Sleeping giants: waking your portfolio’s snoozing powerhouse

POSTED BY Christina Arbini on Jul 23, 2015

Recently, Alasatir Whiteley, Creative Director of our London office, sat down with FoodBev Media to share tips on how corporations can wake the sleeping giant brands in their portfolios. Following is the article in its entirety. 

In the lull between conversations about the next big brand and the fantastic growth of the last big brand, let’s spare a thought for the brand before last: those once-loved but long-neglected brands gathering dust at the back of the corporate cupboard while glittering newbies take up all the room at the front.

Every corporation has one – most will have far more than one. These are brands with soul and personality that have somehow faded away. Look at Marmite. Ten years ago, it was the dusty jar at the back of every kitchen’s cupboard – and the mouldering brand at the back of the Unilever pantry, too. You’d be hard put to find someone who didn’t know what it was, so brand recognition was no problem – but the love for the brand had completely evaporated.

Today, Marmite is a figure of speech. “It’s like Marmite” is a phrase everyone understands, one that encapsulates the idea behind a marketing phenomenon: the brand wasn’t revitalised by convincing everyone to love Marmite. Instead, we homed in on an unlikely selling point: this is a product with such a strong personality that if you don’t love it, you hate it.

How we achieved this turnaround for Unilever – and gave other atrophying brands a similar sort of workout – is well worth considering, because any corporation that doesn’t offer the public the opportunity to reconnect with a once-loved brand is wasting valuable equity.

Finding the uniqueness in your product

And equity is the secret. The Marmite taste was loved by lots of people who weren’t recognising that what they cared about was Marmite. In Twiglets or in Walkers, Marmite was lurking, pinging taste buds but not brain cells. There was no strategy – just a unique black gloop in an instantly recognisable jar.

Yet this point – a little over a decade ago – was precisely when people were starting to look differently at packaging. Mars had created a Mars drink. Brands were becoming more flexible – literally, in the case of those squeezy plastic honey bottles that were starting to pop up on breakfast tables – and were starting to grow in a different way.

Marmite Guinness Limited Edition

Innovation and participation

So we approached a bunch of entrepreneurial marketers within Unilever. We held an innovation session where we encouraged every kind of weird and wonderful Marmite-related idea. We must have wallpapered the entire Unilever refectory with ideas – and we encouraged staff to slap a red sticker on those they didn’t really like and a green sticker on those they did.

We got a plethora of great ideas: Marmite-flavoured rice cakes or cheese, limited editions, gifts. Why, people asked, are you giving this great flavour away to Twiglets or Walkers? It’s yours – why aren’t you owning it?

Brand synergy: the Two Dark Lords

Unilever decided to do just that. They seized on our first suggestion of a limited edition – the idea of the Two Dark Lords, Guinness and Marmite, seemed an obvious synergy. Both were black, strong-flavoured, incredibly distinctive and badly undervalued by a forgetful public. Most importantly, from a marketing perspective, there was a great story to tell. Still, we were all surprised at the edition’s success.

We kept the momentum going, launching Marmite champagne on Valentine’s Day 2008, repeating our success with a rather different audience. Other witty, relevant special editions followed, such as Ma’amite for the Queen’s Jubilee in 2012.

There were branded snacks and merchandise and a concerted social media campaign with members’ club, the Marmariti – the online equivalent of that early poll in the Unilever refectory, but one with much more reach: in four months, the Marmarati campaign reached over two million people, with more than 6,000 Twitter mentions and 302,000 page views to the website.

Marmite Ma'amite Limited Edition

Five Ways to Wake a Sleeping Giant

So, how can corporates do the same for their sleeping giants? Having an entrepreneurial marketer helps, but here are five ways to consider:

1. Emphasise character

The funny thing is that people now say that Marmite is a special case – but any brand with a strong personality, however hidden, can be the same kind of special case if given the right treatment. It has to have character, a sense of humour, and relevance.

These are the things people stick to, and without what I call sticky content – the fun aspects that people latch onto online, retweeting, reposting, sending viral – you have no chance of truly reviving a moribund brand. But of those three vital pillars, only the first is crucial. As long as the character – the unique personality – is there, you can get people talking and create that relationship with the consumer where they will look for your brand, ask about it, want to know where it is and what it is up to.

2.  Own the flavour

With Marmite, owning the flavour was a crucial part of giving the brand back its unique personality. With another brand, that flavour may not be literal – but whatever the unique selling point may be, it is vital to pinpoint it, first, then bring it to the consumer’s attention.

3.  Provide something special

Limited editions are an ideal way to do this. Just as the Two Dark Lords emphasised the dark and unusual flavour of Marmite and provided a wonderful showcase for its obscure cool, so the Lovers’ Edition played up its ability to inspire loyalty, the XO its bite-a-chilli strength, and Ma’amite its Englishness – and its wit. Re-presenting a brand also conveys the confidence that that brand is strong enough to remain loveable in different guises.

4.  Get your brand out there

Merchandising is a powerful tool. Those limited edition jars are still available on eBay, providing free testimony to the strength of the brand; every extra product, from snacks to cushions to keyrings, reinforces the consumer’s recognition of that brand, his or her appreciation of its place in the world – and their ensuing loyalty to that brand.

5.  Embrace new channels

Today’s always-on media offers a major advantage for anyone looking to revive a brand, because brands go in cycles – no brand can be at the top of the news agenda all the time. While your premium brands are resting, there’s a great opportunity to bring a forgotten brand back to the forefront of the public mind.

Look at how Old Spice has made a comeback via a series of viral films, or how craft breweries have brilliantly used sticky content to steal a march on the corporate brewers.

So many brands, so little time…

There are so many great, neglected brands I’d love to see get the Marmite treatment. Atari, for instance, with that terrific logo and the residual adoration of millions of middle-aged adults who were teenagers at the dawn of the computer game era. They should be doing big headphones, speakers – everyone could be wearing an Atari watch instead of an Apple watch. Atari’s association with quality would resonate with the right kind of people.

There are so many other examples. Brut, the cologne, is Unilever’s equivalent of Old Spice before it went viral; Babycham, the sparkling perry, has yet to take advantage of the increasing interest in sparkling alcoholic beverages from prosecco to cider and English sparkling wine. Raleigh, the bicycle brand, should be as big as Aston Martin, in an environmentally conscious world. I could go on – but the list is endless.

We have given many tired brands back their mojo, making them exciting and relevant to a 21st century audience that is bombarded with content – but hungry for, and deeply engaged with, the content that really works.

Time for a change

So, rather than sell off a tired brand to the venture capitalists, peek into your corporate cupboard. Pick your brand, its unpolished potential gleaming through the dust of neglect. Figure out what’s so different about it, why it used to resonate in the consumer consciousness, the place in people’s lives it once had, and bring it back to the forefront of their minds.

It seems paradoxical to suggest that new modes of communication can help turn back the clock – but when it comes to a once-loved brand that deserves a second look, they unquestionably can.

WRITTEN BY Christina Arbini

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