Marketing: Old favourites enjoy a new shelf-life: Long-moribund brands are being resurrected thanks to a wave of nostalgia - and the risks of new product development

BRITAIN is wallowing in nostalgia. Platform shoes are back, the music of the 1970s singing duo the Carpenters has become the latest cult sensation, and University Challenge has returned to television.

But fashion, music and old TV programmes are not the only things being resurrected. Favourite consumer brands that seemed to have lived out their spans years ago are making comebacks.

Among the most recent of these is Cadbury's relaunch of Old Jamaica, its rum and raisin chocolate bar, to meet what it called consumer demand. The brand first appeared in the 1970s, with a memorable television commercial that featured a pirate saying: 'Don't 'ee knock it all back at once.' But it was subsequently dropped.

The Cadbury marketing director, Alan Palmer, said: 'Old Jamaica was very popular for many years, and we have brought it back by popular demand.' It has still to be decided whether the old advertising will be revived, but Mr Palmer said: 'It was clearly one of the best pieces of advertising in the Seventies and it would be great to see it return to the screen.'

Cadbury also sells a range of other old classic bars, including Tiffin and Golden Crisp, which taste of fond memories to older consumers.

Last year Kraft General Foods backed its instant dessert, Birds Angel Delight, with a pounds 600,000 advertising campaign through the Ogilvy & Mather agency aimed at thirtysomething mothers. A spokeswoman explained: 'Angel Delight is associated with Sunday teatime, when it would be whipped up, sprinkled with hundreds-and-thousands and served in little glass sundae dishes - if you were lucky.' O&M attempted to tap into that residue of warm childhood memories and to attract people who have children of their own, using a variety of 1970s icons including Basil Brush and Orinoco of the Wombles.

Aside from the expectation of cashing in on nostalgia, what prompts companies to try to revive brands that seem dead on their feet?

Recession is inevitably a factor. In a tough economic climate, many companies become keenly aware of the sheer cost and financial risk of new product development.

Brett McGregor of Haines McGregor, designers, said that injecting new life into dormant brands was one of the principal ways in which companies could develop their businesses.

In the 1970s and 1980s, he said, new product development was seen as the key to gaining ground and was a response to shareholder demands for companies to grow.

Conditions were good for new product launches. Media advertising was affordable, so that it wasn't just the biggest brands which could make an impact. Technological innovation also developed at such a rate that brands were developed whose only raison d'etre was product distinction and advantage. However, competitive advantage was often short-lived as rival companies came up with the same new products.

Therefore companies may now see the relaunch of a brand with built-in values and 'heritage' as an easier option than developing a new product.

David Adams, business development director of the design consultants Tutssell St- John Lambie-Nairn, said that 'some old brands are buried in the consumers psyche' and may produce 'a feeling of recognition, warmth or nostalgia when they become available again'.

However, he warned that companies must take stock of what made the brand work originally and why it disappeared. It could be that there was an inherent problem with the product, and that no matter how big a marketing budget was given to the brand, consumers would not be persuaded to buy it again.

Among the most successful examples of brand revitalisation are Brylcreem, the hair care product line, Wonderbra, which has given thousands of women a cleavage where none existed before, and Doctor Marten, the shoe brand.

All were given a new lease of life due to the vagaries of fashion. The Brylcreem bounce redolent of the 1970s gave way to more eclectic hairstyles, from spiky crops to the slicked-back look. Brylcreem helped create them.

Packaged in its traditional red tub, it looked just 'retro' enough to appeal to the 18-30 group.

Doctor Martens, originally intended as industrial work boots, are now worn by men and women alike and a range of clothing has been launched on the back of their popularity.

But it's the Wonderbra that has made the most spectacular comeback. When it was first launched in 1968, queues formed up the stairs of Harrods' lingerie department. But it later faded from view. As cleavage has became fashionable again in the 1990s - despite the waif look made popular by model Kate Moss - women once again want that uplift look. A high-profile and slightly risque advertising campaign added to the hype.

Richard Zambuni of Craton Lodge & Knight says: 'When a company is looking to revitalise itself, it can't look into its left luggage for a brand it can just relaunch. Brylcreem succeeded, and there have been others, but it's rare. Most brands do not come back from the dead unless the fashion comes round again, and companies should remember that fashion is cyclical.'

(Photographs omitted)

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