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Evolve or die

Rowena Curlewis, CEO of Denomination explains how even the most iconic of alcoholic drinks brands must evolve, or die

Rowena Curlewis Denomination

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future,” said US President John F. Kennedy, one of the most iconic figures of the twentieth century, and someone who clearly understood how vital it is to move with the times.

The importance of embracing change applies even to those brands that transcend the products or services they’re associated with to achieve something altogether more profound – moving beyond the realm of commerce to become popular culture icons.

Mega-brands such as Coca-Cola and Google are worth billions and they’re the envy of brand owners everywhere, so you would think the last thing anyone would want to do is interfere with them. But even iconic brands will wither and die if they don’t evolve.

Doing nothing is not an option

Marketing communications service WPP found that iconic brands enjoyed far higher top-of-mind awareness: 58 per cent versus 36 percent. And Nielsen research showed that 59 per cent of global consumers prefer to buy new products from brands familiar to them, with 21 per cent saying they purchased a new product because it was from a brand they like.

Meddling with the winning formula of an iconic brand feels like a risk and the appeal of leaving alone something so valuable can be understandably strong, but inactivity is a recipe for disaster. History is littered with examples of brands that took their eye off the ball and suffered the consequences – brands such as Piat d’Or, Rosemount and Preece.

With its disruptive and unique tiny circular label, Preece was, during the late 80s/early 90s, the coolest of wine brands. And then around 20 years ago, under new ownership, its presence began to fade and successive radical label changes failed to revive the brand. Finally, in 2011, owners Lion shelved the brand.

As the number one selling Chardonnay in the US and Australia in the 1990s, Rosemount was a world leader, with an interesting, contemporary brand positioning and design. With its unusual flange-topped bottle, highly recognisable diamond label shape and easy drinking style, Rosemount was a juggernaut. But since those heydays, Rosemount has lost relevance.

Similarly, Piat D’Or was the “must have” wine of choice in the 1980s. With the iconic advertising strapline “Les Francais adorent le Piat D’Or”, Piat D’Or was Britain’s biggest-selling branded wine. However perhaps with its giant success came a reluctance to change and stay relevant to consumers. It went from being the must-have brand to a social embarrassment.  All attempts to revive it failed; the magic had gone. Today, the brand remains a shadow of its former self.

Flexing with confidence

It can be hard to feel confident that you’re not just flexing an iconic brand for the sake of it – but if the decision to change is a tough one, getting that change right is tougher still.

Your first move should be a careful analysis of your brand’s distinctive assets. What are they? How should you protect them? Can they be refreshed, or should they be left alone? Somehow, you must strike a balance between retaining elements that are important to consumers and remaining too attached to your brand’s illustrious history. So how do you achieve it?

Design for the future

Johnnie Walker is a great example of a brand that achieved this balance through a redesign, with its subtle evolution of the iconic striding man and angled label. And Dom Perignon’s introduction of the ‘glow in the dark’ outline of its distinctive label made this venerable brand relevant for modern clubs and bars the world over – managing to authentically embrace progressiveness and heritage.

Forge creative partnerships

Penfolds, one of Australia’s most iconic wine brands, found another way to stay relevant and prevent itself from falling into the realms of ‘something my parents drank’.

Penfolds’ The Ampoule Project in 2011 was a very limited edition of ten wine-in-a-glass sculptures that were sold to collectors for £100,000 each. In Russia, the launch of The Ampoule Project made prime-time television news.

Most importantly, The Ampoule Project made consumers think afresh about the brand. Penfolds has since established other innovative partnerships, including creative collaborations with Viscount Linley in 2014, and Boeing in 2016, to keep the brand vital and relevant.

Create a new sub-brand

Another brand that has successfully evolved is leading Australian winery Wolf Blass. Already famous globally for its strong eagle brand mark and masculine persona, Wolf Blass wanted to extend its appeal to other new and younger audiences. In 2014, BLASS was launched as a slicker, sexier offshoot of the parent brand.

With its black and silver colour palette, simplified silver eagle and dominant BLASS branding, the packaging is clearly differentiated from the core Wolf Blass ranges. Yet by retaining its parent’s typographic approach and eagle shape, BLASS clearly belongs in the Wolf Blass family. Its success in new and established markets has been outstanding, as Angus Lilley, Deputy CMO says: “BLASS has encouraged both trade and consumers to think differently about the Wolf Blass brand, and we believe that this successful extension has demonstrated the strength of the Wolf Blass masterbrand in terms of its ability to stretch.”

Getting it right

The examples of Piat d’Or, Rosemount and Preece teaches us that the cost of inactivity can be high so it’s important not to be frightened to evolve both your packaging design and your brand positioning. And if you have a clear understanding of what your distinctive brand assets are, and can evolve your brand identity, positioning and brand, you will continue to breathe life into your brand, maintain the loyalty of long-standing consumers and attract brand new ones.

11 September 2018