Rejuvenating a brand


How should one rejuvenate a brand? How can a declining or a past brand revive? How do you recreate a durable growth for a brand that has for long been declining? Although there exist a wide variety of situations, the goal is the same: to bring a brand back to life. This leads to the core question, what life? Whose life? As a rule, it will rarely be the same as formerly.

There is a big difference between respecting one’s roots and cultivating the past. Revitalisations, revivals are based on an updating of the overall offer of the brand while staying true to part of its identity. Revival means aiming at a new growth market. The brand must find a new relevance and differentiation.

The term ‘revival’ of a brand is not quite accurate since it always implies a change in the product, or in the market, or in the target market. It is a relaunch but not necessarily among the same people as before, or in the same distribution channels, for the same uses, or whatever. With time the consumers, the markets and competition will have changed.

Redefining the brand essence

Even forgotten brands have an internal meaning, a domain of legitimacy to be exploited. The first task in a brand revitalization is to understand which values of this brand still have a high relevance, and which have lost meaning. Burberry rediscovered its DNA: the ability to epitomise the classic eccentric dandy in English fashion. Old brands have disseminated bits of associations in people’s memories, even among non-customers or newer generations.

These weak memories act as a ‘humus’. It is important to analyse this humus. What is left about the brand essence? What are the potentialities emerging from it? What market opportunities could be met? It is useful to analyse this as shown in Figure below.

Analysing the potential of an old brand

As a rule, declining brands have few positive salient evocations, or these evocations are generic and lack differentiation. The real potential usually lies in the latent associations. It will be the role of marketing to choose the right set from among these buried positive associations. Then the brand will have to embody them in new products or services and channels aimed at the new target.

Revitalising through new uses

The revitalisation of a brand usually follows new paths that are very different from those that led to its initial success. If there has been a decline, it is because these paths did not lead to any new demand or pocket of growth.

Revitalisation involves establishing new parameters for the brand. Since its original consumers are no longer able to ensure its success, it has to attract a new clientele, develop new user occasions, new distribution channels and new consumer networks.

Brandy is a classic example. It is typically associated with the ‘after-dinner’ and ‘connoisseurs enjoying a brandy together’ type of occasion, an image and occasion that have been responsible for a massive decline in the volume of brandy sales worldwide. After years of decline in the face of competition from white spirits, which are much easier to drink and much trendier (Bacardi, Absolut, Seagram’s Gin and so on), brandy sales have recently soared in the United States.

But with one major difference – 50 per cent of the volume of brandy currently consumed in the United States is consumed by the black community, which represents 12 per cent of the population. It has become the favourite drink of African-American males, within the context of a lively social situation, where status value is essential. They ask for Martell or Hennessy, as well as Thackeray (gin) and Crystal Roederer (champagne).

To target a new consumer group, a company must be ready to call its traditional marketing into question and define an optimum marketing mix for its new target group. The process begins with new customers, their life-style and new occasions on which the product is consumed or purchased. Innovation is therefore central to the revitalisation of old brands.

Revitalising through distribution change

In fact, it seems that a classic revitalization strategy is to use known brands in different distribution circuits. For instance, a supermarket food brand could be moved to a channel that rests on ‘push’ marketing rather than ‘pull’ marketing. This is why one sees many formerly famous brands in canteens, or office restaurants for instance. It creates value in the eyes of the clients (more than an unknown brand or a private label) and these brands are cheaper than well-known leading brands.

The obverse is also true. One company has specialised in purchasing old medical products, with 100 per cent aided awareness, that are little prescribed these days. Some of them have become generic names. The strategy consists in selling them on the shelves of supermarkets, where their name triggers immediate recognition and trust.

Revitalising through innovations

Barely 10 years ago, Mercedes was under threat. The brand had certainly gained international acclaim, but the signs were nevertheless worrying. In California, where new consumer trends are created, Mercedes was no longer an aspirational brand. It had been replaced by Lexus, the top-of-the-range brand from Toyota. And in Europe the average buyer of the smallest Mercedes of that period, the C-Class, was 51 years old.

