The ins and outs of brand revival

Dated brands can be successfully resuscitated for a contemporary marketplace. Amy Frengley looks at the critical success factors for reviving a brand, and shares some examples of where it worked and where it hasn’t worked

Today we’re living in an environment where the pace of change is so fast and the emergence of new brands and new technologies so constant, that we are increasingly seeking out those things that have some sort of genuine meaning to us - those that have marked out our life in some way. Against this backdrop, brands of a time past and those that we thought were on the decline, or even dead and buried, are enjoying a revival - but it takes significant skill to identify those worth bringing back to life, and even greater skill to do so successfully.

Indeed, while the growing appetite for nostalgia has been key to fuelling this movement, the three real markers of successful reinvention are the level of latent equity in a brand - does it still have a meaningful and useful proposition to make? Does it have or could it develop a strong customer base? Does it fulfil a genuine need in today’s world?

Tapping into an insight about what made a brand special or loved in the first place is critical to a successful revival - you may establish that a brand has relatively strong latent equity but unless you exploit or capitalise on it in the right way, it stands little chance in such a competitive market. The jury is still out but arguably MG’s foray into town cars has seen it move away from what people loved about in the first place - a serious sporty road car - to something that now looks urban and metro. As senior management themselves say, the union with Rover means there is a shareholder imperative to achieve volume, but care needs to be taken to be sure that the heartland of the brand is not compromised. By contrast, Mini, and to an extent VW Beetle, serves as an example of revival executed perfectly. It rightly identified that what was great about the brand in its original form - zippy, small, easily manoeuvrable, a great town car - was equally relevant today, if not more so. The owners played on that, but gave it a style makeover and increased its internal space to bring it bang up to date for contemporary urban life.

It’s worth remembering that one business’ albatross may be another’s golden egg. The decision to offload a brand onto someone else can often come down simply to profit and size - what’s not a viable proposition for a larger company can be quite the opposite for a small. Indeed, when evaluating the merits of retaining Angel Delight, Kraft ultimately determined it to be not worthwhile - however its profits of £1bn (and, of course, it’s less tangible but no less compelling nostalgic quotient) made it an appealing purchase for its buyer Premier Ambient.

Revival may also be propelled by the simple power of protest - both Cadbury Wispa and Radio 6 demonstrate beautifully that mobilising popular public opinion and taking a grassroots approach to saving a brand is not to be under estimated. That said, the same efforts were attempted with the Asian Network and ultimately failed. The conclusion we can draw, then, is that revival is ultimately about the commercial imperative - if the audience is falling, if it’s not a viable proposition for its owner, or the investment can’t be justified on the PL, a brand is not going to represent a great target for revival, no matter how much it reminds us of good times past.

We can conclude then that the future of an ‘old’ brand can generally be determined by four key elements - the product has to be right, some equity must remain, one shouldn’t stray too far from what made the brand great initially and it must be contemporised in the right way.

A final reminder of the interplay of these principles can be seen in the example of Woolworths. Having hit the wall two years ago, Woolies recognised that retail had all but gone online, but that it still had a useful proposition to make, albeit to a more defined market - so it’s become more targeted on younger families, reformed as an online business, focused its offer on the core areas of need for their audience, established the right price point, and hauled itself into the 21st century. Digital, fresher, brighter, better. A revival success story? We hope.

Amy Frengley is director of Brandsmiths, All About Brands’ brand strategy division. For more information, videos and advice for SMEs, visit

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