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Big brands cashing in on retro craze

Everything old is new again for many of the best known U.S. brands.
/ Source: Reuters

Everything old is new again for many of the best known U.S. brands.

From Walt Disney Co. to Anheuser-Busch Cos Inc. to Burger King Corp., corporations are resurrecting decades-old mascots, logos and slogans in a bid to cash in on consumer nostalgia for the "good old days" and the craze for anything classic, vintage or retro.

"People like to bring back the old stuff," said Jack Trout, president of marketing strategy firm Trout & Partners. "These are all classic brands so they have a history ... it is sort of reintroducing the brand to a new generation, using the old symbols."

In the last year alone, Anheuser-Busch launched a series of retro Budweiser cans, Yum Brands Inc. unit KFC revitalized the name "Kentucky Fried Chicken," and General Mills Inc. brought back the Jolly Green Giant from a decade-long hibernation.

Kellogg Co. put vintage packaging designs on a new line of cereal bowls, Peanuts characters like Snoopy and Charlie Brown turned up on high-end T-shirts, and McDonald's Corp. will launch a vintage-inspired clothing line for young adults next year featuring the chain's old advertising themes and characters.

Playboy Enterprises Inc. has tapped into the swinging history of its adult magazine by putting retro images of its bunny logo on items from clothing to martini shakers. In Britain, a photo exhibit of Playboy images from the past 50 years is also tied in with luxury department store Harvey Nichols, which will sell T-shirts featuring vintage Playboy magazine covers.

Classic images of Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters have also undergone a renaissance after the company in 2003 struck a deal to sell retro-Mickey T-shirts and other clothing at the Los Angeles celebrity shopping haven Fred Segal.

Since then, couture designers like Dolce & Gabbana have also latched on to retro-Mickey, helping add $200 million to the $1 billion in sales growth of Mickey products since 2003, said Dennis Green, Disney Consumer Products' creative head.

The aim of the revitalization, Green said, is twofold.

"Number one is to get Disney and the brand and its characters cool, and the number two hope is that the mass market will jump on it," he said in an interview, adding that nearly three years after appearing at Fred Segal, retro Mickey products are now being sold at Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Reinforcing a brand's history and tradition is useful, according to Trout, because it gives corporations a way to stand out from the crowd at a time when the market is being bombarded with cheaper, healthier or newfangled alternatives.

"These things stick in people's minds," Trout said. "Heritage in a category is a very powerful differentiator."

Levi Strauss & Co., where vintage details have been sewn into everything from $500 premium denim to its more modest $39 518 jeans, is banking on just that.

"You see a lot of people coming to brands like ours for nostalgic reasons, for simplification," said Amy Jasmer, a spokeswoman for privately held Levi. "There is so much in the market, they don't know which brand to choose."

Budweiser's limited edition series of three retro cans and one bottle served a similar purpose.

"It reinforced the incredible heritage and quality that only Budweiser can own," Anheuser-Bush's vice president of brand management, Marlene Coulis, said in a statement.

The idea of heritage and tradition has also been key to revitalizing the sales of some struggling brands, including hamburger chain Burger King.

As part of a broad turnaround of the No. 2 burger chain, Burger King in 2004 brought back its "Have it Your Way" slogan 30 years after it debuted.

"Even though billions of dollars have been spent on other ad slogans, somehow 'Have it Your Way' continued to shine through as one of the more indelible ad campaigns we ever introduced," said Russ Klein, Burger King's chief global marketing officer. (Additional reporting by Alexandria Sage)