In with the old

There is a shark swimming across my bedroom window. Technically, it’s also swimming across my daughter’s window – or its tail is. Because big is unquestionably better, when turning your house into art. This shark is a thing of beauty, if I may say so, to add some small cheer to passers-by on their daily walk. It has also handily filled several screen-free hours for the junior artists, inspired teamwork and added to the neighbourhood chat. All-round win, notwithstanding a slightly darkened room.

Here’s the thing about the times in which we find ourselves; traditional behaviours and activities are making a comeback. The irony being, of course, that they’re doing so hand-in-hand with an explosion in tech mainstreaming. Whilst we’re all finding our way with Zoom and nurturing new on-line communities, we’re also sitting down to family meals, sourcing food from local suppliers, helping neighbours, and embracing old-fashioned activities like board games, hopscotch, cutting and pasting paper sharks. Because sometimes the old stuff make sense.

Critically, this isn’t just about life with Covid-19; there is plenty of research pointing to a return to a more conservative outlook amongst Gen Z and filtering up the cohorts. More traditional career choices are on the up; alcohol consumption is down; they live their lives digitally, but crave and value interactions “IRL”; clothing repairs are back. In short, old-school is in vogue.

Why does this matter? And why now? It matters because Marketers aren’t typically inclined to want to do what’s already been done. Creativity (as an attribute) has long been the holy grail; much lauded in campaigns, innovations, design, and measured via brand equity tracking and even HR recruitment criteria. Often rightly so; the world is changing apace and creative solutions, methods, communications are needed to adapt and cut through. Plenty are the brands that can attribute substantial commercial growth to the power of creativity through their communications, brand positionings, innovation; think Dove, Brewdog, Dyson.

Conversely there may also be times when every question does not demand a creative answer, in the sense of creativity meaning new and different. A Marketer’s legacy should be to leave the brand that little bit stronger, not necessarily that little bit different.Recognising the power of old or existing brand assets, and creatively adapting to the current era, might be swimming against the tide, but can reap reward. Putting aside the significant costs of rejuvenating or reinventing brands, it is frequently more effective to work with what you’ve got, than to start afresh. Apply to design, creative assets, campaigns, even product and “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” is an adage that rings true.

Weetabix recognised this and set the matter right in 2017, re-adopting its much-loved and long established “Have you had your Weetabix” strapline; Smarties brought back blue in 2008 to wide fanfare; Heineken famously renovated its core product in 2019, in admission of the quality it had lost over time.

There are equally brands that have unleashed creativity at their peril; the well-known Tropicana packaging debacle which saw a rapid back- tracking when the new design deviated too far from existing brand and category assets; Andrex’ brief flirtation with CGI in 2010 - proving that digital isn’t always better, particularly in the case of a fluffy puppy; Leeds United’s new-look fist logo which was rapidly re-thought following fan and media backlash.

Brands need to walk that tightrope successfully between the old and the new; protecting and nurturing the assets that continue to add value, whilst remaining current and relevant to new generations. It’s all very well clinging on to a long-standing pack design, but does it work on an on-line shelf? Whereas, reinventing your brand might seem like a great idea, but will Alexa recognise it?

So is it really ‘In with the old?’ The answer is naturally yes and no. The point is that we need to avoid celebrating creativity for creativity’s sake; we need to properly understand what we can learn from a brand’s heritage and what we can bring with us, not just try new things because they’re bright and shiny. Which is not of course an absence of creativity. Sometimes, creative courage is knowing when to stand up for the simplicity and beauty of what’s gone before.

Is it time to find the paper shark in your brand and the creative courage to nurture the original ideas?

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