Many products that have been successfully consumed for decades experience severe peaks and valleys during their life cycle. Sometimes we notice the rise and decline of products, most often, however, we simply are oblivious to this happenstance. These items seem to quietly go in and out of vogue based on consumer tastes and competitive market conditions. This usually does not happen by accident, but occurs as a result of planned marketing strategy crafted to continually reintroduce brands to new generations of consumers.
Consider the wonderful success Walt Disney created by appealing to successive generations of children. Mickey Mouse, initially incarnated as Steamboat Willie, has been enjoyed by children all over the world for 80 years. As each generation of children matures, typically after seven to nine years, the next group is always growing into a new class of tiny consumers of these cartoons.
In 1932 the Disney Company introduced the classic animated movie feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The movie was a rousing commercial and critically acclaimed success at that time. Disney, recognizing the always changing demographics of the youthful audience for the story, created a franchise for Snow White. This beloved film is reintroduced into theatre distribution every seven years. This insures that there is continually a new audience for this wonderful fairy tale. Snow White is the most profitable single entertainment vehicle of all time, owing to its constantly being represented to the next generation of children.
The Disney theme parks utilize much the same marketing strategy. Parents take their children to the amazing Disney theme parks to enjoy the lifelike cartoon characters, the theme rides and exhibits that their little ones have experienced through television, movies and licensed toys. Parents become grandparents and the cycle is repeated. The Disney Company is always introducing new attractions to keep the parks contemporary, exciting and push demand for the Disney experience to new generations of fans.
Fashion is another product category that seems to cyclically revert to past designer names and styles. Diane von Furstenberg was the American doyenne of fashion in the 1970′s and 1980′s. Ms. Von Furstenberg’s signature “wrap dresses” were hugely popular and enabled her fashion house to license successful perfume, cosmetics, jewelry and lingerie lines. For a number of years her collections seemed to lose their luster. However, a new generation of fashion conscious young women has rediscovered the clingy “wrap dress” and the figure flattering fit these simply crafted garments provide the female figure.
Diane von Furstenberg is enjoying a huge commercial resurgence in the first decade of the 21st century. Another former high priest of the fashion world, “El Commandatore”, Emilio Pucci is also enjoying renewed popularity. The Italian designer, famous for his vividly colored patterned fabrics, was one of the fixtures of the haute couture scene in Milan in the 1960′s. After his death, the Pucci atelier lost much of its sheen. Sales plummeted and top boutiques and department stores dropped the line and replaced it with more contemporary designer product.
Recently I was on a business trip in Italy and noticed women everywhere I went were wearing clothes that seemed to be designed by the long deceased Emilio Pucci himself. This piqued my curiosity. I did a bit of digging and discovered that the Pucci brand had been purchased, recapitalized and reinvigorated with new design talent. The signature Pucci color palette has been brought back to life in contemporary fabrics and designs and a new generation of fashion consumers are being drawn to the fresh offerings of Maestro Pucci’s creative vision.
The “hula hoop” was one of the most successful single products of the 1950′s. Many young people today have no knowledge of what a “hula hoop” is, what it does or why anyone would own one. And yet, when Elvis was the height of his popularity, almost every home had one or more “hula hoops”. As a great fad item, it disappeared almost as quickly as it had ascended.
While working a sporting goods industry trade show recently, I saw a booth that had “hula hoops” for sale. I stopped at the display and spoke to the sales manager. He advised that the product is now being successfully repositioned as an exercise/wellness device for weight control. Major sporting goods stores are stocking the product and it is being used by personal trainers as a simple, fun, beneficial tool to improve cardio-health.
The economy is currently in the doldrums. People are judiciously watching each dollar and seeking products that provide maximum benefit for minimum cost. Times like these always see a spike in sales of SPAM. This canned meat product, popularized, well, infamously mass consumed by United States soldiers during World War II, is again selling at record levels. SPAM lingers on store shelves during boom economic cycles. Comics have enjoyed delivering a full stable of SPAM jokes for 70 years. Nevertheless, when consumers need an economical, versatile food product to fill their bellies, SPAM always reappears to fill the void.
One of the great successes in the automotive world is the re-emergence the Mini. The Austin Mini was ubiquitous in the middle of the 20th century in England. Actors, athletes, even Prince Charles were proud to be seen driving their Austin Mini’s around London and Liverpool. However, times changed, the Mini did not evolve any further than its earliest, boxy styling and larger more powerful sports cars became popular with the glitterati. Austin Mini sales collapsed and production ceased.
BMW bought the Mini brand name and product rights in the 1990′s. The German manufacturer, famous for designing some of the most technologically advanced, highly styled and expensive road cars in the world began to meticulously reinvent the Mini. Brilliantly, the Company decided to essentially leave the styling cues of the Mini unchanged. The shape that was so endearing to consumers was sacrosanct. BMW re-engineered the power train and safety features to the highest contemporary standards. The new BMW Mini was reintroduced and has quickly become one of the most popular vehicles in the world.
VolksWagon has done something similar with the re-introduction of the classic Beetle. General Motors let the long running Malibu model die. This past year Chevy redesigned and repositioned the Malibu and it is one of GM’s few great sales successes. The Dodge Challenger has enjoyed similar popularity since being re-launched using some of the design features of the old model.
Successful marketers and entrepreneurs must work diligently to maximize product life cycles. Tide Detergent, Jif Peanut Butter, Folgers Coffee, and McDonalds are obvious examples of brands and products that enjoy immense mass popularity in good times and bad. Most products however, must be constantly re-invigorated and positioned based on market conditions.
Products are successful when marketing plans, sales strategies and branding are well coordinated and properly executed. Failure in any of these areas will result in declining sales and possibly death of the brand. Product illness, or even death, however, does not necessarily mean disappearing forever, as when a human dies. There can be a resurrection for such products and brands. The potential to re-launch or regenerate limp, sclerotic products can be achieved when the strategy, the management and the timing is in line and opportunistic.
Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.
After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.