I recently received an email from International Dairy Queen’s director of product and brand marketing. Dairy Queen wanted to address my blog on Moolatte. According to Dairy Queen’s representative, “We love the MooLatte’ name and are having excellent success with the product. The name is not a play on words. The confusion seems to be coming from people who can’t pronounce the name (MOO + LA + TAY) and are confusing it with mulatto.”

I certainly don’t have difficulty pronouncing Moolatte. It’s impossible to live in Vancouver and not know how to pronounce “latte”, with or without the acute accent. If some people are pronouncing Moolatte “mulatto”, then the case is more unfortunate than I originally thought.

Dairy Queen also defended the brand name’s origins; “The origins of the brand name are pretty simple: Moo represents cows / dairy and Latte’ represents coffee + milk.” (Presumably, the apostrophe is an attempt at emphasizing the accent over the e.)

The director of marketing also pointed me to a blog from a naming consultancy that claims consumers don’t deconstruct brands. (I’ve since confirmed with IDQ that this consultancy is not affiliated with Dairy Queen or its parent and sibling companies.) DQ’s spokesperson also added, “I liked your blog and can confirm that ‘few people are having a cow’ :)”

However, there are already 94 Google-indexed articles on Moolatte and mulatto. Apparently, almost 100 people found the wordplay, intentional or not, to be worthy of a blog entry. And the Houston Chronicle, commented on the brand name, pointing readers back to the original Slate article. Of course, 100 people do not a revolution make. And the above article on consumer brand deconstructionism is right. Most people do not deconstruct brand names.

But some people do. And, when those people have the attention of web surfers, newspaper readers, and email recipients, small amounts of brand deconstructionism can add up. For example, Snapple was hit hard by 1990s rumours about the circle-K on its logo. Because few people realized that the K stood for “Kosher”, Snapple fell prey to rumours about KKK affiliations. Coke also fights rumours about terrorist affiliations.

However, it all comes down to how the company manages the brand situation. In IDQ’s case, the company’s marketing department is patrolling the web and contacting bloggers to let them know the company’s side of the story. In contacting me, IDQ was polite, professional and even complimentary. By acting quickly, IDQ can snuff out some inflammatory consumer reaction. The Dairy Queen Moolatte site is the top Google response for “Moolatte mulatto” — it looks like Dairy Queen recognizes the value of paid placement and search engine optimization. Although I remain unconvinced that Dairy Queen never intended to engage in wordplay, the company appears to have a good grasp of how to monitor and respond to online activity. Perhaps other companies will look and learn.

(c) 2004 by Andrea Coutu. Vancouver Marketing Consultant. All rights reserved.