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28 November 2023

One foot in the past, one in the future: How heritage brands stay relevant now

‘Old’ is far from old news. From our food and drink, to our clothes, and what we watch on TV, consumer buying behaviour shows that we’re all fans of a good reminisce. In fact, resale platform TheRealReal recently reported that archival fashion is out-performing all other categories, with sales up 439% year on year. (source: TheRealReal).

So if ‘old’ is the new ‘new’, established brands should just double down on their past, right?

Wrong. The definition of heritage is ever evolving. It’s no longer enough to rely on a ‘classic’ aesthetic or a storied history. But then again, try too hard to stay down with the kids and you’ll lose sight of who you are. It’s all a balancing act – and one that’s vital to get right. According to Havas’ Meaningful Brands Report, 75% of brands could disappear overnight and consumers wouldn’t miss them. Ouch.

Luckily there are a number of ways your heritage brand can stay front of mind, not left behind…

Reframe luxury

Through a personal connection. Like with the recent rebrand of luxury London hotel, The Dorchester, embracing heritage isn’t always about laying it on thick. Adopting a more subtle approach will keep your brand fit for the future.

For pork pie evangelists Dickinson & Morris, it wasn’t just about making history. But making history every single day. We showcased their 170 years of expertise and made it relevant to a modern consumer by creating a connection between traditional craft and future enjoyment.

Emotionally driven messages like ‘Made in Melton Mowbray, enjoyed just about anywhere’ and ‘Round the table once again – this is pork pie as it should be’ bring the consumer into their story and encourage them to start new traditions. While ‘Top pick of picky teas’ and ‘Wear your crumbs with pride’ position the pie at the centre of any occasion.

0000 DM CS Complete v2

Reflect the attitudes of your community

Focus less on a time period, and more on a specific place or feeling. Refreshing a heritage brand isn’t just about being sensitive to its roots, but celebrating them too. Like-minded people will identify with the brand because they resonate with the lifestyle it represents.

For Brooklyn Brewery and Danish beer brand Tuborg, we took the spirit, personality and culture of each location and reflected it back to the consumer. This created a sense of community that everyone can be a part of – wherever they are, whenever they want it.

And then there’s Hunter. In recent years, the Wellington boot brand has expanded their reach beyond a British countryside staple to the fashion world, festival fields and even the workplace. Their 2022 campaign ‘Original Stories’ reframed what it means to be ‘original’, shifting the focus away from a space or time, and instead applying the common mindset to people across the world – from the Scottish Highlands to the Californian desert.

Hunter chelseaboot
Tuborg CS 1592x2000px 0005 Tuborg Classic Can in Hands

Use old to sell new

Bring traditional techniques and ingredients into a new setting. Guinness have nailed it with their ‘Nitrosurge’ pouring device. For those unaware, the Nitrosurge is a nozzle attachment that allows you to pull the perfect pint of Guinness at home, directly from the can.

Rather than compromising the product to suit an at home experience, they’ve used new tech to recreate behaviour that’s been inherent in their brand since 1759. In our perpetual state of anxiety that time is passing by too fast, this nostalgia grounds us in the present. Some things never change, like the signature Guinness pour. This innovation not only caters to life-long fans, but attracts new ones by removing barriers and opening up even more personal ways to connect.

In contrast, many heritage brands are choosing to expand their product line to stay relevant in today’s world. Madre Mezcal, for instance, launched their ready-to-drink seltzer range Madre Desert Water. This format offers an accessible introduction to those new to mezcal, while their use of traditional ingredients remains true to the brand’s ancestry.

Guinness Nitrosurge

Take your story out of past tense

Don’t just focus on the legacy you’ve left, but the one you want to leave. Dorset dwelling Badger Brewery’s traditional look and quirky voice were a big hit in ‘old man’ pubs, but they were struggling to appeal to a new generation of beer drinkers.

Simply following modern craft beer tropes would be disingenuous to their 240 years of brewing. So instead, we doubled down on their characterful personality, telling tales of local legend and relating them to the modern drinking experience to offer a moment of escapism.

By focusing on what’s inherently and authentically Badger, the new identity is far from just another retelling, but the start of a new chapter for the brand.

Badger CS Complete 14v2

Ultimately, it all comes down to trust – how you build it, and how you keep it. Heritage brands that try too hard to keep up can often end up feeling inauthentic, or totally out of touch with today’s values and mindset.

So instead of looking to others, look inwards. Find relevance by taking your brand’s mission and purpose, and combine it with what your customers already love about you (and feel nostalgic towards). This’ll help you find your place in the current moment and create a connection that feels right for your brand.

Looking to breathe new life into your heritage brand? You know what to do.

Thanks to:
LSN Global
Havas’ Meaningful Brands Report
Edelman – Brand Trust Barometer

Image credits:

Pause – Hunter ‘Original Stories’ campaign images
Guinness – Guinness Nitrosurge