Honey, I killed the icon

It takes a brave marketer to scrap a beloved brand icon. Larissa Bannister talks to clients and their agencies about the challenge of moving on.

Nestle's decision to kill off its 47-year-old "Have a break ..." Kit Kat slogan is the latest in a line of high-profile advertising fatalities - and more may be on the cards, with Scottish Widows reviewing its creative account out of Citigate Albert Frank, the agency that created the eponymous character 20 years ago.

The problem for creatives and marketers is that the ditched brand icons have a tendency to linger in the public's memory. Gold Blend has never quite matched its love story campaign of the 80s, and Bisto remains closely linked with the Kids despite scrapping them nearly a decade ago.

So what drives a brand owner to kill off the golden goose, apart from the desire to get a page or two of press coverage? According to Tetley's marketing manager, Andrew Dobson, retiring Gaffer, Sydney and the rest of the Tetley Tea Folk in 2001 was all about bringing the brand up to date.

"Although we made the change for Tetley, the fact is that tea needed to stand up for itself against coffee and other soft drinks," he says. "Consumers had become complacent about tea and we wanted to do something to make people notice it again."

Ditching the icon often accompanies a change in strategy, such as the introduction of a new range of products. In Tetley's case, the launch of Tetley Plus, a range of fruit and herbal teas, was part of the equation.

"It was a great campaign but it would have been hard to launch that range with the Tea Folk," Dobson says.

The brand has tried a few ap-proaches since 2001, including a Leo Burnett series proclaiming the health benefits of tea that fell foul of the Advertising Standards Authority.

Tetley's recently appointed agency, Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, has now come up with the "Auntea" campaign, which, in its first TV execution, featured the Sex and the City actress Kim Cattrall.

The MCBD planning director, Andy Nairn, says there was never any doubt that losing the Tea Folk was the right thing to do and adds that the characters were nostalgic even in the 70s when they were first introduced.

"The secret to updating icons is staying true to the brand, bringing across all the best qualities of the old campaign but making it more modern and relevant," he says.

It was a big change for Tetley and not everyone was impressed. "There have been a few callers to the Tetley helpline saying that Kim Cattrall was a funny character to choose but the fact that people are motivated to ring in at all is great," Nairn says.

Around the same time as the Tea Folk received their marching orders, Tetley's arch-rival, PG Tips, waved goodbye to the chimps that had led its advertising effort since 1956. Their replacement, which was dreamed up by DDB London, is the T-Birds - a group of animated clay characters from the Wallace & Gromit creator, Aardman Animations.

DDB's head of planning, Lucy Jameson, says the first thing to ask when looking at changing an ad campaign is why you want to get rid of it.

"For PG Tips, the issue was straightforward - the chimps were just too old-fashioned," she says. Pressure from animal rights campaigners played a part too, although Jameson plays down that influence.

DDB also worked on Lurpak's first campaign after retiring Douglas the trombone-playing butter man.

"Both appealed to older people, not the younger audience we were trying to target, and both were associated with the products as they used to be, not necessarily with how the products are today," she says.

Douglas has been replaced by an advertising concept based on the film Chocolat, in which a young Danish woman shows people how they can enjoy life with Lurpak.

"Coming up with something new is not just about bringing in a random celebrity," Jameson says. "For PG Tips, it made sense to maintain the link with animals and, by using a parallel world, we can show young people living in a flat without alienating other sections of the audience."

Frequently, brands that take that difficult decision to ditch their icons later decide on a revival. Nescafe Gold Blend returned to its romantic roots last year after a five-year hiatus, launching a campaign created by McCann Erickson, based around a series of romantic scenarios and a number of different couples. The same agency has also resurrected the Wall's sausages dog and the famous "Just One Cornetto" song, after the ice-cream brand was relaunched earlier this year.

Most famously, Oxo reverted to using a family as the basis for its advertising in 2002, after dropping its Lynda Bellingham campaign in favour of featuring groups of people living together in non-family environments. The Lynda Bellingham series was itself the second time that Oxo had used the family concept, the first being with Katie the housewife in the 50s and 60s. Richard Saunders of J. Walter Thompson was the copywriter throughout the second campaign's 16-year shelf life.

"Our brief was to find the Katie of the 80s," Saunders says. "At the time, family life in advertising was portrayed as being sunny and happy all the time, whereas we wanted something more realistic, so we deliberately cast the kind of family who would have the maximum grief possible."

Despite an initially horrified reaction from viewers - Saunders says there was a two-inch stack of complaints at the time of the launch asking how Oxo could put such dreadful people on television - the commercials were soon topping polls as the nation's favourite ad campaign.

The campaign tracked the family's growth until 1999, when the last of the children left home. The brand was then sold to Campbell, which in 2002 decided to bring back the family concept once again, through Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.

