In 2006, biscuits and confectioneries maker Parle discontinued Rola Cola because it wasn’t “delivering numbers”. However, the company continued the product in international markets, mainly in Africa. In February, this year, a Twitter user from Kerala shared a picture of Rola Cola and expressed his wish to see the product back on shelves. The tweet caught Parle’s attention and the company responded: “If all you need is Rola Cola, then all we need are 10K retweets #BringBackRolaCola.” It worked. A couple of weeks later Parle announced the re-launch of Rola Cola. The candy is set to hit the market this month, with plans to distribute nationwide by the end of 2019.
Krishna Rao, category head, Parle Products, tells Brand Equity, “We have been observing that the brand has nostalgic value. And, our plan to bring it back is based on consumer sentiments.” Rola Cola will return in the same roll candy format in vintage red, blue and white packaging and will be priced at Rs5.
While Rola Cola was collecting RTs, another brand revival was in the works. Campa Cola grabbed national attention at the start of a long Indian summer. Pure Drinks, the company that manufactures the beverage, revealed its intentions to bring back the brand to national prominence and take on cola majors Pepsi and Coca-Cola. It triggered a flurry of activity on social media platforms and in WhatsApp groups as people began reminiscing their experiences of drinking the cola that was the ‘great Indian taste’.
‘Nostalgia’ has become business strategy is not news. We’re seeing it in the renewed interest in certain foods, beverages, automobiles (Jawa made a comeback last year), and in even entertainment and culture. Says Narayan Devanathan, group executive & strategy officer — South Asia, Dentsu Branded Agencies, “There’s a basic tool used in design-thinking — mapping residual, dominant and emergent trends, to see what was past, what’s the present and what the future could be. This is not just to relegate the past to the past, but to see what, if at all, from the past or the present could possibly be taken into the future. Such an interrogation is what helps make retro relevant from time to time. It’s what brought the VW Beetle back for a second innings. It’s why turntables/vinyl players/gramophone records made a comeback. Nostalgia can be a powerful business strategy, if the demand is large enough and the strategy is executed right.”
Devanathan draws an interesting parallel between Carvaan from music label Saregama and brand revivals. “By itself, it’s not an old brand back from the dead, but it packaged a lot of old “dead” brands and brought them back to life—Ameen Sayani, Binaca Geetmala, the “transistor” form factor. Actually, the same thing that’s at work with Carvaan is probably what’s at work with Campa-Cola, Rola Cola and Jawa as well. Businesses are seeing a sizeable segment worth going after—the parents of millennials. It brings back a time of their life that they would be—and are—willing to pay good money for. And what’s an opportunity if it’s not cashed in on? It’s also the reason why new economy brands like Facebook and WhatsApp are popular among the 40+ crowd—because of the Memories feature (on FB) and Groups (on WhatsApp), that allow them to stay connected with their past.”
But resurrecting brands long gone or put in cold storage is tricky business. And while residual brand equity and nostalgic value attached to a brand will give it a jumpstart, what happens when it wears off? What about the millennials who are buying ‘transistors’ for their parents on birthdays and anniversaries? And, lest we forget, GenZ.
FORE School of Management’s Freda Swaminathan says companies may get tempted to revive dead brands thinking that the basic foundation of consumer awareness becomes easier; “However, it really depends on the associations that have been created while the brand was alive. More important is the extent to which those associations help in building a Point-of-Difference that will help in positioning the revived brand. One also has to be conscious that the new generation may not be aware of an old brand.”
Swaminathan looks at past brand revivals and turnarounds for lessons. The “Granddad’s aftershave” Old Spice was relaunched to a young target market with a shirtless Isaiah Amir Mustafa on a white horse and the line ‘The man your man could smell like’. Back home, Hindustan Unilever successfully relaunched Lifebuoy from being a carbolic soap (for health) to a modern toilet soap. However, HUL has not been able to revive their success story of the 1970’s, Liril, the freshness soap, using the concept of the girl in the waterfall. At that time Liril was able to be perceived as a premium toilet soap. Says Swaminathan, “Difficult for that space to be now occupied by Liril, when HUL has created brands like Dove and revived Pears in the premium space. Moreover, at that time Liril was targeting the housewife whose escape was the association of a free and modern girl (wearing a bikini in the 1970’s) enjoying a waterfall. Today’s woman may not have those same sense of escapism.” She adds, “Successful brands are able to ignite the imagination of the consumer. When a brand dies, can its revival do this in a relevant and contemporary manner?”
The fact is nostalgia, sentiment and retweets can bring a brand back to life, but it might not be enough to keep the brand alive. Sandeep Goyal, chairman, Mogae Media, shares his take on the current crop of brand revivals including last year’s high-profile resurrection of bike brand Jawa. “Jawa or its successor Yezdi were both well known in their times but not quite as unique or as famous as the Royal Enfield. The generation of Jawa/Yezdi users would now be in their late 50s/60s (or older). It is doubtful if any of them would now be in the market to buy a mobile, let alone the Jawa. For younger generations, the name Jawa has no magic or no legend attached to it. Hence depending on past brand equity may not help the re-launch. Campa Cola faded out in the late 80s when Coke and Pepsi came back. In the decade that Campa Cola ruled North India, it never carved out any special place for itself, unlike Thums Up, which had a distinct taste of its own. So Campa Cola may not attract any past diehards in the new avatar.” Goyal believes “product goodness” not nostalgia is core to such a revival attempt. He cites the examples of Hush Puppies and Royal Enfield, “Hush Puppies came back with a bang in the mid-90s because their styling had a retro appeal considered fashionable. With Royal Enfield, the retro appeal was coupled with a good machine that always spelt a macho brand.”
Retro is cool and all. But, really, at the end of the day what will actually decide the fate of a brand brought back from dead is how many retweets convert to rupees. Otherwise, it’s back to the crypt.
The Brand Revival Check-List
- Don’t revive a brand because you (as a brand owner) feel nostalgic about it.
- Assess if there’s a large enough, profitable-enough segment that will want the brand to be revived. The brand must still be alive and relevant in the minds of enough number of past users/owners.
- These past owners must associate special value to the brand. If it is mere recollections of the past with no intrinsic brand benefit, the revival may not work.
- Remember, the initial revival can work on the back of nostalgia for a specific generational cohort, but sustaining the revived brand’s success will require it to be meaningful in one way or another to other cohorts, perhaps in ways different from the original reasons for reviving it.
- Assess category relevance and the brand’s ability to stand up to more contemporary brands in the category in quality, technology relevance and price.
(Inputs from industry experts Sandeep Goyal, Lloyd Mathias – angel investor, business and marketing strategist, and Narayan Devanathan)
Bring Them Back?
HMT watches – An iconic Indian watch brand. The first batch of HMT hand-wound wrist watches was released by Jawaharlal Nehru.
Chetak – This Bajaj bike was named after the Mewar king Rana Pratap Singh’s horse. Production was discontinued in 2005.
Gold Spot – The original “Zing Thing”. From Parle Agro’s Ramesh Chauhan’s stable of beverage brands, Coca-Cola acquired Gold Spot and later withdrew the drink from the market to make way for Fanta. There’s a band and schoolyard game named after the drink.
Citra – Also one of Chauhan’s inventions. It was removed from the market in 2000, to make room for Coca-Cola’s Sprite. In 2012, Coke revived the brand briefly in select markets.