Why re-run your 20 year old advert?

Should famous brands consider re-running famous ads, even if they are 20 or more years old?  An recent article in The Times suggests that this is indeed a great idea, saying: “Our nostalgia for adverts of yesteryear shows just how potent the best creations are”. And they may have a point. Here’s why.

On brand vision projects I often witness marketing teams pulling their hair out with frustration, as consumer focus groups recall not the latest advertising, but rather commercials from 15 or 20 years ago.  They remember slogans, music and catch-phrases. Here’s an example from the Cornetto brand, that dates back to 1982  – click below to watch.

The reason for this recall is “memory structure”: associations that have been “hard-wired” into our brains.  This memory structure takes a long time to establish. Experts suggest you need 2-3 of consistent marketing to have a chance of doing this, which is difficult to do given that marketing directors spend on average only 18-24 months in a job.

Once this memory structure is established, it tends to stick. And the harsh truth about those frustrated marketing teams earlier in the post? They have probably failed to create any advertising memorable enough to dis-lodge the old ads from peoples’ memories and create new memory structure.

Now, not any old advertising creates memory structure, no matter how long you run it for. Communication needs to be highly distinctive and linked to the brand to be effective. And the key to this distinctiveness is brand properties, such as the Nescafe Gold Blend couple, who launched the “soap opera” style of commercial back in the 1980’s – click below to watch. These brand properties, when stored as memory structure, and serve as a key to unlock brand meaning.

So, how should you explore whether there is something from the past that could help your brand today?

Step 1: Look back at what made you famous

Start by looking back at the last 20-30 years of your brand history: what marketing campaigns were running, and when was the brand “hot”, with share and sales growing? Every brand that’s been around a while should have this sort of history, although only today I had yet another brand manager tell me the team had only a couple of years worth of advertising.

Step 2: Have you uncovered any “buried treasure”?

When you look back at what made you famous, what do you find? If you’re lucky, you may uncover something valuable, such as this classic, Bond-esque Milk Tray chocolates ad from the 1970’s  – click below to watch. UK readers of a certain age will already be humming the theme tune, and saying the endline: "All because the lady loves, Milk Tray".

Step 3: Re-run or re-shoot?

If you do uncover a gem, the question then is what to do with it? The Times article suggest the bold move of re-running the advert as it is, to tap into our nostalgia. This could work well for us consumers old enough to remember the original. And it has the advantage of being free in terms of commercial production. However, the risk is that your brand might look a little dated.

A better alternative may be to not just remember what made you famous, but also refresh it. This was the route taken by Jon Goldstone, when he led the revitalization of the Hovis bread brand in the UK a couple of years ago. He had uncovered a diamond in the form of the “Boy on his bike” ad from 1973 – click below to watch. This was pretty much the only bit of communication any consumer recalled.

To deliver the simple but inspiring brief of “Make Hovis great again”, the agency MCBDcreated a new commercial which helped return the brand to growth  – click below to watch. This epic, 122 second masterpiece ad tapped into memory structure, but refreshed it to bring it up to date:

-       The boy and his journey

-       The iconic “little brown (un-sliced) loaf

-       The endline: “As good today as its always been”

In conclusion, brand magic is elusive and tends to come along only once in a generation. If you are lucky enough to have such a potent piece of marketing in your history, then it may be worth trying to “do a Hovis” by remembering and refresh what made you famous.