2016 was the year marketers reached back into the brand history books and looked for products, brands or campaigns they could bring back to the fore.
The precedent was set right at the beginning of the year with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, kicking things off with record box office figures from December 2015 to the beginning of 2016. But it didn’t stop there. In fact, some of the biggest launches this year were relaunched brands, products, TV shows or campaigns. As a marketer specialising in launches, here’s my top picks of 2016 - some were huge but flopped, while others enjoyed the same or even more success this time around. Each offers a valuable lesson in identifying, and executing the relaunch of an old classic.
The biggest relaunch to hit 2016 was undoubtedly Pokémon Go. The trading card game was modernised into a mobile app, and when launched in July it became one of the most used and profitable mobile games of the year, with 500 million downloads worldwide.
Capitalising on the nostalgia from the original trading cards, games and TV programme, this relaunch is a great example of how a brand can completely reinvent itself for a modern audience. Pokémon Go offered an innovative social gaming experience for the next generation of gamers, taking kids off their sofas and outside into the real world, albeit through augmented reality encounters.
But whilst developer Niantic may have created something truly engaging and unique, the launch tactics surrounding the game were far from perfect. The game encountered bugs and server issues when it first launched due to its popularity - something they should have anticipated and prepared for to avoid disappointment and consumer backlash. A recent report from Slice, the app tracker, showed the game has lost 80% of its paying players since mid-July. With Niantic being too slow to resolve the technical issues and even removing features, users are starting to switch off and fatigue has set in. To reignite interest going forward Niantic needs to deliver frequent updates, new features and iron out bugs to recapture those users that have switched off.
The Grand Tour (AKA Top Gear in all but name)
When Amazon snapped up Clarkson, Hammond and May for its flagship show on Prime, they struck gold. This reinvention was based on a solid foundation of talent that had been tried and tested and were among BBC’s biggest TV exports – worth £50m in 2015.
Top Gear, as we now know, following the disastrous Chris Evans relaunch in May, was never about the name or the format of the show; it was about the middle-aged banter between the presenters.
Amazon recognised this and relaunched the show as The Grand Tour. It followed the number one rule when it comes to a relaunch: retelling a story for new, as well as old audiences. The new version is slightly more premium, and has chopped up the format enough to get past legal, but is still close enough to the original show to appeal to Top Gear fans.
Their launch strategy was largely based on a year's worth of expectation, created by a year-long pre-launch activity - a strategy that can be a little risky if your product doesn't live up to the hype. But on this occasion that confidence was well-founded and Amazon smashed it, with the show breaking UK records for Amazon in both Prime membership sales, and audience figures.
BBC’s season of comedy – Are You Being Served and Porridge
Amazon understood the true value of focusing on what makes a show good, and re-telling the story with this guiding principle front of mind. The BBC however failed to adhere to this lesson when it relaunched classic comedies such as Are You Being Served and Porridge marking fifty years of comedy at the Corporation.
What the BBC soon realised, after both shows were panned, is that there are elements that belong to the era which cannot work today and there are parts that are universal, that will delight any audience if done correctly. The BBC failed to distinguish between the two with Served and Porridge. It failed to analyse what made both successful and the range of emotions the shows elicited.. It’s only by following a process of this kind that you can work out how to successfully breathe new life into an old favourite, and avoid a dreaded flop.
Oculus Rift (and the relaunch of virtual reality)
In what was one of the longest running pre-launch periods ever – Oculus Rift was founded via Kickstarter in 2012, purchased for $2bn by Facebook in 2014, launched to consumers in March 2016 – VR was finally launched to the masses with huge fanfare. How Oculus managed to maintain consumer interest in VR for over four years is an impressive lesson in maintaining and sustaining pre-launch hype. It achieved this through engagement with influencers within the tech and gaming world, as well as software developers who started to create experiences allowing consumers to engage with VR in the intervening years before Oculus Rift was available for purchase.
VR headsets from HTC and Sony owe a lot to Oculus’ dedication and the effort it put in as a first mover. A sector that when it originated twenty odd years ago was purely of interest to a sub-category of geeks, now offers huge promise. And while it has got off to a slow start, it’s expected that with investment from some of the biggest tech companies in the world such as Samsung, Sony and Facebook, 2017 will bring plenty more opportunities for the sector to grow.
Fashion is an area where it is perhaps easier to relaunch a brand or product; after all, vintage remains a big trend and fashion is nothing if not cyclical. Yet you still need to innovate to ensure that this time round the brand, campaign or product you’re relaunching is just as exciting and relevant as it was when it was first introduced.
Adidas knew this, and in its relaunch ad for the Gazelle, it reused Kate Moss, the original model from its campaign some 25 years ago, but with a twist. The brand used new talent in the form of Instagram collage artist and influencer Doug Abraham to help retell the story for new audiences, who, let’s face it, probably couldn’t even tie their shoes at the time of the original launch. But the campaign is equally inclusive of older audiences – keen to re-wear and rework their 90s style.
Clearly, the key lesson for marketers looking to relaunch an old product, brand or show lies in understanding its place in the modern world. Take the good bits from the past that are well-loved by old fans, and mix it with new elements that can engage with new fans too. With nostalgia remaining an effective way to engage with audiences, we’ll likely see even more brands revisiting the past in 2017.
George Roberts, client services director at launch marketing specialists Five by Five