Rebooting the legacy brand: Do's and don'ts

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As a marketer who specializes in creating awareness for brands that don't exist yet (theatrical film and TV) as well as legacy brands with a loyal, established following, I am constantly crafting narratives that build meaningful connections with audiences. More than ever before, I find those audiences, while craving something new, are always most responsive when they are allowed to discover something that unlocks their inner passion.

Their world now moves faster than the speed of thought, and the brands that were once household names now vie for their fragmented attention. As brands scramble to "reinvent" themselves, the length of time between said brand's reinventions can outpace the average desk stay of your garden-variety CMO. This thought is hardly comforting for those trying to decipher the tea leaves before the next technological gust of wind scatters their plans like so many abandoned MySpace pages and microsites.

With so much at stake, more brands are finally realizing the potential of the dormant brand equity that they already have, and are actively seeking ways to cash it in and spend it -- like George Bush famously said of his newfound political capital, back in '04.

One need look no further than Hollywood to see the enormous upside of this strategy. Look at some of entertainment industry's biggest recent success stories and where they came from: "Transformers" were mere toys with an animated series that peaked a quarter century ago; Marvel superheroes were all the rage in the '60s, as were the venerable "Star Trek" and G.I. Joe brands. All of these brands had one thing in common: loyalty bred from positive childhood association. Hollywood stumbled upon a not-so-new formula for success. Well-known brands are the new A-list stars. Next year, we can look forward to feature film adaptations of Monopoly, Candyland, Battleship, and Stretch Armstrong, which is good news if you are a toy or board game -- but what about the rest of us?

If Hollywood treats legacy brands like movie stars, then why don't agencies put more faith in the legacies of their brands? If focus groups, market research, and box office receipts are any indications, the path of least resistance surely must be to carefully reinvent, recalibrate -- reboot, if you will, a brand while remaining true to the core legacy that the brand has to offer.

In this light, let's take a look at the following brands and take a "legacy" snapshot of their current strategy:

Ford Mustang
For the 45th anniversary of America's favorite muscle car, Ford (with Wunderman/Team Detroit and Firstborn) unveiled a new microsite for its prize pony.

Long before you could customize a web page, you could customize a car -- and the Mustang has long been a staple of custom culture.

With a heavy emphasis on community, users have been able to customize together, watch others customize their cars, and even vote on the ultimate 'Stang. With a very targeted strategy aimed at the most passionate and loyal of audiences, the campaign embraced the 45-year reign of the iconic car with a user upload contest featuring fans' fond memories of their Mustangs, webisodes with Queen Latifah talking Mustang with Nascar drivers, and the unifying theme of the whole campaign: celebrating a classic design -- with a need for speed.

Lesson 1: One of the most effective (or at least popular) automotive campaigns in recent memory, the social media/community aspect of the Mustang customizer has performed as well as the car it celebrates. And I quote the venerable Muscle Car Blog: "One week after launch, almost 52,000 cars had been built with over 16,000 of those saved into the site gallery. And more than 30 forums and blogs were sharing their own creations -- all without a single dime put toward advertising."

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