Brand archaeology: More advertisers should dig out their iconic campaigns instead of disregarding the past

Hamish Pringle is strategic advisor at 23red, former IPA director general, and has had five successful business books published. With an agency career spanning 26 years, he’s worked on more than 50 brands.

The new TV commercial for Lloyds Bank by Adam&EveDDB made me feel a bit emotional.

On the one hand ‘happy/sad’ in response to the evocative imagery and the portrayal of the role of the black horse over 250 years. On the other hand ‘angry/mad’ at the 30 years during which time this brand hasn't used its iconic black horse properly in its advertising.

The agency and client have done the right thing in reinstating the black horse front and centre of communications. It's notoriously difficult to differentiate a brand in the financial services sector, especially banking which during the recent crisis added more layers of negativity to the many that already existed. In which case, if the brand has a highly distinctive and meaningful brand icon which is plastered all over 1,300 branches and made visible to over 11 million customers, why wouldn’t it feature in its advertising?

Assuming that on average about £10 million a year has been invested in advertising and marketing communications for Lloyds Bank over the past 30 years, then that's £300 million. Without the black horse, this investment has certainly been under-optimised. During this long period the brand has in effect been running a disintegrated campaign because at the point-of-purchase, in people's wallets, online, and in correspondence with the bank, the black horse has featured everywhere.

It's safe to assume that during the 'brand archaeology’ Adam&EveDDB undertook in understanding the Lloyds brand, many customers reminisced favourably about the black horse advertising of old. Further, that none of the other campaigns since the 80s have really registered at all.

When looked at in this way it's been an astonishing dereliction of duty by the previous management of the Lloyds brand, but sadly this is not uncommon. The combination of ‘history begins with me’, the frequent changing of both marketing management and advertising agencies, and the ‘not invented here’ syndrome, conspire to increase the likelihood of changes in brand communications and the ditching of successful approaches in the vain attempt to produce something different rather than building on the existing brand asset.

Revisiting the ads which featured the Lloyds horse from the last few decades – of which there are very few – reveals one of the reasons why clients and agencies walk away from using brand icons: they construe a lack of strong creative interpretation of the icon as a valid basis for changing tack and doing something new and different.

Dulux is a good example where agencies have deserted the dog for periods during which customers have never stopped adoring it.

Shepton Dash, an Old English Sheepdog, first appeared in a Dulux commercial in 1961 and through a series of campaigns established itself as an icon with the warm, emotional family values relevant to decorating and home-making. However the dog was dropped in 1996 and then followed a series of undistinguished campaigns. This is in stark contrast to another brand, Andrex, which has kept faith with its Labrador puppies.

As in the case of Lloyds Bank, it was an anniversary that led to the brand archaeology which reinstated the Dulux dog in 2011. But how much brand investment money was less effective than it might have been during the intervening 15 years?

The Dulux brand management should have insisted its agency try harder to make the icon relevant to current customer needs as Angela Ahrendts did at Burberry. She overruled those who claimed the famous check was chavvy, and by shrewd reinvestment in design and advertising rebuilt the brand into a huge global success.

Another good example of creative brand archaeology was the Old Spice campaign, ‘Smell Like a Man, Man,’ created by Wieden+Kennedy in 2010. It discovered the iconic 1970s ‘surfer’ commercial set to ‘Carmina Burana’ and in a stroke of genius brought him to life in the hip contemporary guise of actor Isaiah Mustafa. Building on the deep folk memory of the brand’s iconography, this brilliant new impetus propelled Old Spice back to brand leadership in body wash.

Legal & General is another financial services company with a highly appropriate icon for an insurance brand – its multi-coloured umbrella – which apart from serving as a logo has hardly been used in its advertising since it’s creation by Ogilvy Benson & Mather in 1974. Maybe this will see a reincarnation during Legal & General’s 180th anniversary in 2016?

The key point for marketers is that their customers are creatures of habit. Once they get to know a brand they like it to be consistent. If the brand management and its agency are skillful, and lucky enough, to hit upon a brand icon, a brand ambassador, or a mnemonic device which captures people’s imagination, then this is worth continuing investment. Each new iteration of the idea should build upon the previous one, keeping the campaign fresh and consolidating the investment in the brand asset.

When fashion, new management, or a new agency conspire to relegate a successful idea to history, it’s more than likely that a period of relatively less cost-effective advertising and marketing communications will follow. Years later an incoming team will conduct some ‘brand archaeology’ and discover a sleeping asset with huge potential. This is what Adam&EveDDB and Catherine Kehoe, the managing director for brands and marketing at Lloyds Bank have done. And all credit to them.

Hamish Pringle is strategic advisor to 23 Red

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