5 Brands That Changed Their Image (and One That Should)

5 Brands That Changed Their Image (and One That Should)

There’s an old joke about a couple who drove down a country road, got in an argument, and stubbornly gave one another the silent treatment until they passed a barnyard of mules and sows. At this point, the husband asked sarcastically, “Relatives of yours?”

“Yes,” the wife replied. “In-laws.”

Whether it’s mules and sows or magazines and cartoon bears, it’s all about perception. Perception, in fact, is one of the most important aspects of human behavior – including purchasing behavior.

The fact that we’re a radio advertising agency doesn’t make us immune to the impact or importance of TV, Print and Web advertising. So, in this post, we’ll take a look at the lighter side of direct response and marketing in general to show you five brands that changed consumer perception and one that might want to consider it. We’ll also give you a few tips on how to change your own brand perception.

#1 National Geographic

National Geographic with New LogoOh, National Geographic, the magazine subscription held by many a grandmother (said with much love for grandmothers). But wait, what is this? National Geographic has become…dare we say it…hip?

For over a hundred years, National Geographic has been known for it’s stunning magazine layouts and, more recently, its documentaries on wildlife. But besides the occasional naked body, they haven’t exactly been considered “cutting edge” for a while.

Enter the rebrand masters…

Croc Granny

With an updated logo that appears as a window’s view into global culture, National Geographic has positioned itself as a vehicle for connecting us to our greater “human family” rather than a stark display of our differences. Subjects of shows on their TV channel range from the Andes to Ancient X Files. And their new slogan, “This is who we are,” makes the focus about all of us, rather than the “other.”

Will the hip, new National Geographic be too far, too fast, too soon for our gentle grandmothers? …Well, don’t worry too much about them. They’ll be keeping busy wrangling crocodiles.

#2 Smokey Bear

Smokey BearApparently most of us have been saying Smokey Bear’s name incorrectly for our entire lives. It’s not Smokey the Bear, but Smokey Bear. It hardly matters, though. What does matter is that Smokey is getting a facelift (or fur lift, as it were).

During World War II, the U.S. government was concerned that Axis powers might set fire to U.S. forests, so they put a bunch of ad execs in a room and told them to create a benign but authoritative figure, who would remind citizens to keep an eye on one of our most precious resources. The ad execs formed a group called the Ad Council and got to work. On August 9, 1944, Smokey was born.

Nowadays, with nearly 50,000 wildfires started every year (and nine out of 10 of those caused by humans) the Ad Council has been tapped to enlist Smokey Bear in a new marketing campaign.

Smokey is now online.

With a Facebook page, Instagram account and 22,000 Twitter followers, Smokey is reaching kids, teens and young adults in ways he had not

Pharrell Williams

in over a decade. His look has been updated to make him more “stylish,” and he offers bear hugs instead of growls. This is not to mention some unexpected press he received from a, perhaps, unwitting supporter. As the Maine Sunday Telegram put it, “His social media profile got a boost in February when musician Pharrell Williams showed up at the Grammys award show wearing a brown felt hat that people joked looked like Smokey Bear’s ranger hat.”

Thanks to the evolution of Smokey Bear, a whole new generation will understand that only you can prevent forest fires.

#3 Nike

Nike LogoIt’s hard to believe that “Just Do It” is 25 years old. Founded in 1964 with $500 and a handshake, Nike is perhaps one of the best examples of a brand that keeps refining its image in order to fit with (and inspire) the changing perceptions of the public.

First, there was the “swoosh.” The iconic logo debuted in 1972 and has carried the brand through decades of the ‘Nike Revolution.’ In 1985, it signed then NBA rookie, Michael Jordan, which helped bolster the company’s bottom line after what had been a few years of sagging sales. In 1987, its “Just Do It” campaign empowered hundreds of thousands to start cross-training (and of course, buying cross-trainers). In 1989, the “Bo Knows” advertisements (featuring two-sport athlete “Bo Jackson”) helped reposition Nike as the industry leader – a position it has not relinquished since.

