Rejuvenating Nostalgic Brands

When a product is entrenched in the cultural history, revitalizing the brand can be a balancing act between rejuvenation and sacrilege.

By David Feder, Managing Editor

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Few baby boomers are thrilled at entering their 50s and 60s, and the treats of their youth can bring a lot of comfort. "We've seen a trend toward all things nostalgic," says Kirk Stephen, brand manager for Cadbury-Adams USA (www.ilovegum.com), Parsippany, N.J. "There was strong appeal for our historic gum brands -- Beemans, Black Jack, Clove -- in the marketplace when we first re-launched them as a promotion in 2003. Due to high consumer demand, we re-released them again in 2004 and 2005. In 2005, we replaced Clove with another retro brand, Adams Sour, in cherry and apple, two of its original flavors."

Cadbury-Adams understands the lure of the past. "We continue to look for opportunities to provide our consumers with the brands they love, and we will consider relaunching limited editions as the time is right," Stephen adds. "The key is tapping into that experience to help recall good memories of an earlier time."

It's best to wear kid gloves when tampering with an established brand. "With such strong historical equity, it is difficult to remake vintage brands. However, when we relaunched these gums, we improved the original formula and chew texture, providing more consistent flavor." Stephen cautions, "Processors should try to stay true to the original product as much as possible, offering improvements such as extended shelf life and enhanced flavor profiles that don't take away from the original intent of the product."

In addition to flavor and texture changes, the Adams gum packaging graphics got a facelift. "The primary message to consumers is, here are the same brands you remember from your childhood, they're back again for a short time so buy them now! We never positioned them as new," Stephen says.

To bring these gums back to life, Cadbury-Adams tied into a "consumer overlay program." In 2004, the company commissioned pop artist Burton Morris to create art for a line of exclusively sold posters, then tied the relaunch to the 135th birthday of modern chewing gum, invented by company namesake, Thomas Adams.

Earning new bread

While most of the brands we've discussed have been revitalized by new and big corporate owners, some nostalgic brands are being nicely maintained by their originators.

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With 321 years in the baking business, the Matthaei family, makers of Roman Meal products, might have the longest known track record for product success.

Tacoma, Wash.-based Roman Meal Bread Co. (www.romanmeal.com) still is owned by the Matthaei family. Bread-making for the Matthaeis can be traced back to 1686, in Marburg, Germany. Henry Matthaei moved to Kansas City, Mo., from Marburg nearly two centuries later, in 1872, and set up an American version of the family's Old World bakery.

When Henry Matthaei's son relocated to Tacoma, he purchased a small cereal company from medical doctor Robert Jackson, who in 1912 invented Roman Meal Hot Cereal, a blend of wheat, rye, bran and flax, based on the diet of Roman centurions. Roman Meal bread was born when the cereal mix was added to white bread to make it more healthful. Eighty years later, Roman Meal bread still enjoys strong sales.

Maintaining the brand was effected by partnering with bakeries all over the U.S. and, by the 1970s, internationally, with partner bakeries in Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Guam and Bermuda. Roman Meal was one of the earliest brands to franchise in this manner.

The recent whole grains revolution ushered in another opportunity for Roman Meal. "Roman Meal has almost 100 years of whole-grain heritage," notes Todd Kluger, director of marketing. "It is one of the top brands associated with whole grains, and has a history rooted in health and wellness products." The company recently launched a line of 100 percent whole-grain, all-natural snack bars. They contain no refined sugars, corn syrup or trans-fats, and each 200-calorie or less bar provides 16g of whole grains and 5g of fiber.

Strategies Roman Meal follows to keep the brand relevant and growing, according to Kluger, include "creating healthy whole grain products today's knowledgeable consumers are looking for" and "developing products that 'live' in other categories beyond bread, while still creating new bread varieties."

The company also stays tuned to its demographic. "We have a target market of women aged 50-plus," says Kluger, "and we focus on them through brand-building activities such as sponsorships, magazine, radio and online advertising, as well as online communities. We focus on staying dedicated to creating relevant new products, building our reputation as a whole grain leader, focusing on our target market and supporting our licensed bakery partners."

