Brand birthdays can help you realign for the future as well as celebrate the past

Celebrating a brand’s anniversary shouldn’t be about complacency or introspection but a reassessment of what its heritage means for modern consumers.

Every year, we see brands reach milestones – British Airways turned 100 last year, Sainsbury’s 150; Mario Kart celebrated its 35th birthday this year and more recently Instagram turned 10.

Internally, these are moments to reflect on your brand’s journey, take lessons from the past and plot future ambitions. Externally, they can be moments for nostalgia, tapping into the sense of reassurance that constancy can bring consumers in a volatile world. But how can you use them as opportunities for brand-building, beyond appealing to a tiny band of brand enthusiasts?

Many brands see the opportunity to create more than just awareness, instead providing something unique for their consumers; to inspire bold marketing and look forwards to the brand’s future, not just its past.

Achieving aspirations

In the last decade we’ve seen Marmite launch its gloriously kitsch gold leaf edition, Facebook share its plans for the future while introducing the ‘look back’ video feature, and Nike use sports celebs like Serena Williams to provoke its audience to think about how to set goals to achieve their future aspirations.

At 70, Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, thought about how it could use its birthday to dramatically improve the lives of disadvantaged children around the world, creating a hard-hitting photo document comparing children’s experiences 70 years ago to today. In October, Aldi took a totally different approach, with a tongue in cheek ‘no one cares’ campaign for their 30th birthday, to much social media approval.

This year, Johnnie Walker, the biggest-selling scotch whisky brand in the world, turns 200. This truly global brand, born in Scotland in 1820, is now famous from Bogota to Bangkok, Mumbai to Manila.

What you can learn from a brand birthday

As a marketer I have been reflecting on the foundation stones of the brand over 200 years. The entrepreneurialism of John Walker, who started to blend malt and grain whiskies to create a superior quality drink in his grocery store in Kilmarnock. The recognition of the Walker family of the power of branding, evident in highly recognisable early key brand assets, from The Striding Man to the distinctive bottle shape and label design. The global ambition that catapulted Johnnie Walker to over 120 countries by 1920.

So what did we learn in deciding how to celebrate Johnnie Walker’s anniversary in a meaningful way, ensuring the brand becomes more attractive to the next generation of whisky drinkers?

1. Use the brand’s heritage, but make it special and intriguing for consumers

For its 100th anniversary, Converse celebrated the customers who’ve stuck by it, with portraits of sneakers used and customised by legendary figures like Andy Warhol and Patti Smith. The video game Mario Bros 35 captured the feeling of playing Mario Kart for the first time for a new audience, who were not even born when the original came out.

For Johnnie Walker’s 200th, we launched a series of unique and limited whiskies – Old Highland Whisky reimagined our original recipe, alongside a new contemporary Bicentennial Blend, a highly giftable limited pack for our iconic Blue Label.

2. Consumers are more engaged by the future we want to create for the brand than what happened in the past

Tesco effectively used its 100th anniversary as part of its turnaround plans, tackling value in service of its customers and the stronger business it wanted to create – including price events, special prices for Clubcard holders and a Christmas campaign using nostalgic British cultural icons to frame ‘Prices that take you back’.

As we look to the future with Johnnie Walker, we’re reviewing our sustainability from grain to glass in every aspect of our business. As part of this we announced the creation of the world’s first ever 100% plastic-free paper-based spirits bottle – made entirely from sustainably sourced wood.

Linking your activity to the opportunities and challenges a brand faces today, focusing on what consumers and customers value, and creating a platform for surprising creative work can make a brand’s birthday party something to remember in itself.

Andrew Geoghegan is global consumer planning director at Diageo.



Case study: Patagonia’s ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ campaign

Josie Allchin

Outdoor clothing manufacturer Patagonia was founded by climbing enthusiast Yvon Chouinard in 1973 and is using a marketing strategy which could be thought of as being part nudge, part shock tactics. The company initially made climbing equipment but changed its philosophy to focus on environmentally-sound products after Chouinard realised his climbing tools were causing damage to rocky cliff faces.


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