Is Your Brand Ready For A Comback?

I recently wrote about the Solid Citizen Brand, Barbasol shaving cream, which has launched a new marketing campaign to reinvent itself for a younger target and extend its life cycle (“Barbasol Attempts A Comeback”). For the uninitiated, we define the Solid Citizen Brand as one that was once the gold standard, but has lost its luster over a long, healthy life. Still respected, many Solid Citizens remain big sellers due to the distribution muscle of their parent companies or and/or relentless push strategies (i.e., discounting).

While I did not express high hopes for Barbasol, there are many excellent Solid Citizen candidates for ripe for rejuvenation.

Most of these brands have choice and the ability to customize in common. As I wrote in “Marketing In The Age Of The Metaphysical Tapas Bar,” today’s “MegaCool” brands understand that one size does not fit all. “Brand Essence” is still critically important, but only if it encompasses the ability for consumers to construct their own highly personal universe within it.  Monolithic brands, those dictating how you should think and behave rather than providing a platform for personal validation and creativity, will never be able to compete with the Apples and Starbucks of the world. And it’s why Facebook is on the fast track to becoming a Solid Citizen Brand at best or a MySpace at worst.

Whether your brand is old or new, a blend of immediate gratification, personalization and convenience are the keys to connecting with your target. Embracing this way of thinking could turn things around for quite a few Solid Citizen brands. Here are a few examples.

Movie Theaters

Attendance is flat or declining. It’s hard for older people (and theater owners) to understand, but 20, 30 and even 40-somethings don’t want to drive to a theater, park, pay high ticket prices, shell out even more ridiculously high prices for snacks, and then be stuck in the dark with strangers for two hours.

One person’s escape is another’s imprisonment. Movie theaters force viewers to cede control, anathema to Millenniums who expect entertainment anywhere, anytime and on the device of their choosing.

The model needs changing. Many theaters are located in malls and near restaurants, but more drinking, dining, shopping and entertainment options need to be integrated into the theater itself. High touch social experiences might be the only reasons Millennials venture out, other than work or school. Big screens and high sound quality are irrelevant to a 23 year old.

Traditional movie auditoriums need to be reinvented. Theater owners have experimented with new configurations, but they still seem to be thinking, well, in the box. Maybe it should still be a box, but a much smaller one. The multiplex might be divided into 48 rather than 12 theaters, for example.  Each has food and drink (bars for 21 plus audiences) with a la carte or “all you can eat” options at casual dining, not movie theater prices.

Movie goers choose from the same 8 or 10 films playing at the traditional multiplex, but maybe the audience is defined by themed social groups (video gamers, skaters, singles, families with kids, classic rock fans, etc.) who sign up online at social sites.

As with some existing theater concepts, these living room type settings might allow people to get up and move around, order a drink or food when the moving is playing without leaving the room, and maybe even the option to stop and start the film. Tweeting and texting would be encouraged, not prohibited.

Again, prices have to be in line with Chili’s, not The Palm. The model of charging $10 for a ticket and $10 or more for popcorn and a soda is not sustainable when you can stream as many films as you like at home for free (lots of pirating going on) or for $7.95 a month through Netflix.


This is a gem of a brand that needs to get with the times. Not that they have to change the essence of who they are. Pancakes are fun. They make people happy. It’s like being a kid again. And they are the ultimate customizable food. I lectured at a local college recently and asked the undergraduate marketing class how they would revive IHOP. Their campaign:

“What does your pancake say about you?”

Asked for the personification of this concept, they came up with Ellen DeGeneres. A sharp contrast to the old, stodgy image of the chain, Ellen is quirky, spontaneous, fun loving and full of life. She does things her way. Not a bad aspirational image for IHOP.  

“Premium” Spirits

Not so long ago in real life, though eons in marketing years, five brands were considered “premium spirits,” the best in class. Good restaurants and bars maintained a “Super Well,” so you’d get the good stuff when you ordered “scotch” or “vodka,” not the cheap generic swill. These brands were Dewar’s Scotch, Smirnoff Vodka, Beefeater Gin, Bacardi Rum and Jose Cuervo Gold Tequila.

Haven’t these companies seen Mad Men? Bacardi kind of has it right with their commercial depicting 1950’s party that looks pretty damn fun, sexy hot, tropical and exotic, even for 2013.  But everyone else is still obsessing with some form of male bonding with women as accessories. “Gentleman, this is vodka?” Really?

They’ve got to go Old Spice with their brands, humorously depicting today’s version of virile masculinity if that’s what they think they’re all about, or, they’ve got to go retro and get back to their roots. Without talking about themselves, they need to demonstrate how today’s men (and women) are independent, stylish and confident enough to choose classics over trends and personal customization over cookie-cutter, predefined choices.

To that last point, I believe that these classic spirits also represent a different, more sustainable kind of customization. They have long been the foundation for some wonderful mixed drinks, a blank canvas, if you will, a starting point for the story you wanted to tell and what you wanted your drink (i.e., your badge, your story) to say about you.

The recipe for a martini is precise:  2½ ounces gin, 1/2 ounces dry vermouth, 1 green olive or lemon twist for garnish and Orange or Angostura bitters (optional). But who doesn’t customize their martini? Ordering and preparing drinks are rituals. Going through this process and getting it just they way you want it (gin or vodka, dry, dirty, two or three olives, shaken not stirred), whether or not you can really taste the difference, is the fun of it.

Vodkas have been line extended beyond belief and “martini menus” in bars provide an abundance of choice, but this seems to limit, rather than promote, personal creativity and customization.  Sure, there’s a lot of fun stuff on those Cheesecake Factory type cocktail menus, but they’re telling you what to drink rather than the other way around.

Walk through any supermarket or pharmacy, or take a drive down the busiest street in your neighborhood, and you’ll notice the profusion of Solid Citizen Brands. If you work in marketing for any Fortune 500 consumer goods company, you probably work on one.

Some brands may be beyond redemption. Winston cigarettes are a dying brand in dying category.  But for most mainstream brands, opportunity abounds. The trick, of course, a deep understanding of your historical brand essence adapted for contemporary sensibilities.  Easier said than done, but with open minds, patience and focus, it is well within in reach.

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