Consumer PR: A brand new audience

To reposition older brands to a younger audience, you first have to make journalists believe, says Donna Werbner.

The Famous Grouse, Country Casuals and a trip to Guernsey - if you think this sounds like your grandmother's Christmas wishlist, you need to wash the blue rinse out of your hair and get out more.

All of these brands are attempting to attract younger consumers by repositioning themselves as the latest 'discovery' of fashionable young professionals.

Even Horlicks, long associated with cosy nights in and pension books, has been linked with A-list celebrity Colin Farrell and exclusive London bar The Groucho Club - subsequent coverage has appeared in numerous women's glossies.

'We wanted to reinvent Horlicks and target young, anxious sleepers,' says Borkowski PR associate account director Amanda Tiffenberg. 'We carefully selected London venues that were seen as exclusive and trendy and presented Horlicks as an iconic, classic British drink that would enable those bars to stand out from the crowd.'

Familiar road

Relaunching to a younger market is a well-trodden path for established brands, says Lindley Baptiste, managing director of Kudos PR and spokesperson for CC (as Country Casuals has now rebranded itself). As the brand ages, so do its loyal consumers - which makes it essential to periodically 'replenish' sales with young blood.

'You can't rely on older generations because, sooner or later, they'll die,' admits Frank PR director Andrew Bloch, who relaunched Brylcreem to 18 to 24-year-old men after the company suffered a decline in sales - its core customers were going bald.

So what is the secret to a successful relaunch? The Horlicks approach, to build associations with other brands or 'brand ambassadors' that the target audience already perceive as fashionable, certainly induced a response.

Its sales rose by 13 per cent following the campaign.

'You need to speak the language of your consumers,' adds Bloch. Brylcreem's revamp began when it signed David Beckham. A similar move has been made by The Famous Grouse, which sponsors the Baftas and the Scotland rugby team (see above).

Other recent examples include Visit Guernsey, which wanted to dispel the island's 'heaven's waiting room' image (see top). GMTV presenter Kate Garraway was brought in to emphasise the island's appeal to 'cash-rich, time-poor' young couples.

But not all brands believe this strategy paves the way to success. 'We're not keen on attaching ourselves to celebrities,' says a Laura Ashley spokeswoman. It, too, is looking to increase its appeal to younger consumers, but the spokesperson adds: 'We're a clean-living brand. We don't want to be associated with anything that would rock the boat and alienate older consumers.'

And it can be difficult to persuade journalists that an older person's product will suddenly resonate with a younger audience. 'Think Laura Ashley, think Home Counties granny,' ran one scathing report in the Manchester Evening News. 'Time and again we have been told (the brand) is revamping its look to cater for the modern woman. But it will forever be associated with flouncy, floral prints, frilly collars and ankle-skimming petticoats.' Fashion sales at Laura Ashley plummeted by 28 per cent during the six months to 15 January 2005, indicating that shoppers were not convinced by the brand's relaunch, either.

Fighting the sceptics

Just how companies convince the media and consumers that a brand's repositioning is meaningful and not just 'spin' is another reason why some might be fearful of promoting their brand outside of its normal parameters.

Charisma PR director Julia Berg admits that when she first attempted to persuade journalists that Guernsey would make an ideal holiday destination for sophisticated young professionals, 'the reaction was complete disbelief'. 'But we brought the media out there to discover it for themselves - we showed them the bars, the boutiques and the beaches - and since then they've been very open to it,' she claims.

And substance behind the story is crucial. In his campaign for Brylcreem, Bloch emphasised that the company had expanded its range of products to fit in with modern men's lifestyles. By contrast, Biss Lancaster's campaign for Wagon Wheels stressed how little the chocolate snack had changed over the years. When the agency was hired, sales of the snack were declining - middle- aged parents, its core market, were no longer buying Wagon Wheels for their children's packed lunches. The brand decided to refocus its PR strategy on younger consumers in their 20s and 30s, with whom it had a cult following.

'We played on the brand's nostalgic appeal for people who grew up with Wagon Wheels,' says account director David Wiles. 'Many people perceived that the product had become smaller, but we emphasised that it was the same size as it ever had been.' By playing on the memories associated with the brand, the agency exploited the emotional bond it had established with generations of consumers.

