January 25, 2018 • Zack Hopkins
By their very nature, heritage brands—brands with a long history of character and values—have key advantages over their competitors. Name recognition, implied values and characteristics, and a spirit of authenticity are inherent heritage traits that other brands aspire to achieve. And yet, today’s heritage brands are facing tougher competition from less-established competitors primarily through their appeal to young consumers: millennials or Generation Z (those born between 1995–2014).
Old Spice’s recent resurgence among millennials has been so successful that it is easy to forget that the heritage brand has been around since 1937. But this success didn’t happen overnight.
Sometime in the 1990s, it became apparent that Old Spice deodorant had fallen out of favor with young consumers who had come to see the product as their “father’s deodorant.” An Old Spice advertisement in 2000 leaned in to the issue but only perpetuated the problem.
If Old Spice was going to compete for millennial consumers, it had to change its tone dramatically.
Old Spice’s packaging got younger: It swapped out the old cargo ship logo for a more dynamic sailing yacht. The visual identity shifted toward more of an athletic focus. New products like Red Zone and High Endurance sported new packaging with bold, italic typefaces that referenced sports and athletic products. But the design lacked style and sophistication—the labels were crowded and unfocused and still lacked commitment to a contemporary refresh.
The new packages created visual inconsistencies throughout product lines and abandoned some of the most recognizable visual features of the brand’s historical packaging. The following years were full of incremental shifts, but the movement lacked commitment and consistency.
Fast-forward to 2010, when Old Spice launched the “Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign, which immediately went viral. This advertisement was part of a complete repositioning that included a total overhaul of the visual identity. The result was a line of products that looked high quality and modern, reinforced the tone of Old Spice commercials and reconnected the brand with its heritage.
In its new identity, Old Spice brought back the original logo, cut the clutter from its labels, and created products that projected its authentic history while retaining the humorously tongue-in-cheek attitude of its advertising campaign.
The resulting look is one that is obviously historical but does not take itself too seriously—a pillar of Old Spice’s new brand. With its position as industry leader restored, Old Spice was free to project authenticity through branding that was even more transparent with its heritage. The brand released specialty products with historic packaging, updated to match its modern look. By introducing clear visual clues and colors to distinguish itself, the brand was able to modernize its approach without losing its character.
Budweiser has been making beer for almost 100 years, and the brand has been a symbol of American pride for almost as long. For American beer drinkers, the 2008 acquisition of Anheuser-Busch by InBev, a European company, was tough to swallow.
Along with InBev’s acquisition of the Budweiser brand came changes to the visual brand identity. Bud Light received an immediate packaging update, with new cans launching just months after the changeover. Budweiser’s redesign didn’t come until 2011, but the result lacked any clear references to the classic look, in favor of solid red and white cans.
The more modern redesign served the dual purpose of contemporizing the can presentation and hammering home the red, white and blue of the American flag. It also further differentiated Bud Light from Budweiser, which had always been marketed very differently.
Perhaps the redesign was successful at shielding Bud Light from negative feelings about Budweiser in general, but it didn’t do enough to relieve the feeling that Budweiser was somehow less American. The redesigned cans looked great, but removing the visual references to the can’s history drained the brand of its authenticity.
There will always be a market for Bud Light—the product never really relied on its heritage to drive sales. Unfortunately, for Budweiser, it was a different story. The mass-market beer industry as a whole was losing sales to a growing craft beer market that thrives on local pride and authenticity. Rival beer giant MillerCoors, which already had a consistent heritage product in Miller High Life, released a beautiful new heritage-inspired look for Miller Lite during this period.
Budweiser responded during Super Bowl LI with the launch of the heritage-inspired “Brewed the Hard Way” campaign. The campaign reached every aspect of the Budweiser brand and came with new packaging designs across the full product line.
The new cans and bottles brought back the classic Anheuser-Busch seal, modernizing the artwork by setting it in bold, monochromatic color schemes. The combination of intricate artwork and modern design choices maintained what was good about the previous cans while adding the spark of authenticity they lacked. By focusing on a legacy of craftsmanship, Budweiser reminds consumers of its history, and how the company earned its status as an iconic American brand.
Centering the visual language of Budweiser beer on the classic seal has also been an effective tool for creating consistency among the company’s products. Bud Light, Bud Light Platinum and the newly released Bud Light Radler are all aimed at different demographic segments but are now using the same visual language. This reinforces the strength and relevance of the brand, and allows each of the products to benefit from the awareness and recognition that comes with well-executed heritage branding.
The ability to tap into heritage to guide rebranding is unique to heritage brands. For consumer brands like Old Spice and Anheuser-Busch, harnessing heritage has allowed them to evolve their brands and strengthen their position in the marketplace with new audiences. By introducing brand packaging and identity elements of the past, both brands created consistency, as well as a tone and style that resonates with a new generation.