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DuPont's new branding effort: The miracles of marketing right

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While some companies seem to change brand strategies every six or seven weeks and others every six or seven years, DuPont has finally changed its tagline after 6 decades.

The company that gave the world such diverse products as nylon and Teflon decided to move on from the tagline "Better things for better living," which it adopted in 1935. Now, admittedly, the original tagline was actually "Better things for better living through chemistry," but the company decided to shorten it in 1981. Still, while other companies were fueling the growth of the ad agency business, DuPont kept its basic tagline even as the company was forging ahead on a number of different fronts and the world at large was changing rapidly.

Think about it for a minute. In that time frame, this country has been through World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the Gulf War. We've lived through the beginning and end of the Cold War. We've seen the civil rights and women's liberation movements. We've had 11 presidents in that time. That tagline is older than commercial television and the widespread use of automatic transmission, air conditioning and cake mix.

In fact, that tagline predates just about everything that has had a major impact on the lives of Americans in the work force today.

It kind of boggles the mind.

So, the news that DuPont executives had decided to change the tagline brought up two opposing questions: Why are they changing it? Why wouldn't they?

Perhaps the best part of the change is that it got people thinking about DuPont and its tagline. While the line still holds up after all these years, anything that old tends to fade into the marketing wallpaper after a while. People see it so often they don't even think about it, and so it loses its potency as a marketing device.

One advantage to making changes every so often is that it draws attention, stirs things up internally and externally. It creates excitement and brings a certain liveliness to the workplace -- and pushes people in the company out of their comfort zone. If done properly, it can create a buzz in the marketplace that is invaluable to a company's marketing efforts.

In DuPont's case, just making the change gave it a major buzz. The move brought praise in the media, for changing and for using the terms "science" and "miracles" in its new tag, "The miracles of science."

Now, I could argue the merits of "The miracles of science" as a tagline for going forward into the new millennium. To me, it sounds a little dated, like a black-and-white school film from the 1960s touting the wonders of modern science and what it can do. But that is neither here nor there. What I do find admirable is how DuPont went about making the change.

The impetus for the move came from the top. The new CEO decided that because the company has been making significant changes, he wanted its marketing strategy to reflect that. So he discussed it with some of his key people, and then they called in a number of ad agencies to pitch some ideas. The winner was McCann-Erickson Worldwide, which put a lot of time and effort into getting to know the basic working philosophy of DuPont -- what its people pride themselves on and what they believe makes the company strong. The team from McCann put together a tape of what it found out and set to work on a new tagline.

"The miracles of science" captured the company's spirit for the DuPont executives, but that wasn't enough. It also had to win the approval of DuPont employees around the globe before the company would approve it. And so they put it out to their worldwide work force, looking for buy-in -- and got overwhelming support for the new branding position.

Now, it can be tough for a company to adopt a new tagline and image even if it just needs top management approval. But it takes a company truly dedicated to its employees to make the effort to find out what those employees think and to work to satisfy them. Too often, top executives overlook the fact that a company is largely its employees, and their attitudes and feeling of commitment can make or break any marketing effort management chooses to launch. Internal marketing is critical, but it can also be complicated, especially for a company as large and far-flung as DuPont.

Whether this tagline will survive for another seven decades remains to be seen. But by making this kind of effort, DuPont is now moving forward with its new tagline, confident that it has the backing of a work force committed to creating "The miracles of science" because, as they have told the company, that's what they do -- and because they know their employer is committed to their ideas as well.

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