When The Famous Grouse launched a campaign last August to appeal to young drinkers, the brand also used the established bond with its older market to provoke an emotional reaction - the brand deliberately rebelled against the traditions that older drinkers of whisky attempt to protect. 'We tested the media's stereotypes about whisky - we showed them we did not think it was sacrilege to mix whisky with other drinks, such as ginger beer and sparkling apple,' explains The Famous Grouse PR manager Carol McLaren.

The key to success, McLaren claims, was getting journalists to try a 'long serve' whisky-based cocktail. 'Once they had tried it, they were astounded - and converted,' she says.

Strategies like these do run the risk of alienating a brand's core market, but PR is often about taking risks. 'We always emphasise that, as well as contemporary pieces, the classic Country Casuals lines are still in the collection,' stresses Baptiste (see left). 'We use brand ambassadors such as Zoe Ball and Cherie Blair, who will appeal to broad sections of the market.'

Whatever strategy a brand adopts, it is clear that periodically revamping a product to appeal to a younger audience is essential to longevity.

GUERNSEY

'For a long time, Guernsey was one of the world's best kept secrets,' confesses Visit Guernsey chief executive Stuart Pinnell. Throughout the 1990s, the island aimed its marketing at repeat visitors and deliberately avoided younger generations of tourists. But by the end of the decade, visitor numbers had shrunk. Fewer tourists were visiting Guernsey for the first time, and most of its loyal holidaymakers were aged 70 or over.

In January, Visit Guernsey hired Charisma PR to reposition the destination as a close weekend break for young professional city-dwellers by stressing its vibrant nightlife and beautiful countryside.

'Our priority was to challenge perceptions of the island,' says Charisma director Julia Berg. The agency sent tailored press releases with 'quirky facts' about the island to specialist gardening, nature, culinary, photography, family and watersport press, along with national and regional newspapers and lifestyle consumer magazines.

A series of individual and group press trips to Guernsey were organised to give journalists a chance to experience the island for themselves.

GMTV presenter Kate Garraway was chosen to personify the brand's appeal to a younger market.

So far, 14 national publications have written positive articles about the island.

THE FAMOUS GROUSE

The whisky market has traditionally been the preserve of drinkers over the age of 45. Last year, The Famous Grouse attempted to reach out to drinkers, particularly young women, who had tried whisky once but decided they didn't like it.

It highlighted a range of 'long serves' - whisky mixes in tall glasses - that are often drunk by younger consumers in its European export markets.

'At any event, we started automatically offering the journalists a mixed rather than a straight whisky drink,' says The Famous Grouse PR manager Carol McLaren.

It used its sponsorship of the Baftas and the Scotland rugby team to garner lifestyle and celebrity coverage. It intends to take journalists to countries where whisky cocktails are popular, so that they can witness the success of long serves for themselves.

Sales of The Famous Grouse increased by 33 per cent in Britain over the Christmas period last year.

COUNTRY CASUALS

The Country Casuals womenswear brand, renamed last month as CC, has been around for 30 years and, according to Kudos PR managing director Lindley Baptiste, its longevity 'has led to a perception among younger journalists that it is an old name for old women'.

Kudos was brought in to relaunch the brand to younger consumers. It targeted fashion consumer magazines such as Vogue with details of the brand's creative director, Joanne Jorg, a former design director for Giorgio Armani.

'We shifted Country Casuals' press days away from the staid in-house environment of its show room and into some of London's most fashionable locations, such as Soho House and The Century Club,' says Baptiste.

The agency also employed fashion stylists from women's magazines to ensure the clothes were photographed in a contemporary style. It linked the brand to Fashion Targets Breast Cancer and Marie Curie Cancer Care because both charities were targeting younger women. Kudos then used this connection to persuade famous young women, such as Zoe Ball, to wear its products.The agency also targeted journalists who had slated Country Casuals.

'The label once associated with stodgy anti-fashionistas is planning a triumphant return,' reported Vogue in April.

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