The Delicate Business of Updating Products in the Age of Newness

In 2015, reinventing an established ‘ghost brand’ for new audience segments,  altering food formulations in response to consumer wellness concerns or changing a brand name already esteemed by customers is increasingly challenging. Established names can benefit from positive associations like authenticity, but buyer expectations of fresh products and updated services encouraged by 24/7 digital information also mean that consumers expect trend-led change fast, as brands like Gap are realising. Even younger tech brands like Instagram must tackle the cultural obsession with newness, and be receptive to emerging consumer demands and interests, often met sooner by competing services.

Tackling the cultural obsession with newness

The interest in things new was a key pillar of mass consumption, but the digital age offers us new and updated products and services 24/7 – including constantly renewed feed on social media and marketing. This promotes the need for novelty to consumers, even as green consciousness raises alarm bells at the waste this quest involves. This interest in newness, driven too by FOMO (fear of missing out) and the associated quest for the fresh and the fashionable means that even new tech brands have to run to stay ahead. Instagram, for instance, is to offer millions of current events photos and now shows viewers videos and photos of events, hashtags and places that are trending near them – seen as competing with the presentation of live events on mobile messaging service Snapchat.

This obsession with newness may be the reason why enthusiasm for fitness trackers (still a growing market) drops just like gym membership, as a mid-July 2015 AP article stresses. The Fitbit spokesperson quoted emphasised that the company would react by offering new features and services that met user keenness to compete with significant others to achieve fitness goals.

Breathing new life into ‘ghost brands’

Cold remedies have lately been the subject of rebranding efforts. In the USA, the Pine Bros. brand of glycerine cough drops was recently rebranded as Pine Bros. Softish Throat Relief. The vintage Smith Bros. brand of cough drops kept its familiar bearded brothers symbol, with ads featuring a bearded descendant of the brand’s namesake siblings, perceived as both traditional and innovative because beards are having a moment right now. The character also emphasises wellness in his focus on the high honey content, and the promotion includes TV ads, money-off coupons and a social media campaign. Such campaigns are part of a post-recessionary drive to revive once popular items and engage in ‘comfort marketing’ using nostalgia and the associated values of longevity and authenticity to appeal to customers in more economically volatile times.

Name changes can annoy loyal consumers

Belgian consumers this year proved to be unexpectedly fond of private label beer. When supermarket chain Colruyt announced its intention to change the name of its private label beer Cara Pils to Everyday Pils, it faced a backlash from consumers on Facebook and Twitter. Talking to website Deredactie.be, marketing specialist Stef Verbeeck commented that the supermarket chain had underestimated how emotionally attached consumers were to the existing name. He added that many of them felt the company was not taking their feelings into consideration.

Gap’s trends lag alienating fashion-conscious shoppers

Art Peck, CEO of US clothing store, Gap, was frank about the chain’s diminishing store portfolio at a recent investors’ meeting, set to shrink to 40% of its 2000 peak in the USA once the latest round of store closures are complete. However, Gap is just one of several US brands threatened by the ability of clothing chains like Zara, Uniqlo and H&M to translate catwalk trends into cheaper clothing items in their stores to delight younger teen and Millennial shoppers in a matter of weeks, with new items often delivered daily. Says Kate Davidson Hudson, CEO of online fashion magazine, Editorialist: “Now, everybody sees what’s on the runways on social media and blogs, and everybody’s a critic, and shoppers want it as soon as they see it…Brands like gap just feel very dated”. Mr. Peck revealed that Gap will try to emulate its fast fashion rivals by taking on more designers to keep customers curious and crucially, speeding up the time it takes to get new styles into shops.

The challenge of updating a product perceived as old fashioned

An article on the website Theportugalnews.com conjured up “The end of the UK love affair with Port wine” in April 2015. If the words “Make mine a port” are to continue being heard in UK pubs and bars, the image or the drink needs to get away from being an old gentleman’s drink, according to the president of the Institute of Douro and Port Wines (IVDP). “We must find a way to balance the traditional with the modern” said Manuel Novaes de Cabral, “We need to bring port wine back into ‘fashion’”. Euromonitor International data states that the volume of port consumed in the UK decreased by 14.2% between 2008 and 2014.