Mumbai: The original Levi’s 501 button fly jeans has its fans among today’s generation. That is the story behind the recent launch of a new global campaign, including in India, for Levi Strauss and Co.’s iconic brand. And the hero of the “Live unbuttoned” campaign in India—featuring brand ambassador and Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar—is actually, the company claims, a newer, “sexier”, more “fitted” version of the “quintessential pair of jeans” to suit current fashion trends.
“The idea was not to reintroduce, but to reinforce the relevance of the Levi’s 501,” says Shyam Sukh Ramani, director (marketing), Levi Strauss (India) Pvt. Ltd. “It is an iconic brand, with 118 years of heritage. So not only does it have a contemporary appeal in the form of fits and washes, but the Levi’s 501 also has, what you might call, unadulterated brand DNA. It is the original button fly jeans.”
Much like Levi Strauss, a number of companies are looking to reinforce and, in some cases, revive iconic, but aged brands. Examples range from the resurrection of the Fiat 500, the hugely popular city car that was phased out in 1975, to the launch of Adidas Originals, a lifestyle and street fashion line. Cinthol soap was also recently repositioned and launched by Godrej, with Bollywood star Hrithik Roshan endorsing the brand.
Back in fashion: Popular city car Fiat 500 (top) and Adidas Originals, a lifestyle and street fashion line, have been relaunched.
“You can bet your money that this has nothing to with warm, fuzzy feelings such as nostalgia,” says Unni Krishnan, managing director, Brand Finance (India) Pvt. Ltd, a brand valuation consultancy. He is of the view that such decisions are driven by “sheer necessity and business survival”.
The benefit from reinforcing, or reviving retro, or heritage brands, say marketers, is that the company can not only tap into the nostalgia factor, but address a wider consumer base.
Sports and lifestyle brand Adidas, therefore, retails its products under two brand logos—maintaining its original tresfoil logo, which it has realized is hugely popular among certain consumer groups, for Adidas Originals. Its high technology, sports performance product line sells under the new logo of three diagonal bars. “It’s important to be clear about what the brand stands for…it is difficult to service a range of customers with one unified brand,” says Andreas Gellner, managing director, Adidas India Marketing Pvt. Ltd. To prevent consumer confusion, Adidas and Adidas Originals are sold at separate stores.
Breathing life into an old brand that commanded loyalty in its prime is easier than trying to break into a competitive market with a new brand. In most instances of this, companies are looking to invest in brands that don’t flaunt badge value in your face, but at the same time are seen as good, authentic and individualistic brands, says Anand Halve, co-founder, Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy Pvt. Ltd. “If the 90s were about belonging and flaunting (the badge value), then today’s all about un-belonging and authenticity.”
Experts say that this trend could stem from the consumer’s desire to be different after all the excesses witnessed in communication over the past two decades.
“This may be a reaction to an overdose of the branding of the 90s,” says Halve, who adds that the very brands consumers sought for exclusivity became pedestrian, because everyone bought into them.
Age-old product differentiators such as quality and technology are now mere hygiene factors. Companies are, therefore, forced to look back into the past for potentially powerful brand assets that can highlight competencies and fuel substantial growth when all other levers such as cost-cutting and quality have been played out. “It is a very rigorous, objective and value creation-oriented exercise,” says Krishnan.
Classic soap brand Cinthol was looking tired till a year ago when Godrej Consumer Products Ltd reviewed the brand and found that it was one of the single-most powerful ones in its portfolio. The company repositioned and launched the brand, hoping to leverage it as one of the front-runners.
Similarly, a Fiat statement says that “…Fiat’s fundamental goal has not been to design a car that ‘looks like’ a 500, but rather one that ‘could be’ a 500 again”.
But not everyone can pull out old tricks from the hat and get away with it, say experts. “It will only work if companies can find in their closet, brands that are a part of popular folklore,” says Ramesh Thomas, president, Equitor Management Consulting (Pvt.) Ltd.
The Jeep, for example, was supplied as a general purpose vehicle to the American army. It soon became a part of popular folklore as it stood for everything that was macho, patriotic and cool. Similarly, brands such as the Mini Cooper, Fiat 500, The Beatles, or even actor Amitabh Bachchan are all part of popular folklore, and when positioned correctly, result in a strong connect with consumers.