Today, Nike continues to seek out innovation in its products and marketing (utilizing direct response, brand response, and strict branding). As a result, it recently announced an increase to its fiscal 2015 revenue target to a new range of $28-30 billion, up from its previous target of $27 billion announced in May 2010.

Long live the swoosh.

#4 Broccoli

Broccoli vs. Kale BillboardMost people know about “Got Milk” and “Meat, It’s what’s for Dinner,” but did you know that broccoli was quietly trying to get your attention for the last few years? The “little trees” that used to be the subject of dining table arguments to “not leave the table until you finish it” is now part of a “fad free eating” campaign.

By pitting broccoli against the more “fashionable” kale, broccoli is rapidly gaining followers. Part of the success of the campaign is due to the fact that, prior to its inception, most of the ad execs on the team didn’t actually like broccoli. Their general opinions ranged from squishy to smelly. But by embracing the negatives associated with broccoli, they’ve made it fun to partake. For instance, television commercials in which people are tricked into eating broccoli, have an endearing and humorous “Mikey likes it” quality about them.

As a result, sales of broccoli have been up as much as 10%.

#5 Listerine

Did you know that the popularity of the saying, “Always a bridesmaid and never a bride” derived from a set of Listerine print ads? We didn’t.

In the mid-1920s, two advertising executives were hired by the makers of Listerine to present the subject of bad breath to the public. The most popular of the ads depicted “Edna,” a lonely gal who was approaching her 30th birthday and still single, all due to bad breath. She was, they said, “often a bridesmaid and never a bride.”

By the late 1990s, however, the Listerine franchise was fading. There were so many competitors in the bad-breath game that Listerine couldn’t shake its stodgy image.

Research pointed to healthier gums as a unique, compelling sales benefit, and Listerine seized the day. In 1999, they created an action hero who would conquer the evil that is known as gingivitis. In a nod to all great comic heroes who must hide their secret identity, one of the first ads depicted the action hero as a regular Joe, showing up at an action-hero costume party, dressed as a bottle of Listerine. Like the ad execs behind the rebranding of broccoli, Listerine embraced its image by creating print ads that resembled classic movie posters.

The over-the-top dramatizations, featuring such scenes as Listerine trying to convince Batman (voiced by Adam West) to take him on as a sidekick and Listerine battling the Evil Gingivitis were capped by our regular Joe, dreaming on a bus, dressed in his Listerine bottle. The idea, of course, was that, if only Joe could be an action hero, he would be a Listerine Action Hero.

The result? Listerine’s dollar share grew from 38%to 45%. Moreover, at the start of the campaign, Listerine and Scope were neck-and-neck for a 29% volume share. By 2002, Listerine’s share had grown to 34%, while Scope’s fell to 26%.

And finally, here’s our brand that we think might want to consider a shift in public perception.

Dear Santa,

We need to talk.

You’ve been scaring the crap (figuratively and literally) out of kids for several decades now. Just look at this picture.

Santa with Screaming Kid

Does this kid look like he’s enjoying himself?

Perhaps instead of evoking screams of terror and bloody murder, you might consider a bit of rebranding. Maybe stay a little further away from the kids and pose, instead, with one of the elves. Maybe make your “Ho, Ho, Hos” a little less “Ho, Ho, Ho-ey.” Maybe trim the beard once in a while.

Whatever you do, you’d better do it soon, though, because we’re heading into the third quarter, and you should already be getting your marketing in place for next year.

In the end, just as the beginning, it’s all about perception.

No matter how well your company is doing, it can always do better, and there are lots of ways you can go about changing your customers’ perception of your product or service. To that end, it’s a good idea to embark upon a bit of research about how people perceive your brand. Ask questions like:

  • Does your brand have a strong voice among the sea of potentially similar products and services?
  • What is the overall attitude toward your brand?
  • What are the biggest concerns about your brand?
  • What do people like most about it?

From there, you can ask yourself this important question: How do I want my brand perceived? If there is any discord between what you want and what is true, it may be time to invest in an objective third-party to help you evaluate and reshape your brand.