Will 2011 produce a new Old Spice? The incredible success of the “Old Spice Guy” ad campaign this year shows the potential of heritage brands — in this case, a 71-year-old deodorant line —to revive themselves and reconnect with younger generations.
Longtime brands with ingrained equity and awareness often lose engagement with consumers while the parent company invests in new product lines, explains Tim Calkins, marketing professor in Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Calkins says these orphan brands are often jump-started by new leadership, or when it’s clear that they’ve been banished to the bottom shelf and need new life. Many such brands are launching major campaigns that may help them stage a comeback in 2011.
“Consumers are not as optimistic,” says Miriam Quart, president of ad agency Madison Avenue Consortium. “They are looking back at the ‘good ol’ days.’ It’s a great time to work the nostalgia angle in advertising.” Instead of positioning traditional products as aspirational, several marketers hope to reconnect consumers with forgotten comfort brands.
Chevrolet is a leading example. The potential comeback of this classic American brand from General Motors already has many in the industry guessing what’s to come. San Francisco ad agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, dubbed “the agency of the decade” by AdWeek, began working with Chevrolet a few months ago. “Jeff Goodby himself is working hard on this because he’s personal friends with the marketing manager at GM,” says Michal Ann Strahilevitz, marketing professor at Golden Gate University, of the agency’s cofounder.
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New commercials position Chevy as a nostalgic, deeply American brand. In fact, Goodby wrote an op-ed for the Huffington Post in November suggesting that a revival of Chevy could save Detroit. The timing is especially ripe for a comeback with the recent launch of the hybrid Chevrolet Volt to rave reviews.
To boost suspicions further, General Motors bought a spot in the 2011 Super Bowl, leading many to expect a Chevrolet commercial will be featured. “They are a comeback brand,” says Strahilevitz, “but time will tell if they are going to come all the way back.”
Calkins warns that campaigns built on nostalgia alone are not certain to break through to consumers. “Heritage is a bit of a dangerous place to play,” he says. “It could backfire and make you seem old. There’s always a delicate balance.”
Marketers agree that Levi’s is doing it right. The jeans brand may have lost some consumers in recent years when it tried to remake itself as a high-fashion brand, says Quart, but the Go Forth campaign smartly gets back to its core image. “The essence and heritage of Levi’s was a worker’s trend,” she says. The ads feature hardworking men and women, emphasizing rugged America and its values. She believes the message is more poignant now for young people graduating into a troubled economy, and notes that its distribution to Wal-Mart stores further supports the everyman image.
Traditional brands generally offer name recognition but might have lost their personalities, says Quart. “Comeback brands are looking to dress themselves up in a new suit to connect with a younger audience.”
Hence, the newly unveiled and crisp-suited Mr. Peanut. The revived mascot of Planters Peanuts, owned by Kraft Foods, is already getting tons of attention — even inspiring a satire in literary magazine The New Yorker. In animated commercials and online videos, the formerly two-dimensional character is now living and talking with the voice of popular actor Robert Downey Jr. He even has a sidekick, named Benson. The forgotten brand was founded in the early 1900s and now takes on a new personality to build a younger audience online.
Brands to watch in 2011 should also include hair-care line Pert Plus and deodorant brand Sure, both represented by Quart’s agency and sold by Idelle Labs, which specializes in reviving orphaned brands. Quart says neither brand was advertised for the better part of the decade, so the new ad campaigns should spur interest. According to The New York Times, Idelle will spend $10 million to $15 million dollars on marketing for each.
Quart hopes to leverage the shaky economy and consumers need for security by focusing advertising on family and getting back to the basics. Unlike many hair-care brands, new Pert Plus ads feature a Dad character, signaling to women — who do 85 percent of household shopping — that it’s a brand for the entire family.
Similarly, the new Sure campaign emphasizes the deodorant’s reliability, with a tagline “be superprotected” and an image of a superhero. “It’s really connecting with families,” says Quart. “We wanted to pull on their emotional heart strings. You want to feel sure about your deodorant and the world that we’re living in now.”