AOL's brand icon, Connie, has had a morning off, gone shopping,
visited the hairdresser and popped into the beauty salon.
She revealed her new image last week in a series of TV and internet ads
that showed her, complete with shoulder-length bob, wearing a dressing
gown and rifling through a rail of dresses before plumping for a trendy,
asymmetric design to replace her familiar uniform.
Despite facing regular calls to axe Connie since her birth in 1998, AOL
is convinced she represents a stable brand icon, and the brand marketing
director, Sharon Lang, claims she is thought of as likeable and an asset
to AOL. Its keenness to move her image on has been heralded as an
indication that Connie is here to stay.
The revamp treatment has a long and detailed path through branding and
advertising history. While some icons, such as the Oxo family, get the
chop after a long run, others are dusted down, given a lick of paint and
let loose on consumers again.
Steven Pickthall, a board account planner who worked on Lowe Lintas'
Birds Eye business during the revamp of Captain Birds Eye, thinks
updating Connie is a sound idea.
"Like lots of ideas, she needs to be updated continually," he says.
"Doing it in a gradual way will wean consumers on to an increasingly
changing icon in a way which they'll hardly notice."
Pickthall argues that even the biggest brands need to be moved on to
remain contemporary and engaging with consumers. Captain Birds Eye had
been played by the same actor for 30 years by the time he was replaced
by a gung-ho, chiselled-jaw hunk, who, it was thought, would make
consumers "think more about fish fingers".
Pickthall claims the benefits of the Captain's makeover were immediately
apparent. "Fish fingers were once the only convenience food choice," he
continues. "Now there are hundreds. It was crucial that it was given a
boost to propel it back into the minds of consumers."
Tim Mortimer, the managing partner at Mortimer Whittaker O'Sullivan, the
agency which created Connie, says the changes needed to be made slowly,
unlike the radical revamp of the Captain, because the icon is so
"She will be three in November, and we suggested to the client in
December 2000 that some tweaks be made to ensure her relevance to the
target market," Mortimer says.
He claims AOL was the only internet provider that successfully took
ownership of the sector, giving confused consumers a clear spokeswoman
to educate and reassure them about the internet.
"The whole point of Connie was to cut off the competition from also
creating a symbol of the internet, and now that the majority of people
are comfortable with the concept of the internet, we wanted to make her
more involving," he says.
However, others claim that Connie, Campaign's Turkey of the Year for
2000, is not a strong enough icon to merit a revamp.
"She fits the bill in that she presents a friendly face for AOL on the
internet, but as an icon she seems pretty weak," says Richard
Huntington, a planner at HHCL & Partners, who argues that a character is
only worth revitalising if it truly personifies the brand.
Is this the case no matter how much time has elapsed? Silentnight beds'
"hippo and duck" were brought back by MWO to star in TV ads after more
than a ten-year absence.
Created in the late 80s by the Manchester agency BDH/TBWA, the
characters were brought up to date by becoming animated and taking
"The characters were icons already, but by bringing them up to date and
giving them a voice and personality, it fulfilled the strategy of
appealing to the target audience of women," Mortimer adds.
Changes of this kind must tread carefully around the relationship brand
icons have with consumers. Mortimer argues that consumer feedback should
be the ultimate barometer on what changes should be made, and, when
positive, has been enough to preserve such icons as Direct Line's red
telephone, from major revamps.
"We relied heavily on quantative research," he says. "Connie has a broad
appeal, and we had to be careful about the extent to which we adjusted
her. A big change would have been entirely wrong."
However, handing too much power to conservative-minded customers can
easily result in a brand's paralysis.
Ogilvy & Mather's creative director, Nigel Roberts, works on the
agency's KFC account, another business to have seen dramatic changes to
its brand icon.
Colonel Sanders has gone from staid Dixieland patrician to animated 21st
century funkmeister - and Roberts implies such a change might not have
been made had consumers had the power of veto.
"Changes are risky but, ultimately, they are more about the companies
implementing them than the consumers buying the brand," Roberts
"It's a delicate balance between giving them what they want from a brand
with which they have engaged on a personal level for possibly many
years, and taking it forward, making it more contemporary," he adds.
So, expect more drip-fed changes to brand icons as they continually
adjust to keep track with ever-sophisticated consumers.
"After all, what woman goes through three years with the same hairdo?"