Finding Comfort In The Past
By Andy Gutowski
Some brands are finding success by cutting through the clutter of modern life and transporting consumers back to a simpler time.
Consumers are increasingly finding the modern world of marketing to be a place of chaos and disorder filled with empty promises from corporate America. The never-ending flurry of colors, sounds and general disorder that envelops daily routines makes the desire for the comforting and comparatively calm visions of yesterday an almost collective experience. It makes consumers crave simpler, more static times—in short, a safety zone. It also makes marketing in a competitive product category nearly impossible unless you can somehow find a way to distinguish your brand from the rest of the mêlée.
All of this confusion has come together to create a strong desire for “the good old days,” even among those who weren’t around to see them. As a result, we’re seeing more and more instances of “retro-chic” design, which, in simple terms, takes something old and makes it new and relevant again. Just look at the movie listings at your local theater or stroll through the aisles at your grocery store for proof. Retro-branding has become one of the most effective and lucrative marketing strategies of the past 10 years.
And it’s increasingly finding merit in the realm of packaging. Indeed, simple, crisp design and nostalgia blend together to make for a striking and effective package. But it’s more complicated than just slapping an old logo on an existing brand and stepping back to watch the profits grow.
Pabst Brewing Company’s most popular sub-premium lines are two recent examples. The company’s Lone Star and Rainier brands had both adhered to traditional marketing principles during their lifetimes, abandoning old logos and package design and embracing new ones with relative frequency. But both also recently faced a need to boost stagnating sales numbers and attract new lifetime consumers. The question they had to address, though, was how?
LONE STAR BEER A regional brand as true to Texas as longhorn steers and big belt buckles, Lone Star Beer recently celebrated its 65th anniversary. The brand had become so ubiquitous over the years, though, that it essentially blended into the background of Texans’ lives. Taking a page from the success of recent retro campaigns by the Pabst Blue Ribbon brand, Pabst Brewing Company decided to reach into its history for packaging design ideas and nostalgic slogans to reintroduce the Lone Star brand to native Texans. The company also kept in mind the people who had been flocking to Texas to soak up the state’s unique culture and history: Using a marketing strategy that aligned the beer with 65 years of Texas tradition was the best and most direct way to tap into the non-native market as well.
To begin, our firm worked with Lone Star to design commemorative anniversary packaging that focused on the classic Lone Star shield, reminding consumers of “the good old days.” We also brought back the famous “Long Live Longnecks” tagline, depositing it in a clutter-free, easy-to-read design. Pabst Brewing also determined that updating Lone Star’s secondary packaging was cost-effective and offered a better profit margin for the brand. The primarily white and ultra-clean labels and packaging helped Lone Star stand out from the busy, image-laden looks of its competitors.
In addition to the retro packaging, we invited consumers to contact the Lone Star marketing team to help direct the refresh, which in turn built up loyalty because it allowed the brand’s devoted customer base to feel part of the decision-making process. The marketing team at Pabst received passionate e-mails about the possibility of keeping the retro look beyond the anniversary:
“. . . fellow beer drinkers are excited about this logo and are in hopes that this is something that can become permanent. We all grew up with this and want to continue to see it. This is much more than a ‘logo,’ this is a symbol that represents everything that Texas stands for.”
That passion also translated into sales. Following the release of this anniversary retro packaging, Lone Star case sales outperformed the competition with an 18 percent increase in San Antonio and Austin grocery outlets. (Source: IRI, Total San Antonio and Austin-Food, YTD PE 9.4.05)
RAINIER BEER Like Lone Star, Rainier could look back on a long relationship with a community that had served it well. This regional Pabst brand had enjoyed an almost celebrity status in Seattle for more than 125 years. The Rainier Brewery, with its giant, neon-red “R,” was as much a local landmark as the snow-capped mountains that serve as the city’s backdrop.
But by 1999, a drastic change damaged the city’s perception of the brand and brought near-devastating repercussions. The closing of the Rainier Brewery forced production out of the city—and Rainier out of the hearts and minds of previously loyal consumers. Customer enthusiasm was rapidly evaporating, and Pabst knew it had to act quickly in order to save Rainier Beer from fading into the sunset.
The first and most crucial aspect of this campaign was to reinsert Rainier back into the hearts of Seattle-ites. But how could Pabst remind the city of its once strong ties to Rainier with finesse? The answer was so simple that at first it was difficult to see: packaging, of course.
Initially, the primary packaging for the 16-ounce cans and point-of-sale materials were revamped, referencing an older design with Mt. Rainier as the prominent feature for the new image. Not only did this design create a direct visual link between the city and the product, it created a fresh, outdoorsy look that proved appealing to a varied group of consumers. The mountain-centric design used a retro color palette and made good use of plentiful white space. The clean layout and old-fashioned typeface served to generate a feeling of pride in consumers—that they’re buying from a company that hangs its hat on the quality of its product, not fussy or overdesigned packaging. The idea was to get consumers to remember Rainier—not only from its glory days, but for today, when they visit their grocery store or head out for a night on the town.
Reclaiming its roots has proven an effective strategy for Rainier; the brand has regained its place as a Seattle favorite. In fact, the retro-branding campaign was so successful that Rainier is now in the process of having all of its secondary materials redesigned as well.
In a world of media over-proliferation, it is difficult for any brand marketer to get his products noticed. The retro-branding trend of simple, clean lines and a “less is more” concept creates a distinctively eye-catching look that is proving time and again to attract customers, both old and new.
Now, instead of sorting through scrapbooks and digging through old photographs for comfort, a flustered consumer, exhausted from a day of overwhelming ads filled with unrealistic promises, can simply stop by his local grocery store for a reassuring and refreshing blast from the past. BP
The author, Andy Gutowski, is partner and creative director of Object 9, a nationally recognized marketing and design firm based in Baton Rouge, La. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.