Renowned brand marketer Shahriar Amin looks at why brands are trying to become youthful
He is the king of the shallow male ego, the ultimate in male fantasy with fast cars, fast gizmos and fast women. But when you add a multi-million dollar movie, book and merchandizing franchise to it – suddenly we just go quiet and admire him. And he built his empire, not by doing different attractive things every-time he hits the silver screen, but by doing the same thing over and over and over….again. It was consistency that built his brand, like many other brands in the world from Lux to Lenovo. The name is Bond. James Bond by the way.
Mr. Bond is not only one of the biggest icons of our world but also an amazingly consistent brand. Every bond movie starts with a song in a husky female voice where the name of the film is embedded into the song. The film starts with Bond walking toward his right, and then all of a sudden turning left, taking aim at the camera and shooting, then blood covers the camera. Then there is the signature tune, the gadgets, the larger than life villain who always wants to take over the world, the voluptuous and often mindless bond girls, the catchphrases, the drink which is always shaken not stirred – all of these mean a lot of things to a lot of people. But to marketers, this symbolizes consistency. It’s the kind of consistency through rituals and re-enforcements that builds super brands.
That’s why when James Bond wanted to redefine himself, there was a huge controversy. The hard core fans that followed the brand loyally for decades were aghast. This is not James Bond! Where are the gadgets? But with changing times, James Bond did change to appeal to a younger demographic. I guess he had to.
Cold war is no longer relevant. The new villains of the world are terrorists who want to blow things up. Spies are no longer suave and charismatic, but gritty and physically well built like Daniel Craig. Bond girls are no longer ornaments. They have an identity and they fight the good fight side by side with their guy. And then of course competition was looming. Jason Bourne suddenly looked a lot cooler and realistic than the often over-the-top James Bond. So Bond changed.
James Bond changed and did it smartly. It kept its soul intact but re-defined itself for the new age. So not only he held on to most of its old fans, but created a new set of fan. And that’s the whole idea of this rebranding/redefining saga.
Brands should not wait till their appeal start to look old to change. They should change, while they are still on top of their game but when they start to feel a turnaround just up ahead in the road.
Confusions of an ever changing world
Jack Welch once said, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, then the end is near”. So change definitely is good and necessary.
Related: The New Age of Branding
Change doesn’t mean the end of something completely and beginning of something new. Despite all the hoopla around it, is on-line the end of off-line? When we see legendary book stores like “Borders” closing and virtual stores like “Amazon” soaring to new heights, people can make this false assumption.
Just like Internet was never the end of Television as a medium, online is not the end of off-line. In fact, the future is a sort of hybrid, a mutually beneficial and dependent co-existence at times. In that future, online firms will complement their existence through off-line activities. And of course, brick and mortar firms will go virtual to open up a new source of targeting customers.
A classic example would be how E-Bay is using off-site pop up stores/acts to drive traffic to its website.
An interesting phenomenon about online firms is the difficulty in categorizing them. A few years ago Amazon was an online book store, Apple was a computer maker, and Google was a search Engine. But Amazon is now into tablet manufacturing and content providing. Apple is at the forefront of defining digital revolution through iTunes, iPod, iPhone and iPad. And Google is an omnipresent force in handsets, cloud computing, music store and software development.
This tells us that the classic ways of defining boundaries for competitors and collaborators in businesses no longer apply.
Change also means trying to do the same things….but in a slightly different way.
It’s no secret that merchandising sales is big business, from sports club to video games to Hollywood. The tried and tested merchandising game worked in a different way before. You make a fantastic animated film, develop a like-able character, market it till you drop and with soaring popularity go for merchandising to bring in the big money. The Buzz Lightyear is a great example of that. So the entire line extension and licensing game started with movies and ended with merchandising, TV shows, games etc.
But the process that Pixar and then Disney crafted to perfection has reached a snag. The problem with this is the risk associated with it. It takes millions of dollars to make and market a movie with no guarantee that it will succeed. On the other hand, it takes a few thousand dollars to create a fantastic mobile game/app with a like-able character. So it’s a better bet to create a mobile game based character, make it so addictive and popular that it creates a huge fan base and then make a movie which will be sure sold among the fan base and beyond. This is a better way of going. And the trend is catching on. Rovio, with its extremely popular Angry Birds game is following this reverse trend. The game from Disney (Where’s my Water?) starring a love-able googly eyed alligator called “Swampy” has already created a huge fan base. The next logical step would be TV shows and movie. So, the creator of the trend itself (Disney) has been reversing the trend.
The journey towards the fountain of Youth
There is a cycle at work here-
a) Brands start out by targeting a core group of customers
b) As the brand increases in awareness and popularity, it starts to appeal to mass consumers outside its core group of consumers
c) As the time goes by and the brand proposition looks increasingly generic and old fashioned, the brand upgrades its look & feel and try make itself look younger and cooler
d) As competition intensifies in their category, the brand understands that the only way to guarantee future growth is if they target young users
But there are three interesting reverse trends and opportunities that are coming out of it. Marketers need to be careful of this youthful makeover trend as it works as a trap as well-
- As all brands are upgrading their look and repositioning themselves for youth, the brands that remain consistent without going through changes might all of a sudden become very successful. In an increasingly uncertain and changing world, the brand that remains true to its core proposition, look and feel – can become the anchor of stability that consumers may end up liking. Amul can be a great example as the core look and feel of the brand stayed the same for a better part of 25 years.
- As all brands appeal to youth, the ones that are targeting other segments (i.e. Corporate, Senior Citizens) might profit by focusing in a relatively uncluttered field. Harley Davidson is increasing their business by steadily focusing on the increasingly older Harley users. While the whole telecom market was looking at youth, Blackberry slowly created the smart phone platform by focusing on executives.
- As all brands try to attract youth by making their look and feel cooler; all brands may start to look pretty much the same; like all youth whose starting to look more or less the same with their messy hair-do, low cut jeans and converse snickers.
Do it like the “Material Girl”
We have been warned before in the management books – change is the only constant. So are we really caught off guard when the whole world all of a sudden started changing in the name of rebranding?
Maybe we are, because change is difficult to accept – no matter at what stage and situation of life we are. It has been even more difficult for pundits all over the world to understand, accept and get on board this rebranding bandwagon. Well they do have a case. Wasn’t it the mantra of all branding to stay true to your positioning and deliver your brand message consistently through all touch point for a long period of time to build brand equity?
I guess Madonna did it the best possible way. Throughout 80s, 90s and 21st century Madonna continued to reinvent and reposition her from a symbol of raw sexuality to pop icon to fashion diva to spiritual maturity to controversy magnet. But through this entire journey Madonna didn’t lose her soul which stayed consistent – which is the soul of a person who prefers to do things her way no matter what; that was her brand positioning. And through all the costume, cosmetic and genre changes; that positioning still holds true.
So there are three lessons to learn. We can learn that consistency, not swift changes, build great brands. We can learn that when everyone wants to be youthful, everyone looks strikingly similar which is a criminal act in the world of branding. But they can also learn that spotting when change is necessary and then acting on it is what keeps great brands great for a long period of time.
*This article was first published in Commward 2013 Souvenir.
*Source for the featured image : click here
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About the author
Shahriar Amin is the creator of the first and biggest brand related blog in Bangladesh (http://shammograffity.wordpress.com)
He is also the Brand Manager of a Multi-national FMCG company in Hong Kong