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The challenge for legacy brands


old man cartoon

When I was growing up my dad had a Fiat car, which we had for most of my growing years. The toothpaste of choice was Colgate. The TV at home was a Crown. School shoes were from Bata.

These are the brands I call legacy brands. All solid brands of their time but not really king of the pond any more, if they are still around that is.

I believe all brands face three kinds of challenges.

  1. Functionality: As time goes by consumer expectations from their products change. TVs to be HD, Smart etc. Shoes to have modern designs. Laptops to be thinner and so on.
  2. Values: With the new generation coming into the market place they have different expectations from their brands. It seems to be less about life long loyalty and more about experimentation and social imagery.
  3. Disassociation: This is connected to the point above but probably a little more illogical, if I can use that word. The need to not be seen using the same brands as one’s parents/previous generation and thereby being seen as ‘old fashioned’.


Brands need to address the above three challenges to survive the generations of new consumers who have evolving functional and emotional needs from their brands.

Brands like Bata just completely missed the boat on all of these. They, briefly, caught my attention with the introduction of North Star and then they faded away from my attention. The landscape is littered with such brands. Think Philips, HP, Nycil, FM jeans and so on. I would argue even a brand like Jet Airways has entered a similar zone.

Staying relevant therefore needs brands to work on the 3 challenges:

Functionality: People evolve their needs evolve. Or technology evolves making better product possible. Or the environment changes making product tweaks necessary. So shampoos need to do more than just clean hair. Fixing Split ends, falling hair, dry hair and  become expectations from shampoos. Better product forms become expectations from toothpastes. Cars need to be more intelligent etc

Values: The current generation views brands differently from their parents. Beyond the willingness to experiment, they are a little more attuned to concepts like environment-friendliness, sweat shop production issues. Not for them a brand that just washes well. But it needs to also talk female empowerment, for instance.

My father’s brand: This is the tough one. Brands that have been around for generations need to balance the solidity and stability of time with the ‘cool-ness’ of today. One of bosses used to always warn us of running the risk of ‘granny in mini skirts’ when trying to wrap modern imagery on an old brand. As a brand Cadbury’s comes to mind as one that has done this successfully.

Sometimes one is in a category that can exploit its legacy to its advantage. Hotels come to mind immediately. Taj is in the ‘legacy’ business. They operate with heritage properties and charge a premium for it. On the inside though they have continually upgraded their services to ensure that guest needs are being met.

The legacy brands challenge is especially acute in the tech space where the functional needs/expectations change far more frequently than in FMCG.

One brand that stands out for me here is IBM. It’s a 100 year old company and, quite frankly, falls squarely in the ‘how comes it is still around’ category.

Yet every 25/30 years (a generation) it reinvents itself to ensure relevance. Functionally and at a brand level.

About 20 years ago with the internet taking off IBM came to the party a couple of years late with e-business. And changed the way people used the Net. More recently, with it’s cognitive business messaging it is again trying to ride the wave of cloud, but integrating it with data and analytics to ensure it is able to gain momentum in that rapidly growing space. That is how they addressed the functional challenge.

From an imagery perspective IBM has always been deeply involved in ‘social’ issues. Be it health of administration, you will always find that IBM is playing a very active role. It is not charity, but it strongly believes that technology should do good. You can read about IBM’s contribution to education with it’s P-TECH program. IBM did Smarter Cities, tied up with Manipal Hospital to help with cancer screening and so on. Things that every generation believes strongly in. Doing good for the world.

And of course the new advertising from Ogilvy talks about Watson in such a cool, fun way. It makes the brand more human. More relatable for a younger generation. It moves it out from ‘my father’s brand’. It is never going to be the ‘millenial’ google or amazon , nor do I think it can be, given its heritage and the kind of business it is in. But it has managed to reinvent itself for today’s companies.

We have to wait and see how this pans out for IBM over the next year or so, but initial reports seem favorable.

If brands want to last generations they need to have some folks who are looking across larger time frames than a year to understand the functional and generational shifts taking place and then adjust both product and messaging to not just continue to be relevant, but also get their fair share of the new market.

After all brands do want to be …forever_and_always_by_paramorebuddy33-d3d7vpz

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Jagadish Dora
    May 18, 2016 at 10:08 am

    Thanks Harish very nicely put and good read. Functionality is the key to any brand to sustain, And most of the brands are actually adding more and more additions to the brand, For instance Colgate, Close up were just about a toothpaste what came later were the Sparkling types, Flavours ( mint etc) , Fluoride toothpaste, desensitizing toothpaste, anti-calculus toothpaste, anti-plaque toothpaste, whitening toothpaste and now charcoal ( well it said our forefathers used charcoal, this becomes a cool quotient for the current generation ). Same goes with Colas ( Diet coke) or the washing powder ( Top Load , Front load …not any more ddodh se safedi Nirma se aayi) . Yes I completely agree with you in the tech space on IBM re-inventing itself with every generation and still balancing the legacy .

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