Brand botox: How to inject a brand with personality that runs more than skin deep

7 years, 6 months ago


Rejuvenating a tired brand presents many creative challenges. Not least in deciding whether a little nip and tuck is sufficient, or if a bigger overhaul is required. By Kerrie Finch.

Young or old, every brand is looking to stay connected to its customers – to stay relevant and front of mind.  After all, no one wants to be left on the shelf.  So what is the best way to rejuvenate a tired brand?  Is brand botox – a quick fix – enough?  Should older companies invest in a major face-lift.  And what’s wrong with growing old gracefully anyway? 
In early June, Pakhuis de Zwijker, an international media and culture centre in Amsterdam, played host to a creative industry debate, themed around ‘brand botox’.  
International speakers going head to head came from a variety of professional backgrounds and differing perspectives: Ivo van den Brand, senior global PR manager, Philips consumer lifestyle; Mac MacDonald, president and partner, Sid Lee; Nico Rijkhoff, director of brand, Ziggo; Marian Spier, creative consultant, TEDxAmsterdam; and creative duo The Stone Twins.
At the heart of the debate? What it means to live and breathe the personality of your brand, over time.  Who are the best brand surgeons, when to go under the knife, how to hide the scars – and what it means to feel comfortable in your own brand skin.
Two camps
The speakers fell broadly into two camps: in the first were those who felt that a little nip and tuck, here and there, could work wonders in making a past-its-prime brand seem more like a spring chicken, as long as one was careful not to do anything too drastic.  As Nico Rijkhoff of mobile communications company Ziggo stated, there’s nothing like letting your natural brand beauty shine through, to remind customers why they love you.  
He used the example of digitally-recoloured video footage of 1950s New York life, to illustrate just how effective a sympathetic touch up can be in creating an instant human connection. 
Marian Spier’s argument elicited the biggest gasps and groans of the night from the audience, with her close-up head shots of celebrities who made the mistake of going too far, too fast, in their pursuit of delaying the aging process.  
She likened the increasingly alarming surgical enhancements of Michael Jackson to those of Gap, a brand which hit the news in 2010 on the back of what was widely dubbed an identity crisis.  The American fashion retailer suffered a brand backlash when it unveiled a new logo online, with the industry and consumers very vocally expressing their distaste.  One critic described the new logo as going down "like a messy divorce".  
Gap tried to turn those frowns upside down by subsequently claiming that the logo was just the first step in crowdsourcing new branding ideas, in a move that felt a bit like your dad drunkenly telling you that Santa isn’t real and then trying to pretend he was just pulling your leg. 
But today, what had once seemed like a huge furore is all but forgotten outside the realms of university marketing lectures; plus it could be argued that Gap’s problems at the time – most notably declining sales – ran a lot deeper than a change of logo.  
From Santa to Aniston
On the other side of the ‘Brand Botox’ spectrum, Spier held up Shell and Starbucks as the Jennifer Aniston of brands; grand dames that have managed to make sympathetic, consistent tweaks to identity over the years, in order to stay modern, whilst remaining true to their DNA.
In the opposing team for the debate were those who argued that all this talk about superficial touch-ups missed the real point about brands today – that, as in life, it really is what’s inside that counts.
As Mac MacDonald of Sid Lee asserted, at a time when consumer trust is at an all-time low with governments, media and the authorities in general, brands are really important and can’t be repackaged so simply.  Gone are the days when a focus on making your brand look like the shiniest, sexiest player in the category will yield any long-term consumer affection.  Instead, brands should focus on taking their existing truth and trying to tell it well, whilst differentiating themselves from competitors by genuine, authentic behavior, not looks.
MacDonald likened this tactic – when it’s done to perfection – to that electric first kiss with a new love, the dopamine rush of excitement that cuts through the 4,000 daily messages that consumers are – on average – assaulted with. 
Acting like people
Creative duo the Stone Twins argued that, while there is nothing wrong with a makeover now and then, good brands are those that act like people, retaining their uniqueness and identity.
The example of McDonald’s and its ‘green-wash’ campaign was held up as a brand that had gone for major brain-surgery, rather than superficial botox, to huge success, to the point where certain wags have opined that perhaps Super Size Me was actually a clever marketing ploy by McDonald’s to reinvigorate the business.
Another brand to take this ‘Bono’ approach – described by the boys, as similar to the evolution of the shape-shifting Irish front-man of U2 – is Skoda. Once the butt of many a bad joke, a change of ownership to Volkswagen and a commitment to product and marketing excellence has transformed the brand into a serious player in the extremely competitive automobile market.
Ivo van den Brand of Philips took this argument a stage further, asserting the importance of behavior remaining consistent throughout every action of the brand, holding up the American gym with escalators to the entrance as a prime example of what not to do.  
In the case of Philips, he revealed that in order to appear sage-like throughout all communications, and to reflect the brand from the inside out, employees are counseled to always bear in mind the catchy moniker, "#WWOWKD".  Or, slightly less of a mouthful, as, "What would Obi Wan Kenobi do?"  
In this way, the brand retains confidence in its own skin, in year X, market Y and at touch-point Z.  A gutsy move and one that must be working – as Ivo told an impressed audience, Philips is the biggest source of light on Earth after the Sun.
Thought Leader Profile
Kerrie Finch is the chief executive of FinchFactor. Kerrie, from the UK, founded the company in Amsterdam in 2009. FinchFactor is widely regarded as the expert in reputation management and brand amplification worldwide for companies working within the creative industry. The company is eight people strong, flying flags from the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, North America, France, Sweden, Bulgaria and Poland. Before FinchFactor, Kerrie was PR Director at Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam. There, she created the PR strategy from a still-start, encompassing everything from relationship management with pitch consultancies, platform events and PR consultancy for global clients, to strategic speaker opportunities, internal communications, and thought leadership. Kerrie is the Cannes Lions representative for the Netherlands. She has served on many juries, including the Clio Awards and New York Festivals.If you have another point of view on the brand botox debate, join the conversation and share your thoughts on brand nips and tucks via twitter, using @ThePRSalon and 

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The Author

Kerrie Finch

Kerrie Finch is the founder of FinchFactor, one of Europe’s most respected communications consultancies focused on creative companies.

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