Return To Main PageCOMMANDO LOGO

3/24/99 - Raising The Dead

When famous brands lose their sense of identity (and subsequently sales) they become introspective. After much reflection they generally reach two conclusions: One is to fire their current ad agency. And the other is to return to the marketing communications that made the brand famous in the first place.

"Hey, why did we ever get rid of that old campaign?" some newcomer invariably spouts off, unaware of the political motivations behind its demise.

So the old campaign is resurrected in hopes it can do the same for the moribund brand. Unfortunately, these Dr. Brandkensteins seem to forget that recapturing the mysterious life-force that originally made the concept a success is no easy task.

For example, Snapple's campaign featuring Wendy the receptionist reading fan letters from consumers was dropped when Quaker Oats bought the company. Quaker moved the account to their Gatorade agency, which proceeded to fire Wendy and water down the brand's quirky personality. Which, in turn, diluted the brand's sales and value.

As the situation worsened, Quaker desperately gave bottles of Snapple away on street corners, begging consumers to try it and buy it. The advertising tried to recapture the gritty look of the Wendy spots, but to no avail. Quaker wound up selling Snapple at a huge loss. And the new owners, in attempt to recapture the brand's old snap, brought back Wendy. But the magic of the brand's image was gone. Seen any Snapple ads lately?

Miller Lite has just embarked on a similar brand revival. After a walk on the wild side with wonder boy Dick, they realized that the people who appreciated their ads (mostly agency folk) didn't fall in the same demographic as those that drank their beer. So they reconfigured their famous Lite debate around a new issue--whether it tastes great because of its smoothness or "choice hops."

The tagline is: "Great taste of a true pilsner beer." Pilsner beer? Where did that come from? Somebody must have read the can in search of copy points.

Lite's new debaters make you long for Butkus, Bubba and the old gang-o-jocks (of course now they'd probably be better suited discussing the merits of Ensure dietary suppliment). At least you could believe those guys were undiscriminating enough to drink the stuff. But Rebecca Romijn-Stamos? I don't think so.

It's too early to say whether the Miller Lite revival will produce any signs of life. But it seems Lite and other brands could have saved themselves a lot of lost market share by realizing that if a campaign ain't dead, don't kill it.