"You can never expect a new campaign to deliver the same thing as one that has been around for 15 years," Campbell's marketing director, Tim Perman, says. "But you want to keep the successful things about a campaign and update it. Lynda's family grew up so it was natural to move on from there but we want to take what that campaign stood for, that warmth of feeling, and keep it going because it still resonates with people."


That was then ...

The flat-capped Northerners first appeared in 1973 and stayed on our screens for 28 years. D'Arcy developed the Tea Folk from 1979 onwards, moving them out of the Tetley factory and into more modern situations, including Gaffer going out on a date.

The Tea Folk characters spawned a range of collectables and merchandise over the years, before being retired in 2001.

This is now ...

After the first post-Tea Folk "heart healthy" campaign was banned for being misleading, Tetley appointed Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy to the account in May.

The agency's "Auntea" campaign features the surprisingly cast Kim Cattrall of Sex and the City, who visits Auntea in search of a cuppa and some homespun advice about men.

According to ACNielsen Scantrack, Tetley has become the market leader since dumping the Tea Folk and has a 27 per cent share of the teabag market, compared with PG Tips' 23 per cent.


That was then ...

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the PG Tips chimps are the world's most enduring advertising stars. The Davidson Pearce Berry & Spottiswoode campaign began in December 1956, the second year of commercial television in the UK, and ran for a total of 46 years.

BMP DDB brought the chimps into a family set-up in 1992 before rumblings of discontent about animal rights and a desire to appeal to a new generation of tea-drinkers saw the chimps retire to enjoy a more conventional lifestyle in 2002.

This is now ...

DDB London has teamed up with the Wallace & Gromit creator, Aardman Animations in a campaign featuring four claymation characters called the T-birds.

Coupled with a new slogan, "We all need a PG moment", the ads launched in January 2002 with storylines based around the real-life diaries of twentysomething housemates.


That was then ...

The Bisto Kids and their famous "Ahh, Bisto" strapline were originally designed by the artist Will Owen and made their first appearance in 1919.

Although their profile was reduced over subsequent years, research by Bisto in the 70s found they were well remembered and loved by adults and children alike, leading to their re-introduction in animated form in 1976. This time they stuck around for nearly 20 years, before finally being axed in 1995.

This is now ...

Bisto has since tried a number of new straplines and campaigns, including ads based around the song Save the Best Till Last and a campaign starring Julie Walters, before the "Ahh, Bisto" line was revived by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO in 2000.

In 2003, Bisto's owner Centura Foods moved its creative into Bartle Bogle Hegarty. The agency's first campaign launched in November last year, focusing on the Bisto range of sauces.


That was then ...

The Lynda Bellingham campaign was preceded by another long-running Oxo family, Katie the housewife and her husband Philip, who starred in the Oxo ads between 1958 and 1974.

J. Walter Thompson's Lynda Bellingham campaign was introduced in 1983 and lasted for 16 years, following the family as the children grew up.

The final instalment aired in 1999 and the decision to dump the campaign prompted a host of media articles on the decline of the family in British society.

This is now ...

Oxo's new owner, Campbell, decided to bring the concept of the family back in 2002, via a series of ads created by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and written by Richard Curtis.

Oxo's latest campaign, which launched last week, continues the family theme. According to Oxo, sales of the product are up 4 per cent on last year and the brand is showing sustained growth for the first time in more than five years.


That was then ...

"Have a break, have a Kit Kat" was one of the most enduring slogans in advertising. The 47-year-old line was dropped in August after the new Nestle managing director, Chris White, said that Kit Kat's advertising was not working.

Before dropping the phrase, the brand used the Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels star Jason Statham. Statham's "salmon" spot recorded Kit Kat's best-ever tracking scores, with 48 per cent recall, but didn't stop a 9 per cent drop in sales during 2003 or prevent Kit Kat being overtaken by Dairy Milk as Britain's favourite chocolate bar.

This is now ...

J. Walter Thompson's new Kit Kat slogan, "Make the most of your break", launched in September, so it's too early to tell what, if any, effect the move will have on sales. In any case, White has left the door open for the return of the famous line, saying that "Have a break" could be revived in a few years.


That was then ...

The best known of Gold Blend's soap-opera-style love-story campaigns, featuring Anthony Head and Sharon Maughan, ran for five years across 12 episodes and saw 30 million people tune in to see the couple finally kiss.

In 1998, Nestle axed the ads after just one execution of the latest series and instead introduced the "open up" campaign created by McCann Erickson for all of its coffee brands.

This is now ...

Gold Blend has reverted to the idea of romance after a brief flirtation with a "girl power" theme in 2001. The current campaign features a series of ads based on romantic scenarios, but featuring different couples each time.

According to Mintel, sales of Gold Blend dropped 13 per cent between 1999 and 2003, although a decline in demand for coffee generally means that market share has remained stable at 16 per cent.