Clearly Mercedes was becoming a brand for older people. The company’s CEO made a harsh but accurate diagnosis: either the brand remain as it was and the company would go bankrupt (like Rolls-Royce) or it would have to evolve.

The first step was to re-establish the conditions that would create a favourable economic equation – the company would have to produce 1 million vehicles to lower production costs to an acceptable level. The second was to attract a younger clientele – they could not be left to the competition until they reached 51! To do this, the company had to break with the standard design of all Mercedes cars for the previous 60 years.

This is why the event that revitalized Mercedes was the launch of the A-Class. This little car, which was in direct competition with the Volkswagen Golf, was the brand’s new ‘prototype’ in Europe. It departed from the traditional Mercedes image on two counts – it had front-wheel drive and a completely different design. However, it still had the interior space of the C-Class and the safety of the E-Class. In fact, it currently accounts for 30 per cent of Mercedes sales in Europe. Above all, it has attracted a younger clientele (with an average age of 37), more women and the style conscious.

In the United States, the new Mercedes prototype is the luxury 4 × 4 M-Class, which has re-established contact with the trendy set of California and elsewhere.

To target even younger consumers, the beautiful CLK Roadster was deliberately positioned at an attractive price. Its beauty, sensitivity and design are now part of the new Mercedes brand contract. Of course, any form of extension modifies the original brand, and Mercedes is no longer an exclusively luxury brand. The new Mercedes management is more segmented, more attuned to the needs of its consumers and their life-style. The brand regularly renews its status as the world’s leading car manufacturer via its top of the range models, of which the S-Class is the symbol.

Revitalising through segmentation

To revitalise Burberry, Rose Mary Bravo knew she had to segment the lines and sub-brand them. Burberry London is a modernized offering for the classic clients. Burberry Prorsum is very fashionable and modern. Thomas Burberry is aimed at teenagers. The first segment ensures cashflow and makes it possible to take a risk on cash-demanding fashion stores.

Revitalising by contact with opinion leaders

Why did Hush Puppies become fashionable again in the United States in 1993 (Gladwell, 2000)? Because East Side Manhattan fashionistas found them cute and appropriate for their quest of permanent differentiation.

Ageing brands have generally lost contact with the trendsetters in their category, the tribes that prefigure change. Advertising and product innovation will be of no help without the active support of these trendsetting tribes. It is not easy to make friends again with people one has not called for years, during which time they have been seduced by the competition, including new entrants. In addition the ageing brand is held as an icon of the past, and may attract bad will, not goodwill.

The task of recreating proximity through direct contacts and shared emotional experiences will be difficult, but it is an essential part of any comeback. Salomon, which had lost contact with the surfers who were its future market, had to create an internal cultural revolution, changing its management and hiring young people who were likely to be able to recreate the lost connection.

Apple had lost contact with today’s new trendsetters, who are no longer advertising agencies, but the kids seduced by Napster and whose use of the internet is now mostly to exchange music within their virtual tribe. Ballantines, formerly at Allied Domecq, realised recently that it too had lost all contact with youth. Managers more concerned with their own fate in the midst of mergers and acquisitions in their sector concentrated on the brand’s core clients, not the future clients.

They forgot that sustaining brand equity means addressing current and future business alike. For instance, in 1995 brand equity monitoring showed that in some European countries, brand spontaneous awareness among 18–24-year-olds had dropped from 47 per cent to 13 per cent in seven years.

It is not possible to get out of this dramatic problem just by changing one’s advertising. Sometimes creating a new product is needed, because in between, everything has changed: consumers, their habits, the competition, places of consumption and so on.

Regaining contact is a preliminary. A brand is not a product with a name, it is a relationship. After years of indifference, not to say neglect by Ballantines, the brand had to reconquer the lost relationship. It might still have been number one in some countries, but that was because of a core of frequent buyers, all ageing. Benchmarking the best practice of Pernod- Ricard, the brand decided to invest massively in Europe, and also in South America, to reconquer proximity by contact. Targeting is crucial: what key tribe? The management identified snowboarding as representing the core values of the new generation.

