Big Ideas: Stagnation is Scarier than Re-branding

How do you convince established brands to take a big risk?

That’s what Old Spice did when it took a chance on the award-winning “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” ad campaign (check out their hilarious Twitter account, too).

It’s not every day that the-deodorant-your-grandfather-smelled-like is willing to take a risk on an all-out re-branding. In fact, the longer I work in advertising, the more surprised I am at how terrified brands are of re-branding… even when they bring their own research to the table with the knowledge that refreshing their image is the only way to jumpstart stagnating sales or poor consumer perception.

I would like to say that much of that hesitation comes down to trust, but I have worked with folks who trust me and/or the agency I’m with completely… but still aren’t ready to take the plunge. Global agencies have just as much trouble pitching big re-branding campaigns as smaller ones. Why?

Well, a part of me can understand that. It’s a scary thing, to remake yourself. If you aren’t “you,” what are you? And who the hell is an agency to tell you that?

I was watching the documentary Art and Copy the other day, which highlighted some big agencies with tremendous accounts, and what stuck with me after watching it was how the biggest risks tended to be the ones that paid off. It was never a matter of tweaking a logo or putting up a Twitter page. That kind of stuff is lipstick, and it doesn’t do anything to stop or reverse a slow decline – it just hides it for a little while, until the next time it rains.

The campaigns that paid off were the big, bold ones: comparing then-unknown Tommy Hilfiger to Calvin Klein. Convincing Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak to go in halves for the famous 1984 Superbowl commercial The “Where’s the Beef?” campaign that was nearly canceled half a dozen times before shooting.

Sometimes only big, bold ideas will save you. The business world cringed when Domino’s came out and said, “Yes, we know are pizza is crap! Here are all these people telling you how terrible it is! Now here’s how we fixed it.” It was a big, bold, move, but I’ve never wanted to order a Domino’s pizza before, and it will be that campaign that brings me over to my first Domino’s sale in twenty years.  Diesel’s bizarre “Stupid” campaign made very little sense to me… Afterall, I wasn’t the target. When I stopped thinking like me and started thinking like the target, it clicked.

This is the biggest mistake that a lot of brands make. When we react to marketing messages, we react to them in the way we react – people of our age, class, race, gender, location, tastes, politics, and sensibilities. Unless you’re marketing to a group who shares all of these attributes with you, be very careful when putting together your ad campaign.

Old Spice’s new campaign wasn’t targeting your grandfather.

The scary part about big ideas, of course, is that they’re just as likely (oftentimes, more) to be big failures. But here’s the thing with big ideas: if they fail, you’re generally not much worse off that you were before if you’ve already got a struggling brand.

So. What’s stopping you from taking the plunge?

Penny Ohlmann Neimann

The Ohlmann Group has a rich history that began in Dayton, Ohio in 1949, where the agency was founded as Penny and Penny by Bob Penny and his wife Jean. In 1964, Walter Ohlmann joined the firm. Ralph Neiman came on in 1969 and the firm became Penny/Ohlmann/Neiman. In 2011, P/O/N was renamed The Ohlmann Group to better reflect the agency's ongoing evolution and collaborative nature.

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