Skip to content

A Quick Look at Masterful Brand Transformations

Effective brand transformations are what separates the enduring names from flashes in the pan. And no matter where you are in the brand lifecycle, marketing will be called upon to help weather storms in the marketplace and to navigate changing consumer habits and taste. The recent 2019 ANA Brand Masters conference offered a close-up view of how industry stalwarts and upstarts alike are managing these challenges. Here are three takeaways from the experts.

Speak and Act Your Truth
OREO and Arby’s are both enduring brands that have stayed relevant to new times and generations while still honoring their storied pasts. For Arby’s, it’s been a bumpy road, though. Five years ago the demand for burger alternatives featuring meat was still strong but Arby’s menu and marketing were not—consumers didn’t know it had more than the roast beef that built the brand. A “We Have the Meats” TV campaign capitalized on Arby’s history in premier meats, drove a menu expansion and revived the struggling QSR enough to make business-expanding acquisitions.

OREO’s reputation, on the other hand, had never faltered, but staying top of mind in the highly competitive snack/dessert category was a never-ending challenge. But culturally-attuned innovations like imaginative limited-edition flavors have courted new audiences without cannibalizing the beloved core cookie. And cross-platform video and interactive ad campaigns that showcase the playful brand acts (turntables that play cookies, anyone?) characteristic of a twist-and-dunk, play-with-your-food cookie, have done wonders in helping the 100-year-old brand become one of the most trusted among Gen Z and Millennials and an industry-leading revenue builder.

Shift Perceptions by Changing the Conversation
When it comes to marketing brands that don’t have storied histories or the benefit of positive market connotations, campaigns that reframe existing dialogues more positively can manage controversy. When Prudential launched retirement products amid the 2008 financial crisis, “the Rock” could have found itself on unsteady terrain. Instead, it emerged as a category leader through a strategy of inclusion, education and promotion of financial health. Starting with a survey of Americans’ retirement readiness, and culminating with a PSA-like video series of ads, The State of US, the campaign rebuilt trust and rebranded Prudential as a champion for consumers in an environment of skepticism and anger.

Trying to build national awareness of a stigmatized product subject to regulatory requirements at the state, county and district levels is difficult for any company, much less a new one in an emerging market. But cannabis company MedMen was able to hurdle the challenges with a cross-platform, hyperlocal ad strategy that could be adjusted to accommodate varying regulations. And by employing influencer and educational components to address concerns, MedMen successfully evolved from stoner product to health and wellness facilitator, nurtured positive brand perceptions and stimulated product interest.

Blur the Lines between Advertising and Reality
How long will it take for a Super Bowl ad to air that doesn’t have viewers wondering whether it’s a Tide commercial? Such is the brilliance of the humorous self-referential campaigns Tide developed for Super Bowls LI and LII that embedded ads so deeply in the games, it was hard to tell where reality left off and the commercial began. The substantial impact of that TV creative was magnified through social media as viewers posted their reactions and paid celebrities commented in ways that furthered the shape shifting aspects of the campaign. This mind-bending approach not only elicited attention and delight in equal measures but also helped to lessen the stain on the brand caused by the strange Instagram effort challenging teens to video themselves eating nonedible Tide pods. In addition, the campaign also traded in the nostalgia bred by “classic” creative to the point where viewers were on the look-out and commenting online about Tide during Super Bowl LIII even though Tide was absent from the ad roster for the game.

Ultimately, the key takeaways of the sessions on brand transformations were inspiring in articulating the incredible impact the right ad at the right time can have on consumer perception and brand growth. We attendees got an up close and personal view of how creative marketing can keep enduring brands fresh and reframe those with controversial reputations. But enduring brands that have maintained positive reputations through long-lived success aren’t immune to the necessities of brand revitalization and listening to consumer feedback. These remain strong foundations for sustained growth. Finally, don’t underestimate the power of nostalgia. Reigniting chatter about previous successful ad campaigns can give your brand positive brand lift—even in the absence of new campaigns.