Killing off a successful advertising campaign is a risky business. But you can’t keep a good idea down and many companies are tempted to resurrect the original concept, giving it an up-to-date feel.

Both Toshiba and Homepride are reviving old advertising characters, at the same time that the Carlsberg-Tetley brand Castlemaine XXXX is dumping one of the most famous straplines in UK advertising. All three companies are at something of a marketing crossroads.

Toshiba and Homepride have found it impossible to improve on, or even get away from, the great campaigns developed years ago with “Tosh” and Fred the flour sifter (who re-emerged briefly three years ago) and so are resurrecting them.

Toshiba is to use its frontman “Tosh” after a seven-year absence. And Homepride is bringing back cartoon character Fred. It is striking proof of the ability of some campaigns to remain in the public consciousness for decades.

Carlsberg-Tetley, meanwhile, is doing the opposite and risking all by killing off a classic strapline – “Australians wouldn’t give a XXXX for any other Lager”. But if recent experience is anything to go by it could one day reach into the past to revive its future.

Some would argue that some brands are suffocated by the power of their own advertising. Once a really good campaign has been developed, it is extremely difficult to replace it with something just as good, or better. So when the brand owner wants to chase after different consumers for its brand, or its consumers get older and have different aspirations, the initiative can be stunted by the success of its original campaign.

Others argue that it is all down to the creative skills inside advertising agencies, and whether creatives are capable of improving on a great idea. Dave Trott, creative director of Walsh Trott Chick Smith, and the man behind the “Tosh” ads, believes it is difficult to move a great campaign on because of the lack of good people working in the industry.

Take Oxo, for example. In the Fifties, brand owner Van den Bergh Foods hit upon using the homely couple Katie and Phillip for the Oxo ads through agency J Walter Thompson. But when the company decided it was time for a change and gave the ads a new look in 1974, the brand lost its way.

It tried the finger and thumb crumbling device, but this didn’t last long. Then various options were tried, including ads with Dennis Waterman. Eventually, in 1983, Van den Bergh had to bring on the Oxo family, a reworking of the earlier Katie and Phillip campaign.

Steve Wheatley, board account director at advertising agency EURO RSCG Wnek Gosper, sums up the situation: “Can you name one great campaign that has been ditched and replaced with another great one?”

Wheatley believes there are always problems for agencies which have to get rid of old campaigns, although it is an inevitable part of the job. “You junk a great campaign at your peril. You have to try to look at ways of evolving the equities. You wouldn’t want to lose them.”

A case in point are the Cadbury’s Milk Tray ads created by Leo Burnett. The brand scored a hit with the “Man in Black” going through all sorts of dangers to deliver a box of the chocs to his loved one – “All Because The Lady Loves Milk Tray”. The latest campaign, by EURO RSCG, is a development of this theme, and keeps many of the same values. It tries to move the campaign on, rather than ditch it and start again.

It is the same problem now faced by Carlsberg-Tetley’s advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi after the decision to drop the 12-year-old Castlemaine XXXX endline. According to Carlsberg-Tetley, the ads are now old hat.

A company spokesman admits that sales have slowed in recent years and says: “As consumer attitudes change, we have to change our strategy. We need to maintain a young, up-to-date image.”

A new campaign, which breaks in the summer, will use the line “As Fresh as XXXX”. How the average beer drinker will react remains to be seen. If the new campaign – and details are sketchy – can capture the public mood in the same way the old one did, all the better for Carlsberg-Tetley. But there is a danger of alienating existing consumers and even failing to reach the new target market.

Companies which drop popular campaigns and replace them with others that are equally successful are in a minority. Barker & Ralston new business manager Sue Aitken cites BT ads as one of the few that have managed it.

The somewhat annoying, but immensely popular, Busby was replaced by the equally annoying “It’s for You – hoo!” campaign which achieved that supreme accolade among advertisers, greater than all the advertising awards in the world, of “entering the vernacular”.

Then came Maureen Lipman, the stereotypical north London Jewish mother, followed by some price promotional ads and the menacing Bob Hoskins informing us that “It’s good to talk,” another entry into popular culture.

“BT has constantly been able to reinvent itself and launch great campaigns,” says Aitken.

Perhaps it is a testament to the greatness of BT marketers. Or perhaps it is because the humble phone is such an integral part of all our lives, that it is one of the easiest things to advertise, and BT – which still holds 94 per cent of the domestic market – is synonymous with the telephone in the UK.

Robert Bean, who was head of advertising at BT during much of the evolution of these campaigns, believes there are several solid reasons why brands drop great campaigns in favour of others, even if they are less well loved.

He believes that if a brand loses its unique selling point because rivals have caught up – for instance Heineken which owned the property of “refreshment” with its “Refreshes the parts other beers do not reach” campaign – then it should rethink.

A change of personnel at the brand owning company – be it marketing or managing director, or finance chief – could be another reason for the switch.

Bean also adds that as the target market changes then the whole profile of the campaign will have to be altered. It will either have to grow and age with consumers, or to target a new set of them without alienating existing ones.

But for Trott, developing an old theme does not have to mean either alienating existing customers or failing to get through to new ones.

“With ‘Tosh’, if you think of it as bringing back an old campaign, but you do it properly, it works for people who haven’t seen it before.

“A great idea is timeless, and the only thing that changes is the execution.”

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