Jan. 4, 2013 at 7:11 AM ET
Powerful brands easily stagnate, playing it too safe with a strong product and failing to innovate or keep up with the times. These former icons either fade into relative obscurity or dust themselves off. We’ve seen several flashy comebacks in the last few years: a heritage deodorant line’s revitalized “Old Spice Guy,” the revival of GM’s Chevrolet, and the renewed celebrity of former President Bill Clinton, star of the 2012 campaign trail.
Which elapsed products, struggling companies or forgotten personalities will revive their brands in 2013? Marketing and branding experts cast their votes for the next big comeback stories.
The original social network may be poised for a rebound, after being purchased from News Corp. by performer Justin Timberlake and a group of investors last year. A two-minute teaser video released in September prominently features Timberlake and reveals the new design as photo and entertainment focused. Users are asked to request an invitation to the reimagined site. With Google+’s struggle to get off the ground and Facebook’s flubbed IPO this year, TalkPoint Marketing VP Dan Roche believes Myspace has a real shot at comeback success in 2013. “They have the advantage of an established name brand, infrastructure and experience,” he says. “With the influx of new blood, they can make inroads into the Facebook dominance.”
“Woods’ brand hit the fan in 2009, when we saw his personal life blow up in front of us,” says Kelly O’Keefe, chief creative officer at media agency CRT/tanaka and a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Brandcenter. “Then, even worse, his [golf] game blew up in 2010 and 2011.” However, this year he started performing better on the green and saw his earnings bounce back to $4.4 million in winnings and $55 million in endorsements, making him the world’s third highest-paid athlete. With the return of his game and his confidence, O’Keefe believes consumers are ready to forgive his personal failings and support his career redemption. Plus, “in light of drunk-driving manslaughters, murder/suicides, doping and lying by other athletes, Tiger’s marital infidelities are starting to look tame by comparison,” he says.
“It’s unlikely that the same toy will be popular year after year without a redesign,” says Charles R. Taylor, a marketing professor at Villanova University’s School of Business in Pennsylvania. He points to best-selling Barbie, who’s had 130 careers and a revolving closet, as the model of smart brand reinvention. Now Hasbro, the maker of GI Joe and Mr. Potato Head, is staging a revival of its 14-year-old Furby toy. A new redesigned line was launched in September, equipped with several high-tech add-ons: LED-lit eyes, touch sensors that trigger movement, adaptable personality traits and a companion iPhone app. Taylor says they’ve sold extremely well during the 2012 holiday season, and with an online campaign centered on social media and Furby.com, he expects the toys will be everywhere next year.
The GOP’s recent presidential loss will likely catalyze a reinvention, says Karen Post, author of "Brand Turnaround: How Brands Gone Bad Return to Glory"and a self-identified moderate Republican. She believes the party has suffered from a lack of diversity, narrow messaging and too little Web and social media interaction. “A political party is like any big brand,” she says, using Nike as an analogy. “While Nike has its one thing people associate it with, they spend millions segmenting consumers. The GOP is not grasping that.” Republicans will spend 2013 trying to reach both younger and minority voters, she says, by ramping up social media efforts and recruiting new, diverse spokespeople.
Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln
While the Lincoln Town Car was once a staple of luxury and comfort, it’s become associated with stodginess. “Younger buyers don’t want to buy it,” says marketing expert Taylor. Ford hopes to reposition the brand with its new Lincoln MKZ model targeting Gen X consumers. Every successful comeback campaign starts with product innovation, says Taylor, and so far critics are responding positively. Car and Driver gave it a 4.5 rating on a 5-point scale. Ford is also launching an edgy ad campaign, with one commercial showing an old Town Car in flames and the new model rising like a phoenix from the ashes. Also, comedian Jimmy Fallon is creating a 60-second Super Bowl ad for the model, which he’s crowd-sourcing ideas for on Twitter. “They’re taking big risks,” says Taylor, who predicts they’ll pay off in 2013.
The news of Twinkie-maker Hostess Brands’ bankruptcy caused a tidal wave of publicity and nostalgia that may help the sweet treat relaunch in 2013. With companies like Wal-Mart and Kroger reportedly making bids on the business, it’s likely that the Twinkie will have a new owner and a renewed consumer base next year. “There’s so much tradition and equity in the brand that someone will buy it,” says Taylor. However, for a successful comeback, he believes its new parent will have to break the negative association with junk food by either brand extensions or a smart marketing campaign.
The former darling of the tech world faltered in the last several years, suffering from constant volatility at the top—with five CEOs in just five years. However, Rob Scalea, CEO of brand strategy consultancy The Brand Union, believes it could return to its former glory in the year ahead. “Yahoo made a big coup by recruiting ex-Googler Marissa Mayer,” he says of its new CEO. “She has brought a new-found focus and a clear strategy: Yahoo! will be a product company with a huge emphasis on mobile.” He cites the reinvention of Yahoo Mail, rumored discussions with Facebook about creating a common social search engine, and a new Flickr app, which positions it to compete with photo-sharing service Instagram, as strong signs of a company comeback.
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