Time To Start Phoning It In? I Don’t Think So…

“I’m not dead yet,” screams a character in the film “Monty Python And The Holy Grail” and its Broadway musical adaptation, “Spamalot.” This line could easily be echoed by so many brands with life in them, put out to pasture prematurely by marketers both distracted by shinier objects and content to cruise along comfortably.

While brands, unlike people, can live forever, most “Solid Citizen Brands” – those once considered category leaders and trendsetters – have settled into the twilight of their life cycles. They may still be respected and enjoy widespread distribution, but they are simply no longer the brands of their “youth.” And their corporate owners are content with their cash cow status, accepting of decline and allowing them to fade away.

There are exceptions. Procter & Gamble brands such as Tide and Old Spice are living proof that The Fountain of Youth for Solid Citizen Brands does indeed exist. For the few, like P&G, with the courage to innovate and leave the past behind, rejuvenation is within reach.

So what kind of marketer – and person – are you? Will you start “phoning it in,” playing it safe as you mature in your career, or will you constantly seek to reinvent yourself? When given a “Solid Citizen Brand” to manage, will you go along with the program and avoid taking any chances, or will you do your best to reimagine a growth-driven future?

I was inspired by two unrelated items from yesterday’s New York Times describing people who looked forward with no regard to age. They are shining examples for marketers and all people to reach down deep for the courage to move ahead in life no matter what the circumstances.

Ironically, one of these articles was an obituary; the story of unique woman who completed a life well lived on a very high note: “Besedka Johnson, Late-Blooming Actress, Dies at 87.”  Besedka was spotted by a film executive while swimming laps at the Hollywood Y.M.C.A., part of her rehabilitation from knee replacement surgery.  85 years old at the time, she was asked to audition for a film called “Starlet.” She went on to “nail” the part of Sadie, an old woman who “develops an unlikely friendship with a young woman named Jane, played by Dree Hemingway.” That’s Hemingway as in daughter of Mariel and great-granddaughter of Ernest.

The other story, “How Therapy Can Help in the Golden Years,” describes people ranging from 67 to 87 found a renewed sense of meaning, purpose and enjoyment.

““When I hit my 80s I thought, ‘The hell with this.’ I don’t know how long I’m going to live, I want to make it easier,” said (Marvin) Tolkin, now 86. “Everybody needs help, and everybody makes mistakes. I needed to reach outside my own capabilities.””

In both cases, lives that may have been lived out by going through the motions, surrendering to “the inevitable,” were refreshed and enhanced by taking chances, and by doing so, regaining control. They “reached” and they were rewarded.

P&G does not accept the inevitable decline of Tide, Crest, Old Spice, Pampers and their other brands. Fervently asserting that “they’re not dead yet,” they continue to innovate, to reinvent and to act half their age.

Contrast this with other packaged goods companies that seem to rely primarily on legacy distribution systems and “push” strategies. Their innovation efforts are tepid and they practice paint-by-numbers marketing. Inevitably, they will implode.

The people in these stories are just that. Human, mortal people. But they stand as shining examples that potential never ceases to exist. Something we should embrace as marketers and human beings.

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