Reinvigorating the “Solid Citizen” Brand – by Jeff Hirsch

Are you leaving money on the table? Have you started milking the cash cow well before its time?

Not everyone can be an Apple or Ben & Jerry’s, those rare, iconic brands able to command premium prices while imbuing their users with feelings of specialness. High quality and richly perceived, such brands may be thought of as “Inspired.”

In contrast, a much larger number of consumer brands today are more of what we would call “Solid Citizens.” Maxwell House, The Gap, Purina Dog Chow, Smirnoff and Campbell’s Soup may have once inspired and set the standard for quality, but now, hard as they may try, these brands simply lack the excitement and specialness of days gone by.

To put this in human terms, think of Sean Connery, the sexiest man on earth to many in the 1960’s. He still commands great respect, but he’s not James Bond anymore.

Fortunately for marketers, brands are not mortal and immune to the physical decay we humans are burdened with. Insightful infusions of relevance and specialness can indeed reinvigorate the Solid Citizen to extend its life cycle – and sales and profits – well into the future.

Big consumer goods companies understand this and routinely attempt to reinvigorate their Solid Citizens through repositioning, line extensions, logo changes and the like. Still, they might want to try harder to push past the obvious (line extensions, e.g.) to focus innovation efforts on true breakthroughs. Solid Citizens may lack contemporary relevance and “sexiness,” but these brands sit on enormous reserves of awareness, trust and goodwill. These are assets that cannot be leveraged when startng from stratch.

There isn’t anyone much hotter in the world of packaged goods than the “Old Spice Guy.” Here was a brand that screamed “old,” reminding young men and the women they pursue of fathers and grandfathers. Old people. Exacerbating the challenge, the world “old” was half of the brand name.

Procter & Gamble has always been adept at extending the lives of Solid Citizen brands such as Tide, Scope and Crest with product innovations and line extensions. The same thinking was applied to Old Spice over the years as the brand grew from aftershave, first into antipersiperants and later into the booming body wash category.

The bigger story is how P&G radically transformed brand communications to appeal to teens and young men. It took time, trial and error, patience, and perhaps most importantly, vision and guts to succeed.

No longer personified by the strong, silent type of a generation (or two) ago, Old Spice manliness is now characterized by a different kind of confidence: over the top, magical, spontaneous and provocatively sexy. All served up with a big helping of humor and self-conciousness and the deft use of social media.

The first critical point here is that P&G did more than tinker with Old Spice. They understood that product innovation and line extensions were just the cost of entry. This was a bold, risky move to transform its brand image from “old” to “hot and irressitable.”

However, while the Old Spice brand personalities of 1971 and 2011 couldn’t be more different, the essence of the brand is the same. It’s all about being a man’s man. Old Spice recognized that this core product essence could not change, but that it had to be adpapted to changing social mores. Brand communications still ooze masculinity, but they have been redefined and updated.

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