sure how this ties in to experiential marketing except that if you can turn your product into a limited-time-only treat, you will heighten the thrill.

By forcing Jews to abandon their everyday eating habits, Passover does more than just remind them -- me -- of how it felt to flee Egypt and lose everything familiar.

It makes us actually live through it. That is the ultimate in experience marketing.

If you, too, hope to make customers loyal, emotional and excited about whatever you're selling, all I can say is: I wish you matzo luck.

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Lenore Skenazy is a journalist who lives in New York.
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