Sometimes, the revitalization of a new brand can completely change the company direction. Bush Bros. and Co. (www.bushbeans.com) Knoxville, Tenn., is famous for baked beans. Yet the company started out 99 years ago as a processor of canned tomatoes. Bush Bros. still produces more than beans, and its products held the market as regional favorites, expanding piecemeal into different parts of the country for the next eight decades.

But in 1993 the youngest Bush brother, Jay, became company spokesperson in regional ads. Over the next two years, the company expanded into the Northwest and, in what turned out to be a marketing coup, brought Duke, the family dog, into its ad campaigns. The combination of expanded distribution and the award-winning "Jay & Duke" ad campaign shot the brand to No. 1 in its category nationally, where it remains a dozen years later.

Keep things simmering

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You don't have to be Andy Warhol to see the cultural importance of a brand. Campbell's has kept its iconic core product line simmering for six generations.

How does 128-year-old Campbell Soup Co. (www.campbellsoup.com) keep its classic brands relevant in the minds and lives of consumers? "I think it starts with really understanding and respecting that our consumers relate to our brand in a deeply emotional way," explains John Faulkner, director of brand communications for the Camden, N.J.-based company. "Then, there's making sure we don't take advantage of that emotional connection or take it for granted."

Even with dozens of new product launches yearly, Campbell makes sure it maintains focus on its icons, such as chicken noodle and cream of mushroom soups. "From a business standpoint, we can achieve this with unrelenting attention to our key corporate strategies," says Faulkner.

Faulkner describes the company strategy as comprising four parts:

  • "One, we expand our icon brands within simple meals and snacks -- this means we do not compete in the soup category, where we hold the major share, but rather we compete against a universe of simple meal options, such as pizza, hot dogs, mac and cheese and fast food. This helps us better position soup versus our competitive set, and we look for ways to expand and innovate our brands in this broader competitive set.
  • "We trade consumers up to higher levels of satisfaction centering on convenience, wellness and quality. We're making our products more convenient via pop-top lids and microwaveable cups and bowls, plus make them easier to shop for in the store.
  • "We are focused on wellness initiatives as never before. Soup has always been considered 'wholesome,' but this year we reformulated 32 soups with lower sodium (via) natural sea salt. We're continuing to enhance the nutritional attributes of our soups.
  • "Finally, we have done a lot of work to enhance the quality of existing products through (methods such as) cold-blend and aseptic technology. We are convinced the premium segment of the soup category has growth potential, and we can deliver against consumer expectations for premium-quality soups."

Like all things, brands have life expectancies. Some should go gentle into that good night, but others deserve a longer life, even if it means some medical interventions. If older brands continue to resonate with consumers or trigger some warm nostalgia, they're worthy of a formulation update and a packaging face-lift. Add the right marketing push and the brand can win another generation or three of solid sales.

Note to Marketing

Campbell Soup is a 19th-century brand with a 21st-century insight into the value of marketing -- both general advertising and linking up with social causes. "We believe our brand maintains its relevance with great advertising and associations consumers care about," says John Faulkner, director of brand communications.

"We partnered with Kroger Co. to offer special 'pink label' cans of chicken noodle and tomato soups to support breast cancer research with donations. We also have the 'heart check' on our line of Healthy Request soups and supported the Go Red (heart-health awareness) effort. In February we built innovative associations with the NBC game show Deal or No Deal, where we auctioned off contemporary Campbell Red Dresses for the charity.

"We also worked closely with G. Clotaire Rapaille (an internationally renowned expert in 'archetype discoveries and creativity' in market research) to understand how and why our consumer emotionally connects with Campbell's and respect that association. We brought back an old TV spot -- 'Snowman' -- because it perfectly portrayed the classic Campbell's story about coming out of the snow and having a warm bowl of Campbell's soup waiting, thanks to Mom."

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