Leave your brand alone!

Timex

Picture this.  You have created a relevant brand-centric tagline that your customers parrot, the marketplace recognizes and your competitors covet.  You have reached the holy grail of marketing — you have embedded your marketing message into the minds of the consumer. 

Your research shows that believability and recall for your product and the associated tagline are incredibly high. This tagline and the fact that you keep the tagline's promise catapults you to a leadership position in your product category.

What should you do now?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Why is it so hard for companies to leave a good thing alone?  Well, typically when an organization walks away from a rock solid, consumer celebrated tagline one of a few things has happened:

  • The organization recently hired a new head of marketing.
  • The organization recently hired a new agency.
  • Internally, they're bored with the current tagline.

Several years ago, watchmaker Timex dropped its famous "Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking" tagline for the incredibly bland "Timex. Life is Ticking."  They made this decision despite the fact that "Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking" was ranked #40 on Ad Age's list of the top 100 ad campaign of the 20th century.

Why would they do something so dumb? They hired a new Chief Marketing Officer of course.  He has since left that position.  And their current tagline?  "Timex.  Be there now."

How sad is that?

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26 comments on “Leave your brand alone!

  1. elaine says:

    Does it seem that when new marketing people are brought into a company they feel compelled to leave their mark on the organization? This is just one such time that the head of marketing should have said let’s leave the tagline alone (unless we can come up with something that is far superior to what we have) and focus on other marketing efforts to rejuvenate our brand. Even if an agency is responsible for this – it still required management approval. It’s too bad everyone missed the mark.

  2. Great point Drew…we’ll likely see more of this as CMO’s continue to have short tenures.

    I’m not sure if you’ve read it or not, but check out The Shift by Scott Davis.

    It tackles the role of marketing as a catalyst for visionary growth–specifically pointing out how CMO’s have been worried about taglines, marketing communications and running agency relationshhips for far too long and not getting the strategic seat at the table.

  3. Elaine,

    Agreed…short sighted and the viewfinder pointing in the wrong direction. Rather than pointing towards the company’s future, it was pointed at the CMO’s ego/resume.

    I wonder if the short tenure of CMOs has all of them in a bit of a panic. “I’d better make my mark quickly” becomes a danger sign to the brand.

    Drew

  4. Thomas,

    Do you think that the short tenure has CMOs making hasty decisions in an attempt to gain quick favor?

    Drew

  5. Carol says:

    So true, Drew. People internally are tired of a campaign at about the time the marketplace finally recognizes it. Really good marketing people earn their keep when they have the backbone to stand up and say ‘Stick with it.’

  6. Joy Levin says:

    I do think that there is a lot of pressure for a CMO to leave a mark. This is often interpreted as needing to make a change, when, as in this case, a better mark would have been not to change it, but as Elaine pointed out above, to figure out ways to rejuvenate. Updating an image does not always mean changing it, but rather understanding your target audience and their changing needs so that you can customize/re-position your brand so that it continually meets their needs.

  7. Carol,

    It does take backbone, especially in this day and age of “instant result” envy. I think so many compannies are over thinking their marketing and over scrutinizing it, rather than giving it a chance to actually get rooted and work.

    Drew

  8. Joy,

    Great point — changes doesn’t always mean start over. Sometimes it’s about a new perspective or freshening something up.

    Again, in an environment where CMOs are being pressured to show bigger, better, more results ASAP, sometimes I think the wrong questions are being asked and the wrong things are being measured.

    Drew

  9. I love a post that generates good discussion. I agree that there’s pressure to make a mark — but making the right mark means assessing what needs to be fixed not just change for its own sake. (Tropicana is another recent example that comes to mind.)

    As someone who relies on sports watches to keep working no matter what I do to them, the “it takes a licking and keeps on ticking” slogan is relevant today. Plus I always remember the fabulous Hill Street Blues riff on it (arm severed, watch still ticking).

  10. Pratap Singh says:

    It is possbile that organizations’ hire new CMOs with an explicit mandate to introduce change. Change then is intended and not forced.

    Where CMOs change often (I recently read that the average life of the Pepsi tagline is the same as the average tenure of the CMO)such decisions should vest with the management and not the CMO.

  11. “How sad is that?”
    In the words of Larry David:
    “Pretty sad. Pretty..pretty..pretty..sad.”
    Another great tagline that I am sure WILL be left ALONE.