In cooperation with the International Snowboarding Federation, which was fighting against the International Ski Federation, it sponsored all alpine snowboard events, and created a night event in discos. However, to be effective today at regaining contact, sponsoring must go far beyond just stamping the event with the brand name everywhere. The brand must be at the centre, or a key ally of the event.

Step two entailed recognition that urban youth was the target. Ballantines decided to bring snowboarding to cities through the ‘Ballantines Urban High’ Tour. In the middle of capital cities from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro, or on their beaches, Ballantines had a huge ramp built, covered in artificial snow, to host three-day national contests to find the best freelance snowboarders.

The contest was preceded by country-wide selection phases, thereby creating a mounting buzz through word of mouth. The event fuelled involvement. The first event of the series took place in October 1995 in Berlin, symbolically at the Brandenburg Gate (which used to be the only gate in the Berlin Wall where people from the former East Germany could come through to the free West).

Because among young people everything goes together, during the contest there were an open air concert (with the group Prodigy), grunge fashion shows, and night-time promotions in all the city’s discos around snowboarding themes. In addition for the cream of the cream, Ballantines created Ballantines orbit, a huge mobile tent, with restricted invitation to those perceived as style leaders to listen to live techno music. After Berlin the tour went on to Prague, Milan, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro – it still goes on.

The lessons that can be drawn from this case are that proximity today means bumping into the lives of the target group, not just being there. A multidimensional event was created, merging fashion, sport, music, dancing, entertainment and video games, showing a high level of investment, and a very good understanding of the target audience’s desires. A special logo was created, Ballantines Urban High, which could eventually become a label for licensed products (a clothing line, T-shirts, music and so on), certainly a website, and why not a franchised store chain in the future?

The event was well prepared for through the selection phases and brand presence across the country,. The budget commitment was high (about s600,000) for the Berlin event, which was attended by 100,000 young people (so it cost s5 per person for a contact that should create a long-lasting emotional memory and involvement with the brand).

Revitalisating through 360° communications

When Chivas was declining worldwide, its advertising said defensively, ‘When you know’. In a major turnaround, Chivas 18 now promotes the ‘Chivas life’. Its identity is rich and generous, its positioning sells an appetite for life. This new platform is expressed through 360° via global advertising, but also major events, parties with celebrities, partnership with luxury resorts worldwide, not to mention product placement which contributes to making brands ‘cool’.

Changing the business model

Once in a while daring entrepreneurs buy an old and ailing brand and decide to revitalise it. It also happens that big groups do so. What is often presented as a brand revitalisation is actually a change in the business model. By benefits is meant financial benefits, economic value added (EVA) once the cost of capital had been paid. What makes an ailing brand more valuable is the new business model on which it will rely.

For decades l’Aigle, a former subsidiary of Hutchinson, was known for its rubber boots. Its name was also its symbol: it came directly from the American Eagle. It had become a cult brand among fishermen, hunters, nature lovers and country landowners. But Chinese imports and modern distribution created too many problems, the company went broke, and it was bought in an LBO. Now there are Aigle stores opening everywhere in the world.

Has the brand changed? In name terms it has lost a letter, moving from l’Aigle to Aigle, gaining simplicity and internationality. Most important, it moved from a boots brand to a leisurewear brand, whose prototype (most symbolic product) has moved from the rubber boots to a parka, a solid product, as the main value of the brand commands. The vintage rubber boots are still there to nurture the myth, but business grew through the new prototype. There are a lot of benefits in this change of business model:

  • Brands that rely too much on a monoproduct are always in danger, as they cannot smooth out a drop in sales. Boots sell less when climate becomes dryer. Also, since the rubber boots were of excellent quality, they lasted a long time. Brand loyalty was high but the time between purchases was too long.
  • Extending the line to leisurewear made it possible to free the brand from the grip of modern distribution and build its own selective distribution network. The extended line made it more than possible to fill each store.
  • Leisure wear is fashion conscious: people buy new garments each year even if they already own similar ones. It is also a less price-sensitive sector.

This example is a reminder that too often the success of the revitalisation is attributed to ‘the brand’ as a short cut, because there is a lack of information on the company itself, the strategy, the back office. Certainly the brand reputation was an invaluable asset, but that asset was worth nothing as long as it was not supported by a valid business model.

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