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Comfort of Longtime Brands Inspires Campaigns

Marketers are hoping to take advantage of the history of their venerable brands as shoppers show a renewed interest in the roots of the products they buy.

For instance, Proximo Spirits is reviving a brand of British gin, Boodles, that had its heyday among American drinkers in the 1970s and 1980s. The brand, which Proximo acquired in 2012, is the subject of a campaign, now underway, that introduces a character called Mr. Boodles, a traditional English butler meant to invoke the source of the Boodles name, the London gentlemen’s club Boodle’s. The estimated $1 million campaign, which carries the theme “Send for Boodles, proper British gin,” is being created by an agency known as Exposure; media is being handled by Generator.

“The idea is that you can send for Boodles, wherever you are, and Mr. Boodles will serve you,” said Tom Phillips, managing partner and creative director of Exposure. Those doubting how realistic the character is will have to answer to Mr. Phillips — “I am British, English, in the United States for 10 years now” — who described how Mr. Boodles was mainly based on a steward belonging to the staff of the Queen Mother.

In another example of the trend, the American Pop Corn Company is observing a milestone anniversary for Jolly Time popcorn, which the family-owned company has sold since 1914. A new campaign by the Haberman agency in Minneapolis includes an online video and what is described as a “virtual museum” — a section of the Jolly Time website with content like a retrospective of vintage ads and packaging.

“I’m the fourth generation of my family in the business,” said Garry Smith, president of American Pop Corn in Sioux City, Iowa. “I don’t know much, but I know popcorn pretty well.”

Other products are not waiting for 100th anniversaries to throw parties for themselves. A new campaign for Tater Tots, the frozen potato nuggets sold by the Ore-Ida division of H.J. Heinz, is centered on the brand’s 60th anniversary. And 30th anniversaries are being commemorated by Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, with a campaign being handled by seven agencies, and by Snuggle Bear, the brand mascot of Snuggle fabric softener, from Sun Products.

Among other brands that are wooing potential customers with heritage pitches are Gevalia, with ads promoting “150 years of rich, never bitter coffee”; Jockey underwear, with a new campaign featuring historical figures like Babe Ruth and George S. Patton; and Kikkoman soy sauce, with bottles bearing labels that proclaim “Over 300 years of excellence.”

What is inspiring the trend is a belief that shoppers — watching carefully what they spend in an uncertain economy — seek authenticity in brands because a product’s longevity suggests it has value and is thus worth buying.

“At General Mills, with cherished brands like Cheerios, Lucky Charms and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, we are seeing an uptick in interest” in mainstay products, said Elizabeth Crocker, associate marketing manager for Cinnamon Toast Crunch at General Mills, “from both millennial consumers who enjoy the taste and fun, as well as older consumers.” (Yes, Elizabeth Crocker works for General Mills, home of another longtime brand character, Betty Crocker.)

“Social media is helping to fuel the interest in historic brands and favorite icons,” Ms. Crocker said, citing popular memes like Throwback Thursday (#tbt) and Flashback Friday (#fbf). “For many fans of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, the cereal brings back happy childhood memories, so it’s an easy tie to fun #tbt social content,” she added.

Ed Vlacich, general manager and executive vice president for national brands at Sun Products, echoed Ms. Crocker. “With all that interest in Throwback Thursday, we thought there might be a nice nostalgia angle” in a campaign devoted to Snuggle Bear, he said, even if 2014 might be the character’s 31st anniversary rather than its 30th. (“There are a lot of debates,” Mr. Vlacich said, because of “some early test marketing that went on” in 1983.)

Amplifying the appeal of the campaign, which is to culminate next month with a promotional, charitable and social media effort called SeptemBEAR, is that “for our consumer, the moms we market to, 30 is a big year for them,” Mr. Vlacich said. The campaign is being handled by two agencies owned by the Interpublic Group of Companies, Current and Lowe Campbell Ewald.

As “comforting” as the Snuggle campaign is meant to be, it is also intended to be “contemporary and relevant,” Mr. Vlacich said, presenting Snuggle as “a brand people can trust, but also with the innovations they’re looking for.”

That balancing act is also being considered by Mr. Smith of American Pop Corn, who said: “Just being old doesn’t mean much. I would say that to survive for a hundred years you have to be nimble and flexible and relevant. And being relevant in 1950 is different from being relevant in 1980 or relevant in 2014.” He cited examples like Jolly Time’s being “among the first to introduce a microwave popcorn” and a recent “Weight Watchers endorsement of our low-fat product.”

The Boodles campaign also has contemporary elements. For instance, said Mr. Phillips of Exposure and Elwyn Gladstone, senior vice president for marketing of Proximo, there is a Twitter account under the name of Mr. Boodles and, Mr. Phillips said, “his wife, Felicity, will pop up on there.”

“There’ll be humor, but it’ll be dry,” he added, with the punning reference to dry gin fully intended.

 

Stuart Elliott, The New York Times, August 26 2014

Copyright © 2014 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.