Image: Mr. Peanut
Kraft Foods
Planters Peanuts, owned by Kraft Foods, hopes to revitalize the brand with a makeover of its mascot Mr. Peanut. In animated commercials and online videos, the formerly two-dimensional peanut character is now living and talking with the voice of popular actor Robert Downey Jr.
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updated 12/31/2010 7:36:30 PM ET 2011-01-01T00:36:30

Will 2011 produce a new Old Spice? The incredible success of the “Old Spice Guy” ad campaign this year shows the potential of heritage brands — in this case, a 71-year-old deodorant line —to revive themselves and reconnect with younger generations.

Longtime brands with ingrained equity and awareness often lose engagement with consumers while the parent company invests in new product lines, explains Tim Calkins, marketing professor in Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Calkins says these orphan brands are often jump-started by new leadership, or when it’s clear that they’ve been banished to the bottom shelf and need new life. Many such brands are launching major campaigns that may help them stage a comeback in 2011.

Forbes.com slideshow: 10 Comeback brands of 2011

“Consumers are not as optimistic,” says Miriam Quart, president of ad agency Madison Avenue Consortium. “They are looking back at the ‘good ol’ days.’ It’s a great time to work the nostalgia angle in advertising.” Instead of positioning traditional products as aspirational, several marketers hope to reconnect consumers with forgotten comfort brands.

Chevrolet is a leading example. The potential comeback of this classic American brand from General Motors already has many in the industry guessing what’s to come. San Francisco ad agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, dubbed “the agency of the decade” by AdWeek, began working with Chevrolet a few months ago. “Jeff Goodby himself is working hard on this because he’s personal friends with the marketing manager at GM,” says Michal Ann Strahilevitz, marketing professor at Golden Gate University, of the agency’s cofounder.

Forbes.com: The year's most unforgettable ad campaigns

New commercials position Chevy as a nostalgic, deeply American brand. In fact, Goodby wrote an op-ed for the Huffington Post in November suggesting that a revival of Chevy could save Detroit. The timing is especially ripe for a comeback with the recent launch of the hybrid Chevrolet Volt to rave reviews.

To boost suspicions further, General Motors bought a spot in the 2011 Super Bowl, leading many to expect a Chevrolet commercial will be featured. “They are a comeback brand,” says Strahilevitz, “but time will tell if they are going to come all the way back.”

Forbes.com: The year's most creative ad campaigns

Calkins warns that campaigns built on nostalgia alone are not certain to break through to consumers. “Heritage is a bit of a dangerous place to play,” he says. “It could backfire and make you seem old. There’s always a delicate balance.”

Marketers agree that Levi’s is doing it right. The jeans brand may have lost some consumers in recent years when it tried to remake itself as a high-fashion brand, says Quart, but the Go Forth campaign smartly gets back to its core image. “The essence and heritage of Levi’s was a worker’s trend,” she says. The ads feature hardworking men and women, emphasizing rugged America and its values. She believes the message is more poignant now for young people graduating into a troubled economy, and notes that its distribution to Wal-Mart stores further supports the everyman image.

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Traditional brands generally offer name recognition but might have lost their personalities, says Quart. “Comeback brands are looking to dress themselves up in a new suit to connect with a younger audience.”

Hence, the newly unveiled and crisp-suited Mr. Peanut. The revived mascot of Planters Peanuts, owned by Kraft Foods, is already getting tons of attention — even inspiring a satire in literary magazine The New Yorker. In animated commercials and online videos, the formerly two-dimensional character is now living and talking with the voice of popular actor Robert Downey Jr. He even has a sidekick, named Benson. The forgotten brand was founded in the early 1900s and now takes on a new personality to build a younger audience online.

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Brands to watch in 2011 should also include hair-care line Pert Plus and deodorant brand Sure, both represented by Quart’s agency and sold by Idelle Labs, which specializes in reviving orphaned brands. Quart says neither brand was advertised for the better part of the decade, so the new ad campaigns should spur interest. According to The New York Times, Idelle will spend $10 million to $15 million dollars on marketing for each.

