Brands retain value from their legacy providing they are still seen as relevant and interesting, providing they are still competitive and providing they retain goodwill. Or if people have had enough time to forget why they failed in the first place.
In other words they can recover if they have enough momentum, or they can be reborn on the back of nostalgia, but once they’ve flatlined, and particularly if they have been in that state for some time, they can be very difficult to resuscitate.
Take the case of the Playboy brand. It’s powerful, sure. And it does have significant heritage. It’s logo is recognizable anywhere and there is huge history there. But can it just continue to trade on the value it had? Doubtful. It is, as Adam Gordon rightfully points out, “a classic failure of industry foresight” and even though Gordon observes that “Brand is value stored up in the past to be reaped in the future”, I don’t share his apparent optimism about the brand. Maybe you do?
Playboy cannot realistically expect to carry on as before and succeed under changed management. Declining sales would suggest to me that Playboy is no longer relevant, no longer competitive and its goodwill is running out fast. In fact, it has probably already traded on its past for too long.
Ovaltine is reintroduced with new advertising but the same old orange jar. Sales of the century-old, malt-extract, milk flavoring powder doubled in the first 100 days. Coca-Cola brings back the 40-year-old Fresca brand of citrus soft drinks with a graphics makeover and new flavor combinations.
Can everything old be new again?
As the publisher of BrandlandUSA, Garland Pollard is an expert on America’s legacy brands. A native of Virginia Beach, VA, he is active in historic building preservation efforts – and in a sense, his study of the value and tradition of “old brands” serves that same purpose for marketers and brand-builders.
We asked him about the lore of old brand names – and what they mean for today’s marketers.
Q: What are some notable brand names that are coming back to life?
Recently I’ve written about Hyatt bringing back its storied Hyatt House name, as a re-branding of its Hyatt Summerfield Suites extended stay properties. A Hyatt House was the place to stay in the 1970s – a smart, slick, modern hotel.
And it appears Nissan is driving the Datsun name out of the brand graveyard. Datsun will reappear in emerging markets such as Indonesia, India and Russia as an entry-level economy brand. It’s another example of how companies can re-use their brand names a few decades down the line.
As we age our nostalgic yearnings grow, making us more receptive to advertisers and marketers use of what researchers call "a longing for positive memories from the past." In addition to time's arrow, this desire for nostalgia is further intensified by society's present circumstance of receding predictability and opportunity.
While science is still struggling to unravel the neuro-dynamics of nostalgia, studies have identified some nostalgic cues that can be exploited and how images and sounds from the past can create favorable attitudes about products.
Despite being obvious, this strategy taps into something fundamental about the human mind and consciousness. Every time we remember a past event it not only evokes the earlier memory, but can re-cast the past into a more pleasing "remembered" version. Memory, thinking and feeling are an active, shaping process.
Music, Cars, Movies Live On Forever
The music, cars and movies you identified with when you were young stick with you throughout your life. Take music, recordings that were released when we were teenagers or young adults, are locked into our memories forever, to release a flood of vivid memories and emotions when replayed, especially in ads. For example, people who were 23 in 1964, when the Beatles appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show," will turn 70 this year, are a prime target for nostalgic marketing appeals.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby that personality is forged by an "unbroken string of successful small gestures." And, as with people, so with brands. Brand personality takes root in the soil of its own heritage and history.
Some brands have to make up a past. Others have ancestry galore to utilize if the brand's stewards can strike the right tone without relying too much on nostalgia. I call this brand mythos–the archetypal true back-story, the legend of itself told to itself and its fans.
The rule to "remember," but not to be slavishly tethered to, is mythos. Crest started out as a cavity preventing toothpaste, but evolved into an "oral care system" that appeals to nearly every age. It's a fine line to walk the organic trajectory of a brand's DNA, staying within a logic that consumers can follow while allowing the brand to be alive, vital, and continue delighting.
I'm calling out British marketers today. They have a lot to learn about the importance of provenance, heritage and history.
May was undoubtedly marketing's month for nostalgia. M&S ran triumphant three-day penny bazaars to honour its 125-year anniversary; meanwhile, Sainsbury's out-heritaged its rival, with its 140-year celebrations capped by a beautiful ad from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.
In addition, Nestlé relaunched the Milky Bar Kid with a montage of half a century of uneasy blond, bespectacled children reading lines to camera. Persil and Virgin Atlantic also climbed onto the retro brand wagon with their own heritage campaigns. Meanwhile, Hovis announced this month that its 'Go on lad' campaign had grabbed a 3.5% increase in market share and added £60m to the top-line of the business.
This trend is surprising, given that one of British marketing's biggest weaknesses is its Anglo-Saxon disregard for history and provenance.
It's a deficit I have become familiar with as a consultant. I was trained in the US business-school model, which rejects focus on heritage in favour of consumer orientation. However, all that changed seven years ago when I started consulting for some of the great luxury brands. Personal discretion and an iron-clad non-disclosure agreement prevent me from identifying them, but trust me, they are great.
It took my new French masters more than a year to beat the historical reticence out of me and show me the power of using history to inform brand strategy. It might sound like merde de vache, but in the following years I have come to appreciate how right they are.