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Comeback Kids: Haggar, Keds Stage Brand Revival

Re-Energizing a Once-Hot Marque Is Never an Easy Task. But There's Power in Equity -- If You Know How to Use It

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Everything old is new again.

And that 's great for Haggar, the 85-year-old men's clothing manufacturer best known for popularizing the term "slacks." Haggar is plotting a return to the conversation with an ad campaign slated to roll out over the next several months pushing the brand, as well as a new product, an eco-friendly line of pants dubbed "Life Khaki," that it hopes will give it cachet with a younger consumer.

Haggar
Haggar
Made of recycled material (it claims to take three plastic bottles out of the environment for each pair) the pants are the center of a new ad blitz slated to roll out over the next several months. The push will sprawl across a range of media channels including outdoor, sports radio, print-to-display ads, email and Facebook. Haggar is also hitting the PR circuit hard, courting men's fashion writers and teaming up with retail partners -- including JCPenney, Kohl's and Sears -- to revamp in-store displays.

After working with a range of shops over the years, including Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Haggar has turned to Austin-based indie agency McGarrah-Jessee to help with the Life Khaki launch and brand advertising to launch in early 2012.

Haggar's already touched a nerve: The brand said the average age of its core customer has fallen from between 40 and 50 years old a decade ago to somewhere between 25 and 35 years old today.

"Heritage will only take you so far," said Jon Ragsdale, VP-marketing and merchandising for Haggar. "Brands like us that have longevity have to continue to reconnect."

The good news for heritage brands is that nostalgic fans usually welcome them back with open arms.

That's what happened when Dr. Martens launched a social-media campaign a couple of months ago dubbed "First and Forever," which asked people to share their experiences with the brand. "It's one of those brands that evokes memories of when people got their first Doc Martens, what were they doing at that time, that sort of thing," said Charles Allison, who tracks online buzz for research firm Wavemetrix in London. "They managed to get a lot of people talking about their brand."

Doc Martens
Doc Martens
Another classic footwear brand that 's struck up anew with consumers is Keds. The casual shoe worn by Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O that surged again during the 1990's has again found resonance with consumers by modernizing its look with new patterns, partnering with designers and hip retailers such as Opening Ceremony, and even doing a design-your-own shoe series. To stay fashion-forward, it recently tapped Rue La La Founder Stephanie Brocoum as VP-marketing. But it still keeps the little blue "Keds" stamp at the heel and maintains an affordable price-point.

London Fog became popular for its raincoats in the 1950s and saw a surge in popularity after a tie-in with an episode of "Mad Men" in which it appeared as a client of the show's fictional ad agency, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. In a major departure, London Fog is parting with its refined vibe to go out on a limb and make Nicole Scherzinger, "X Factor" judge and former Pussycat Doll, its new spokeswoman.  

"The notion of staying true to your roots while contemporizing is hugely important," said Allison Cenna, a senior strategist at DDB, Chicago. But "you still have to keep reinventing a little bit, come out with new products that [consumers] can personalize and gravitate to, and bring out new styles that connect with today's youth."

Four Keys to a Successful Revival

1. Allow for Rediscovery.

Ensure consumers have the opportunity to rediscover the brand across age groups, allowing for a multigenerational appeal. What's pure nostalgia for one generation could be a totally new experience for another generation.  

2. Connect With Timeless Consumer Values.

To keep the appeal multigenerational, accentuate brand values that transcend all age groups. Those include authenticity, simplicity, empowerment and membership. Consumers are more likely to connect with brands that have an interesting story or heritage, that convey the desire for a less-complicated lifestyle, that help you embody a personal style, yet also allow you to identify and feel connected with others with common interests.

3. Stay True but Contemporize.

You can't stage a brand comeback without making any product changes, but you also don't want to stray too far from the original appeal of the old brand. To regain relevance, a brand has to make improvements. Add contemporary features or introduce new extensions that bring the brand in line with today's standards, but don't go so far afield that you alienate your enthusiasts.

4. Build a Community.

The most powerful brands have provided their fans a place, and a reason, to rally. This community represents the brand advocates and influencers who will propel the brand forward. One of the most powerful tools older brands have today is technology—and whether it's via social networks or mobile, building an active community is essential to maintaining a dialogue with consumers.

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Adapted from Allison Cenna's DDB Yellow Paper "Everything Old is New Again."

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