  12. It’s a bit of a fine balance – on one hand if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but on the other, if you get complacent, then your competitors will catch up and overtake you – I guess it’s knowing when to evolve and when to stay the same which is the key.

  13. Interesting thoughts here, I have have been reading many article to the contrary of this. I’ve read so many marketing blogs that say we need to keep evolving and exploring new avenues and demographics, which is all well and good, but I see the merit of your argument. If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it, however, you should constantly be assessing your brand and see if there are opportunities to expand or change, but if you are happy with the results you are achieving, you should stick to your guns.

  14. Why do people mess around with successful brands? It’s called “peeing on the post.”

    New managers and new agencies can’t leave well-enough alone because they want to mark their territory.

    It happens in every industry. I used to work in TV and every time management changed, they would bring in a new set of consultants and change the news set, graphics, and music. It never failed. The only goal … make it look and sound different.

  15. Daria,

    LOL! I had forgotten about that reference on Hill Street Blues. I am pretty sure we’re outing our age with this one!

    Drew

  16. Pratap,

    You are right — on some occasions, it’s not the CMOs call to make the change. They’ve been given a directive.

    But I am willing to bet that 9 times out of 10, that’s not the case. Usually it is ego, not a higher up that is demanding change.

    Drew

  17. Debbie,

    I think that’s because he writes his own stuff!

    Drew

  18. Promo,

    I’m not advocating that your brand should remain static forever. You do need it to evolve as time passes. But that’s more about how the brand interacts with your customers. It’s influenced by trends, generational changes, technology etc.

    But an iconic tagline that actually defines why you are different and better than the other guys shouldn’t and doesn’t need to change.

    It’s just like how we are as people. We may change our hair style or clothes as time passes, but our name stays the same.

    Drew

  19. Dean,

    Yup….I call it peeing on the tree but the sentiment is the same. Bottom line, it is about the one doing the peeing….not the audience.

    I think you’re right about it happening outside of the branding arena. Although I think they’re kissing cousins, if you will.

    Drew

  20. Ashley Anderson says:

    Do you think that because “internally,they’re bored” with it, they assume everyone else is as well?

    A tagline is something that a company employee hears several times a day. And because they’re aware of it, they notice it even more often than others. Kind of like when you buy a Ford Escape, you notice everyone else who drives a Ford Escape even though you had no idea there were so many of them before you bought it.

    In reality, customers aren’t hearing/noticing the company’s tagline all that often, so it remains a novelty to them for much longer than the employee. I suppose it would be hard for a CMO to know when the time is right from a customer’s point of view, which might be why the company chooses to hire a new CMO, and then you get into the whole “leaving a mark” thing. It seems like a never-ending cycle to me!

  21. Ashley,

    Sure…that’s part of it. It’s a very natural human instinct. But, it’s very bad marketing. One of the first things we have to learn as a marketing pro is that we’re not the customer. We can’t see the situation objectively so we need to guard against letting our own opinions and/or bias influence our marketing smarts.

    It’s the CMO’s job to know how the consumer is reacting/responding to a tagline (or ad or product). Since they cannot rely on their own objectivity — they need to find other ways to measure.

    Or…as you suggest, they are about to enter into a never-ending cycle.

    Drew

  22. Micah says:

    I couldn’t agree more. This is a very interesting post. Anyway, I can see that you have put hard work through your contents. I’m sure I’d come here more often. By the way, you might be interested in some FREE Marketer Tools. You might wanna check it out. Thanks!

  23. Jay Heyman says:

    we used to call it Corporate Boredom. Sometimes top executives were bored with a slogan/campaign before it had even been seen by consumers.
    My blog today references your post and makes a point about Secret deodorant. http://bit.ly/J1GX7
    (As soon as I figure out Trackback, I’ll use that instead of a comment.)
    Jay

  24. DB says:

    As of late 2009 the Timex tagline is “…keeps on ticking.”

  25. DB,

    I love that Timex went back! That took courage and smarts. Congrats on that decision!

    And thanks for letting me know.

    Drew

  26. Jay,

    That’s exactly what it is…boredom. I think many marketing people have a bit of brand ADD.

    But, we have to show the discipline to make better choices.

    Drew

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