Brands that want to remain relevant across multiple generations of consumers must adapt and build their cultural capital, says branding agency Principals’ Mary Winter.
It is only natural for children to move away from their parent’s tastes and styles; they need to form an original identity and make their independent way in the world.
For example, when young people embrace nostalgia through vintage themes, they typically dignify the era of their grandparents but never the era they grew up in because that was the taste of their parents.
Miraculously, some brands still survive over time and rise above all this to live on from one generation to the other.
Despite human nature, what makes for this amazing cross-generational survival?
Consistently taking the high ground on quality and seeking the best is a universal driver over time.
Brands such as Harvard University, Chanel and Veuve Clicquot become markers of quality that have an unshakeable place. And quality makes an indelible mark beyond premium categories.
One example is Tupperware, which has stood the test of time in a sea of plastic containers galore because it is a marker of the best.
Feeling the love
Brands that trigger emotional nostalgia can also rise above trends. They do this by going beyond the trivial to something more important that cannot be denied, whatever the era.
Typically, this is tied to parental love – things that remind you of how Mum and Dad looked after you when you were little. Like that bottle of Dettol and that Band-Aid when you scraped your knee, or how you and Mum went shopping at a certain department store and you got something special. Or maybe it was how Mum served up Arnott’s biscuits after school.
Parents can be frustratingly “daggy” but they are also valuable mentors. A mother’s recommendation to always use Surf or Napisan to make your washing the cleanest can come in handy as you, in turn, take on household responsibilities. When you need to choose that big-ticket item like a car, it can be reassuring that Dad taught you a Toyota will be cheaper to service and repair.
Sometimes brands become parenting tools. Mentors often give heroes “tools” to help them on their journey.
In storytelling, this might be a cloak that makes you invisible or a sword that will make you invincible. In everyday terms, it might be a brand like Disneyland that makes your children happy. Or it might be a Freddo Frog that puts a smile on your little one’s face.
Lego is a good example of thriving across generations because it has helped parents provide an innocent creative pastime for children. Even though it has now diversified into video games, somehow Lego video games have more parental permissibility as the charm and creativity offset some of the gaming negatives.
Some brands go beyond the commercial to build meaning as a cultural icon. People need brands to help them build an identity. For example, the type of car we drive says a lot about how we see ourselves at a personal level.
Brands often play a role in our national identity. In Australia, Vegemite, Qantas and the Wallabies are part of this. In New Zealand, the All Blacks are not just a rugby team but an expression of the spirit of the nation. Aeroplane Jelly and VB have both achieved cultural icon status too.
In research I have conducted over the years, some immigrants keep certain brands close as they navigate their way through a new culture. They help them feel attached to their mother country and know themselves as a citizen across places.
For example, the Irish might hold Jameson Whiskey dear because it was used at weddings and funerals in Ireland. The Scottish do the same with HP sauce because it was a stalwart in the Scottish home.
Some brands are superb at realising trends change and that they must change with them. They retain a strong core purpose but are highly creative, enabling new meanings and identities to flourish for the next generation.
Automotive brands are amazing at this. Makes such as Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and Ford remain significant in people’s lives for both an unchanging core truth and for providing the next generation’s expression. Shapes, styles, formats all respond to the need for an original story of the self while being strong across generations.
Some brands are driven by “versioning” – constantly creating brand momentum each season by adding something “now” to the story.
This means that every generation can find themselves in the same brand despite tastes and lifestyles constantly morphing. Your father might teach you that a Toyota is the most reliable car but you never have to drive around in a model just like his.
If your brand is starting to look irrelevant for the next generation, think about how you could adapt, reinforce the quality or build your cultural capital. By tapping into these factors, you could be around for many generations to come.