New news or the same old same old?

Brands, like newspapers, have to keep on breaking news. And if there is no news, they need to go out and create some.

Newness is a social fixation and an economic necessity. Long-term survival for a brand depends on constantly giving your audience something fresh, revolutionary or innovative. Modern consumers tire easily, and marketers need fox-like cunning to grab the attention of their saturated minds. If it ain’t sensational, sexy or earth-shattering, it won’t cause the smallest blip on a brain scanning machine¹s screen.

But news is a bit like crude oil – a finite resource that is getting harder to find as everybody searches for it. Some brands struggle to find anything relevant or surprising to say. Trying to make interesting news about detergents, beer or bread takes up a good deal of a marketers’ day.

Innovation gets harder as time goes by, which is why brands require a never-ending source of creativity to keep them fresh.

Take the humble potato. Big news when it was brought back from the New World in the 16th century. After it had been boiled, mashed, steamed, fried, roasted, chipped or turned into crisps, that seemed to be the end of the story.

Until PepsiCo got hold of it. The US giant bought its way into the UK crisp industry and now controls 70% of the market. It has managed to turn Walkers Crisps into a powerful property through constantly pressing the refresh button on its branding. In an endless stream of creativity, Walkers has dressed up the tedious tuber and found a new angle on the brand week in, week out, for much of the past two decades.

One angle of topical signficance that brands are increasingly turning to – but which is not really news – is the anniversary celebration. This allows them to give at least a nod to their heritage – if they have been going 25, 50 or 100 years that is surely testament to their durability, quality and commitment. This year Sky is boasting about its 20th year in operation – it launched on February 5th, 1989 – while Virgin Atlantic has run a big, bold ad campaign celebrating 25 years of flying high. Coronation Street is already well under way with preparations for its 50th birthday in December 2010 – there¹s nothing like planning ahead – and it is looking for home-grown British brands to take part in celebratory promotions.

But drawing attention to the longevity of a brand is not without risks. A brand can look as though it has run out of relevant news or come across as introspective and out of touch, even egotistical. The flipside of heritage is staleness, the line between tedium and timelessness is narrow. As news goes, a birthday usually merits little more than a mention.

The search for something fresh to say will become even more important as brands fight to sustain their premium over bargain basement products. These days, a brand is only as good as its last story.

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