Quart hopes to leverage the shaky economy and consumers need for security by focusing advertising on family and getting back to the basics. Unlike many hair-care brands, new Pert Plus ads feature a Dad character, signaling to women — who do 85 percent of household shopping — that it’s a brand for the entire family.

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Similarly, the new Sure campaign emphasizes the deodorant’s reliability, with a tagline “be superprotected” and an image of a superhero. “It’s really connecting with families,” says Quart. “We wanted to pull on their emotional heart strings. You want to feel sure about your deodorant and the world that we’re living in now.”

© 2012 Forbes.com

Explainer: The top 10 business stories of 2010

  • Image: BP CEO Tony Hayward surveys gulf spill repair work
    AP

    In 2010, the economy rebounded fitfully from the Great Recession — starting strong, wobbling at midyear but showing enough vigor by year's end to quell fears of a second recession. Yet Americans hardly felt relief under the weight of high unemployment, which began the year at 9.7 percent and is now 9.8 percent.

    An oil spill devastated the economy and environment along the Gulf Coast and hammered energy giant BP's stock price and reputation.

    China muscled past Japan to become the world's No. 2 economy, a reminder that the global economic order is shifting and America's supremacy is diminishing.

    It was a year of job shortages and swollen budget deficits that disheartened Americans and caused deep losses for incumbent Democrats on Election Day. The Federal Reserve tried with scant success to jolt the economy with record-low interest rates.

    The struggling economy was voted the top business story of the year by U.S. newspaper editors surveyed by The Associated Press. The oil spill in the Gulf came in second, followed by China's economic rise.

  • 1. Economy struggles

    Image: Unemployment brochures are seen on display at the employment training facility, JobTrain, in Menlo Park, Calif.,
    AP

    Climbing out of the deepest recession since the 1930s, the economy grows at a healthy rate in the January-March quarter. Still, the gain comes mainly from companies refilling stockpiles they had let shrink during the recession. The economy can't sustain the pace. The lingering effects of the recession slow growth.

    The benefits of an $814 billion government stimulus program fade. Consumers cut spending in favor of building savings and slashing debt. Businesses hesitate to hire. Cities and states lay off workers. Growth slows through spring and summer.

    Unemployment stays chronically high. In May, the number of people unemployed for at least six months hits 6.8 million — a record 46 percent of all the unemployed.

    Pointing to the deficits, Congress resists backing more spending to stimulate the economy. The Federal Reserve seeks to fill the void by announcing it will buy $600 billion in Treasury bonds to try to further lower interest rates, lift stocks and coax consumers to spend.

    As the year closes, the economy makes broad gains. Factories produce more. Consumers — the backbone of the economy — return to the malls. Congress passes $858 billion in tax cuts and aid to the long-term unemployed. Yet more than 15 million Americans are still unemployed. Economists say a full economic recovery remains years away.

  • 2. Gulf oil spill

    Image: Plaquemines Parish coastal zone director P.J. Hahn lifts his boot out of thick beached oil at Queen Bess Island.
    AP

    An explosion at a rig used by BP kills 11 workers and sends crude oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. The spill devastates the fishing and tourism industries along the Gulf Coast and causes environmental damage that may last for decades. BP sets up a $20 billion fund to compensate fishermen, restaurateurs and others whose livelihoods were damaged.

    The oil giant still faces civil charges and a criminal investigation by the Justice Department and lawsuits from hundreds of individuals and businesses. BP's stock market value shrinks by more than $100 billion after the April 20 disaster before bouncing about halfway back.

  • 3. China's rise

    Image: Workers install scaffolding at a construction site as a Chinese national flag flies near by in central Beijing.
    Reuters

    China passes Japan as the world's second-biggest economy. The World Bank says it could surpass the United States by 2020. China's gross domestic product is spread out over 1.3 billion people — amounting to about $3,600 per person. That compares with GDP in the U.S. of about $42,000 per person. In Japan, it's about $38,000 per person. China's thirst for raw materials and other products helps the rest of the world recover from the recession. Still, the U.S. and Europe complain that China gives its exporters an unfair competitive edge by keeping its currency artificially low.

