Smart business decision or a blatant brand exploitation?


Have you noticed yet again a reoccurring trend of recycling ideas in advertising and entertainment? A wobbly economy is enticing many companies to bring back old brands, old commercials and old ideas instead of creating new products and concepts. Is it a smart business decision or a blatant brand/idea exploitation?

I am a storyteller at heart. So, forgive me for idealizing ‘Advertising Folk” and “Film Makers” as modern cave dwellers creating abstract wall drawings that capture society for posterity.  Can you successfully revisit the past and teach old brands new tricks?  Don’t forget a brand stands for something in the minds of consumers and is perhaps linked to a certain stage of life or time.  And when you bring an old brand or an idea back to life, you run the risk of exploitation.

Now, not all brands fail because they were inferior. Failure could be  linked to other reasons such as management and not the brands themselves.  Take a look at the latest social media darling, Instagram. Two years ago it was just an idea and this past April Facebook purchased the company  for $1 billion. Instagram is now on track to attract 40 million users to its site. And Kodak, the pioneer of snapshot photography for over a century, has filed for Chapter 11 protection.  It failed to adapt with the digital times.

Our willingness to embrace “2.0 versions” of  old brands may depend on our emotionally investment with original concepts. According to Nigel Hollis of global research agency Millward Brown “marketers provide a sense of what the brand stands for; a collective meaning. And then consumers add their own unique interpretation; a layer of meaning that is more motivating to them than the collective one.”  Here are some recent successes where what is old has become new and successful yet again: Mini Cooper, VW Beetle, Old Spice and Dove.  A recognized brand name is a starting point when rising from the ashes, but you still need be a relevant storyteller in order to connect with your audience.  And case in point is the various movie adaptations and franchises Hollywood film studios release.  Although movies like  ‘Jump Street 21’ and ‘Mirror, Mirror’ have strong brand recognition they do not always deliver Box Office success.

And perhaps the more interesting revival is Pepsi’s planned use of the late Michael Jackson to shore declining sales. Nearly three years after his death, the late King of Pop will appear in TV ads and on soft drink cans under the campaign ‘Live For Now’.  Pepsi is now counting on ads using a deceased performer  to be successful with consumers living today.  Until the story is told, the jury is still out on this one.

All of the above examples may become bankable business decisions, but are they smart? People’s emotional triggers and impressions about brands are complicated.  We mess with them at our own risk.

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