Dropping the Hammer on America’s Favorite Dog: When Branding and Strategy Unseat Sentimentality

Well, it finally happened: 30 years after MetLife brought on Snoopy and the gang to help make it seem more friendly and approachable, and 16 years after the death of “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz’s death, MetLife has grounded the Red Baron. If we consider the end of this relationship as a “divorce” then Snoopy and MetLife fared much better than the average American marriage that ends in divorce, which lasts an average of eight years. Perhaps there’s a chance for reconciliation between these long-term lovers yet.

The parting-of-ways between Snoopy and MetLife is a watershed moment in the branding and corporate identity industry for several reasons. Principally, the duration of the relationship between “Peanuts” and MetLife, at a cost of $15 million annually, is worth noting. We may never know how many times, during those three decades, the affiliation was called into question or re-evaluated, but it would seem that the partnership was getting a bit long in the tooth years ago. It may be that MetLife was experiencing a certain amount of inertia—it’s always easier to do nothing than to do something— and took comfort in the security of characters whose affability and innocence never change (one always hopes the same for the company those characters represent).

Inertia is an issue that companies and organizations must confront if they are to be on the cutting edge of messaging, identity and brand. Like non-profits that spend thousands of dollars and hours on the creation of a Strategic Plan which they then shove in a drawer and never look at again, corporate entities do themselves, their stakeholders and constituents a disservice when they spend millions on logos, spokespersons, taglines and the like only to rest on their associated laurels and not critically re-evaluate whether their deliverables and messaging are on-brand and resonating with the public. Contrary to popular belief, it is not always necessary to bring in an exorbitantly expensive consultant to make this determination—internal evaluation and thoughtful reflection can go a long way toward determining efficacy and quality of brand identity and strategy.

It is not just the fact that MetLife has kicked Snoopy and friends to the curb that is noteworthy, it is what “Peanuts” is being replaced with that should pique the interest of corporations the world over: simply the name, “MetLife” with an “M” to its left, made of overlapping blue and green, to symbolize the partnership between MetLife and its customers. This is the era of clean, calm, confident and clear. Gone are the days of the “Where’s the Beef?” lady, Doyle Dane Bernbach’s clever, self-effacing and stark Volkswagen advertising, and the Coppertone girl. In an era of visual overstimulation, a brand must be instantly recognizable and identifiable, with a crisp visual and a naturalistic feel. The quaintness and cuteness of Charles Schulz’s characters is from another era, and MetLife is forging boldly ahead, leaving Snoopy doing his adorable little dance all by himself.