Rolex and Hennessy
Creativity Marketing Transformation

OGs Reign Supreme: Lessons in Digital Storytelling from Heritage Brands

I told ya’ll that I’m really not a hipster, but I will admit that I have one of those Herschel backpacks that hipsters in the city love. Herschel, a bag manufacturer, makes backpacks that scream “vintage-cool-heritage-brand-been-around-forever-lumbersexual-utility!” In actuality, the brand is only six years old.

Herschel backpacks for a hipsterWith a bit of savvy and remarkable digital storytelling, Herschel has managed to do what many true heritage brands cannot: It’s captured the essence of a trustworthy, “authentic” company that’s been around for ages while going straight for the Millennial jugular. But, what is it that makes a heritage brand “heritage?” And, more perplexingly, how can brands that have been around forever, whose reputations proceed them, transition into the digital age without cheapening their steadfast brand stories? Is digital marketing inherently cheaper than iconic print ad campaigns? Cozy up under your Woolrich blanket and pour a cup of craft coffee in your Coleman camp mug as we consider these questions and more.

Nostalgia for the Forgotten Past

Nostalgia is a powerful tool for marketing. Many brands appeal to emotion with nostalgia, but not all brands actually have a past to lean on. As Herschel has proven, that doesn’t always matter. The current throwback-heavy aesthetic in popular culture has pushed nostalgia marketing to the forefront, but the term nostalgia is widely misunderstood; it’s more of an emotional connection to something that feels warm, sepia-toned, fuzzy, and authentic than it is an actual tie to history. This is encouraging for brands that don’t have a lengthy track record but deal in vintage-feeling goods.

It’s also confusing for heritage brands that lean on their reputations to sell products that are time-tested but decidedly not “vintage.” These brands do something different—they have a timeless, self-fulfilling reputation to maintain. Their vaunted status is the envy of their peers and competition, but it’s also an unwieldy burden for their marketing departments. How do you navigate digital storytelling for a product or company that predates the Internet? And the telephone!?

light at the end

A Timely Case Study

Rolex, a name which needs no introduction, was a famously late entry to the social media world. The brand did not make its social debut until it started a very limited YouTube channel in 2012. It only joined Facebook last year, which is so shockingly late to the party that many traditional brand advisors might ask, “Why bother?”

And yet, the Rolex Facebook page has proven that the old adage “Better late than never,” might as well read, “Better late than early.” It’s not that the brand was ignorant to the power of the Internet, but rather it knew the value of its reputation and knew that it could withstand a (very) late entry to ensure that it had gathered all the data necessary to make a tactful entry to each respective channel. The move paid off—its likes and followers do not belie a brand that’s been on social media for a year, and it consistently ranks near the very top of all large brands when it comes to social listening—analyzing brand mentions on social media to tailor content and provide people with relevant posts (so long as it fits the brand’s larger storytelling goals).

Beer, Bond…Facebook?

Other heritage brands have also combined caution and early adoption in their digital storytelling strategies. Heineken just brought its branded Facebook page in-house last year; already its page has nearly 20 million Likes on Facebook. Even though it was cautious about expanding and actively using its Facebook presence, the brand had made many Millennial-first moves, including becoming the first beer brand to put QR codes on its bottles, taking the Heineken experience beyond the bottle in-hand.

I’m a big advocate of measuring twice and cutting once, but I’m an equally big proponent of beating others to the punch. Heineken managed to do both by experimenting with emerging fields like mobile and Millennial marketing without trying to do too much, too soon with its core social media presence. The QR code gamble worked, as evidenced by the massive Facebook engagement once the brand decided it was time to expand its program on the network. As if that weren’t enough, Heineken now hopes to reach 500 million people with its newest commercial featuring Bond, James Bond. European beer brand that needs no introduction? European spy who needs no introduction? This is how you do marketing to a new generation that’s familiar with both but has allegiances to neither. Or no one, for that matter.


Speaking of British Things…

Jaguar is one of many major advertisers that faces the heritage brand conundrum. Reputation alone cannot keep a brand afloat forever, no matter how good its products are. Going straight for the younger crowd can alienate a core customer base, but aging core customer bases can’t keep brands relevant forever. This sounds like an insurmountable Catch-22, but Jaguar and other brands like Lincoln and Buick could do well to take a page from Cadillac’s book.

Caddy, once known for cushy Coupe deVilles popular with senior citizens and Snoop Dogg, began its “Art and Science” brand renaissance with the Escalade, which became the car of choice with hip hoppers and professional athletes. The angular design language and imposing hip persona made its way throughout the brand’s product offerings, while more marketing campaigns targeted customers Cadillac hadn’t seen in decades. A prominent Super Bowl spot featuring Led Zeppelin and a Cadillac tearing up twisty streets shocked the world to attention, while the grandpas who had already fallen asleep by that point in the game were not turned off from the brand by “that damn rock and roll.” The revolution continues as Cadillac continues to grow its youthful clientele. It’s able to release more edgy products as its average customer gets younger, which is a result of an impressive storytelling campaign that actually convinced self-respecting Millennials to walk through the door of a Cadillac dealership. (Note to younger readers who are wondering why that’s a big deal: ten years ago, nobody under age 65 bought a Cadillac. Seriously.)

Marketing Cadillac Cars to Millennials

Never Too Late for a Rewrite

Now there are several Caddies I’d actually love to have in my garage. I’d also love to have a garage. But I digress—Cadillac continues to attract world-renowned marketing talent as part of its impressive brand story rewrite. And Belstaff, the ninety-plus-year-old British apparel company, has the whole Instagram thing down after showing up quite late to the party. With calculated-but-ambitious plans and a careful, educational approach to social media campaigns, heritage brands can teach us all a thing or two about how to market to everyone without losing the current customers who made your brand what it is today.

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