Next in our Marketing Mavens series is Oatly, the monstrously popular oat milk that took the U.S. by storm a few years back. It filled a gap in the beverage market, its outstanding creative branding efforts leading the charge.
Oatly was founded in the early 90s by two Swedish brothers looking to create a sustainable milk alternative. (They've expanded to yogurts and ice cream, too.) Last year, it generated 722M in revenue. Let’s take a look at the unique branding decisions that paved the way for Oatly’s wild success.
Creative branding stands out
You won’t find a boring Oatly container. The three milks come in muted gray, blue, and brown, which would classify as drab if not for the rambling copy covering the containers like a word rash.
That element of the packaging is what struck me most when I made my first Oatly purchase. We’re taught to use our words sparingly. Powerful writing and concision often go hand in hand. But if everyone abides by that learned style, wouldn’t going against the grain be a great way to stand out?
Oatly seems to think so. The craziest part? Most of the excess copy isn’t even valuable. It’s there solely to fill blank space.
On the package I have now, the side reads:
“Before we wrote this sentence, there was a lot of empty space on the side of this package and we didn’t know what to do with it really so we just started writing this sentence and then continued writing more until we had written enough words in this space that there was no more space left to write any more and now it looks like a much better package but unfortunately you have been granted nothing of value to read."
That is what you’d call an epic (and completely hollow) run-on sentence. It feels like a joke or a misprint, but it surprised me. I read the entire thing because I’d never seen packaging like it.
You want to surprise people with your creative branding. Surprise often results in delight, and delight, if sustained, can result in brand loyalty.
Following that run-on sentence is a half-hearted request for the consumer to taste the product: “Time to open this package and try what’s inside I guess.”
That additional line isn’t particularly convincing. “I guess” is the shrug of the English language, but like Pepsi’s 2023 Super Bowl commercial, there’s a certain appeal to a product not forcing its self-proclaimed excellence down your throat.
In a similar vein, Oatly lists "infrequently asked questions" on some of its packaging, as if the answers aren't really worth reading, which, in turn, causes intrigue to skyrocket. A bit of reverse psychology is at play.
Oatly’s website moves from indifference to humility. When you click on its products, two blurbs sit next to the nutrition facts (again, Oatly is not a brand of few words): What’s Amazing and What Might Be Less Amazing. The latter blurb acknowledges the ingredients that some customers might have a distaste for, like added sugar in the chocolate oat milk.
Transparency about one's flaws is a welcome marketing tactic, used to boost overall brand trust and credibility.
Oatly leverages humor marketing
Oatly's attempts to step outside the box step into humor marketing territory. Humor marketing is approachable, playful, and often conversational. Oatly delivers on every aspect of it.
That aforementioned “What’s Amazing” blurb begins with: “It’s everyone’s favorite! This is one of those products marketing people love because they get to say things like ‘It’s everyone’s favorite!’ But let’s just say lactose intolerants, lactose lovers, omnivores, vegans, weekend vegans…” You get the gist.
Now that clearly comes from a brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s not uproariously funny either, but it stops you in your tracks and makes you chuckle from the sheer silliness of it.
Oatly’s breed of humor is weird and unconventional. For example, in an Instagram reel with 49.9K views, a guy is shown holding a vibrating Oatly milk container while strapped into an odd-looking shaking machine. The purpose? To remind customers to shake their oat milk before use.
In classic Oatly fashion, the accompanying caption is a long-winded block of nonsense:
“According to the internet, there isn’t enough research done on how beneficial a shaking machine is for losing weight or burning fat or improving flexibility. There also isn’t enough research to determine conclusively if it’ll help you build strength and decrease cortisol levels. But based on our very limited research done over the course of one shoot day, we can somewhat confidently announce that a shaking machine works decently enough to shake our oat drinks, with the caveat that you, or someone you trust, are also standing on the machine and holding on tight to the closed carton while the machine is switched on and put to its maximum level.”
It's not clever, but it's amusing and strange. Strangeness is unique. Uniqueness is attention-grabbing. Oatly knows what it's doing.
A creative tagline can increase brand awareness
The icing on Oatly's creative branding cake is its simple but effective tagline: Wow No Cow.
"Wow No Cow" is far more interesting than printing "dairy-free" on the carton, and it's in keeping with its unconventional marketing strategy.
In another Instagram reel, an older gentleman plays a song called “Wow No Cow” on the recorder, a line of Irish dancers behind him. He can also be seen singing said song in the streets of Dublin.
How strange and how wonderful.
Such a tagline is catchy, tacking itself to the the inside of your brain, increasing brand awareness. Commenters on Instagram joked that they were singing the song or made it their ringtone.
"Wow No Cow" is unforgettable.
Creative branding allows Oatly to emerge from the “sea of sameness” so many brands are drowning in. Take the imaginative route. You can find success in being different.