  • 4. Real estate crisis

    Image: Home for sale
    AP

    Housing remains depressed despite super-low mortgage rates. The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage dips to 4.17 percent in November, the lowest in decades. But home sales and prices sink further. Nearly one in four homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, making it all but impossible for them to sell their home and buy another.

    An estimated 1 million households lose their homes to foreclosure, even though the pace slows after evidence that lenders mishandled foreclosure documents. Some did so by hiring "robo-signers" to sign paperwork without checking their accuracy.

  • 5. Toyota recall

    Image: Toyota Master Service Technician Mike Blomberg inspects a gas pedal assembly.
    AP

    Toyota's reputation for making high-quality cars is tarnished after the Japanese automaker recalls 10 million vehicles for sudden acceleration and other problems. Toyota faces hundreds of lawsuits alleging that some models can speed up suddenly, causing crashes, injuries and deaths. Toyota blames driver error, faulty floor mats and sticky accelerator pedals for the unintended acceleration. The uproar damages its business. Toyota's U.S. sales rise just 0.2 percent through November in a year when the industry's overall sales climb more than 11 percent.

  • 6. GM's comeback

    Image: GM headquarters
    AP

    General Motors stock begins trading again. It signals the rebirth of a corporate icon that fell into bankruptcy and required a $50 billion bailout from taxpayers. GM uses some proceeds from its November initial public offering to repay a portion of its bailout. (Washington still holds about a third of GM's stock.) GM's recovery helps rejuvenate the industry. Sales of cars and light trucks rise 11 percent through November compared with the same period in 2009. Shoppers who had put off replacing their old cars return to showrooms.

  • 7. Financial overhaul

    Image: Barack Obama, Christina Romer, Timothy Geithner, Barney Frank, Paul Volcker
    AP

    Congress passes the biggest rewrite of financial rules since the 1930s. The law targets the risky banking practices and lax oversight that led to the 2008 financial crisis. The law creates an agency to protect consumers from predatory loans and other abuses, empowers regulators to shut down big firms that threaten the entire system and shines more light into markets that have eluded oversight. Republican critics say the law goes too far, imposing burdensome rules that will restrict lending to consumers and small businesses.

  • 8. European bailouts

    Image: Athenians walks behind a board showing exchange rates at a foreign currency exchange shop in Athens on Wednesday.
    AP

    Greece and Ireland require emergency bailouts, raising fears that debt problems will spread and destabilize global markets. European governments and the International Monetary Fund agree to a $145 billion rescue of Greece in May and a $90 billion bailout of Ireland in November. The bailouts require both countries to slash spending, triggering protests by workers. Investors fear that debt troubles will spread to Spain, Portugal and other countries, weaken the European Union and threaten the future of the euro as its common currency.

  • 9. 500 million Facebook users

    Image: Mark Zuckerberg
    AP

    Facebook tops the 500-million-user mark. It expands its dominance of social media and further transforms how the world communicates. If it were a country, Facebook would be the world's third-largest. Facebook tightens its privacy settings after criticism that personal information is being disseminated without users' knowledge or permission. Founder Mark Zuckerberg is named Time magazine's "Person of the Year" and is the subject of a high-profile movie about Facebook's creation.

  • 10. iPad mania

    Image: Customer uses an Apple iPad
    AP file

    Apple Inc. unveils the iPad, bringing "tablet" computing into the mainstream and eroding laptop sales. Apple is expected to sell more than 13 million iPads this year. The iPads sell about twice as fast as iPhones did after their 2007 introduction. The price of Apple stock rockets more than 50 percent in 2010. Competitors scramble to try to catch up. They include the Dell Streak, BlackBerry PlayBook, the Samsung Galaxy Tag and HP Slate.

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