Nowadays, having a brand with a long history isn’t enough to keep consumer loyalty and capture their spending dollars. From Oscar Mayer rebranding its Lunchables line to KC Masterpiece updating its packaging design, many companies, no matter how long they’ve been around, are making changes to stay current and remain fresh in the minds of consumers, and communicating messages of authenticity through packaging is key, experts agree.
KC Masterpiece was a legendary barbecue sauce brand, invented by Kansas City, Mo., physician and barbecue aficionado Rich Davis in the mid-1970s. Davis built the brand organically as he used the five-ingredient sauce to win competition after competition, and for several years the story of Davis and his simple, winning recipe drove sauce sales.
About a decade after Davis created the sauce, he sold the brand to the Kingsford charcoal division of the Clorox Company, and after a time, the sauce began to lose its luster. Sales slowed, and eventually the company brought in Denver-based BrandJuice to re-brand the product.
“Davis won competitions right and left using the sauce, which was why the company bought it in the first place, for its authentic brand,” said BrandJuce Chairman Peter Murane. “Brands can die a thousand deaths. When there’s cost reduction, and ingredients are modified and the packaging is moved to more stock packaging. With KC Masterpiece, the product was still really great, but the story had been muted and diluted.”
The re-branding process included traveling to barbecue competitions and testing three different strategies, and the clear winner involved bringing back the authenticity of the product, he said. That included new packaging, with the tagline “The Real Deal” and a drawing on the label that clearly plays up the brand’s Kansas City roots.
“It was created in the barbecue capital of the world, and the packaging lets it stake the claim it once had,” Murane said.
Authenticity and telling a good story, always important attributes of branding, are even more vital today when so much of our communication happens on social media, and where storytelling is the currency of the coveted millennial generation.
Millennials want authenticity, but it’s a term that often means something different to them than it does to long-established food and beverage brands, and brands that don’t recognize the difference and are content to rest on their laurels run the risk of being left in the dust, said Meghan Labot, vice president of strategy for New York City-based Spring Design Partners.
“A lot of brands are running into difficulty because if you’re a brand that has a legacy behind it, with history and heritage, it’s really easy to fall back and say ‘the reason you should like me is because I’ve been around for 100 years,’” Labot says.
That authentic history can become baggage that weighs the brand down and loses points with younger consumers, who don’t care about the past — their idea of authenticity has more to do with being honest and true to who the brand is now. It’s a problem that drove one of her clients, Molson Canadian, to launch a re-branding about five years ago.
The well-known beer brand had been around since 1959 and by mid-2009 it was still a Canadian icon but it had seen about a decade of falling sales and it needed to reconnect with its quality roots, she said. “It had lost sight of who it was. It was overwhelmed by its ad campaign, which by then was almost more popular than the brand, but it stood for nothing and consumers knew that. It needed to stand for something.”
Redesigning the package goes hand-in-hand with reinventing the brand, but too many brands see it as a cost when it should be seen as an investment, Labot said. “Especially if a brand is looking to re-brand or re-stage. It’s not just about the box or the bottle on the shelf, it’s really the whole experience.”
A new look is essential to starting to tell the story of the re-branded product, Murane said. “Packaging is your billboard in the store. It’s the number one ad media in consumer goods.”