A blast from the past

Nostalgia seems to be very much in marketing fashion nowadays. Vintage is enjoying a revival while retro continues to be cool. Brand managers line up to dust off their archives as they seek inspiration from the past. Famous brand comebacks are assured of PR coverage and there are worse strategy choices than paying homage to former glories.

The marketers that I feel sorry for are those who are managing fading brands that have not quite disappeared, but are a wounded shadow of their former selves. That really is hard work. It is much easier to bring something out of retirement than to reinvigorate a lame duck.

One such example is Laura Ashley, a darling of the high street in the 1970s and 1980s. I passed my local Laura Ashley branch this week and couldn’t help but notice a change. The shop fascia had turned a very bright shade of green versus the classic dark green that I always remembered.

At first I thought it must be an undercoat, but it does appear to be a permanent feature. In fact, upon further research, I can confirm that the new bright green has in fact been rolling out across the estate since 2007. I suspect the general trading climate has meant that finishing the paint job has not been a top priority.

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Back in 2007, Laura Ashley’s CEO Lillian Tan said: “The new colour is fresher and more up to date. We found customers could identify us more easily with the spring green shade.”

Hard to argue with you there, Lillian. If recognition is the name of the game, then your luminous green is indeed hard to miss. Quite whether a lighter shade of green will transform the fortunes of a once great retailer is debatable. If history is anything to go by, a reliance on the colour of your logo is not the brightest strategic answer.

Back in 2001, Laura Ashley announced a new strategy of replacing the dark green iconic branding with a bright cream look. That was under one of 10 CEOs in a stormy 14 years. Shades of deja-vu with the latest strategy?

Maybe that’s unfair. Ms Tan’s tenure as CEO has in fact already lasted more than six years and she has masterminded an impressive move from in the red to the black. This is a stellar performance given that she is in charge of a tired brand on a distraught high street.

However, I wonder how much longer she can paint over the cracks.

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