What Can We Learn from the Bronx Cobra?

A 20-inch baby cobra escaped from the reptile house of the Bronx Zoo about a month ago and became an instant news story. OK, it was probably a slow news day, being that it preceded Donald Trump’s presidential aspirations and the capture of Bin Laden, but that only half explains why this event became such a wide-spread story. The other half of the story is great branding. How did it happen…why did it happen…and what can we learn from it?
When a tongue-in-cheek Twitter feed emerged that gave the cobra a personality and a voice, the cobra became a brand and finally a cyber phenom. The cobra had 200,000 Twitter followers in less than a week. But I would argue that it was less about media and more about brand personality that drove the overnight sensation.
The @BronxZoosCobra feed was written in the voice of the Egyptian cobra—a young, sassy, fun-loving female cobra with a cosmopolitan flair that tweeted up-to-the minute updates that piqued our imaginations, allowing us to project our hopes and dreams on her and imagine what we might do if we were free to experience the “Big Apple.”
• “Holding very still in the snake exhibit at the Museum of Natural History,” she posted on Twitter. “This is gonna be hilarious!”

• “I should take in a Broadway show. Anyone heard anything about this ‘Spiderman’ musical?”

• “Leaving Wall Street. These guys make my skin crawl.”

Well, she was finally found…in the zoo: no adventures, no trip to the top the Empire State Building, no Broadway show, and that might have been the end of the story…except for what happened today. A peacock just escaped from the same Bronx Zoo, and, of course, is tweeting:

“The cobra gave me some escape tips.” 

 The cobra’s response? “Seriously, peacock!? We agreed we’d go tomorrow at dawn!”

And so it continues. What ultimately creates resonance, connection and longevity is the power of the idea.
The idea was original…not copycat. The voice seems real…not contrived. The tweets are conversational in tone…not broadcast business messaging. And most importantly, the voice reflects a brand personality that connects on an emotional level.
Not long ago, I worked on a project to develop a personality and “voice” for my client’s social media program. It was smart of them to realize the need for a well-conceived approach to their social media voice by creating a brand personality that could translate to the “voice of the brand” as they engaged in a dialogue with their guests on line. That’s the secret to successful branding strategy—articulating the brand personality and translating the brand personality to the “voice of the brand,” especially important in this age of social media. This voice connects with consumers in a personal and emotional way, and the connection is what allows the brand to transcend its rational attributes (the cobra was, by the way, a venomous snake) and engender loyalty.

Many brands use celebrities to represent their brand personalities—Jeff Bridges for Duracell, Tim Allen for Campbell’s Soup, Queen Latifah for Pizza Hut. As consumers, our radar tells us if they are on target or off target. In 2007, Wanda Sykes was selected as the “voice” of Applebees, and although I thought she was hilarious, she didn’t quite fit the brand.

The lesson to be learned is the importance of creating a relevant, authentic, emotional connection to your customers and the discipline of maintaining a consistent authentic voice that reflects the brand personality. I’d love to hear your thoughts.