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Reviving Old Brands

There seems to be a renaissance of seasoned names working to reinvent their brands afoot.

Coca-Cola recently named its new marketing chief: Charles Fruit. Fruit, 57, was picked by Chief Executive E. Neville Isdell, who hopes he'll help find new ways to reach consumers. Fruit said he planned to tighten coordination among Coke marketers worldwide. He was a key figure in shaping Coke's current media strategy, including sponsoring "American Idol" and aligning with the Olympics.

Meanwhile, McDonald's indicates that it is abandoning the universal message concept. Larry Light, the fast-food chain's chief marketing officer, said mass marketing no longer works, and that he plans to create ad communications that, over time, can tell the whole story about the brand. The company also planned to deliver its "I'm Lovin' It" message in four cultural languages: sports, fashion, music and entertainment. Will the company also reinvent its clown mascot Ronald McDonald?

And Unilever unveiled a new corporate logo in May — and plans to start using it on packaging next year.

Established brands, like old floors, can occasionally use a good polish. But these instances raise two questions: When and how?

When did Coke decide to put some of the fizz back into the brand? How is McDonald's going to deliver its message in new ways? Will brands slip to a lower category over time on the love-respect axis? (Subscribers and newsstand readers can gain immediate access to that article.) Marketing strategies are certainly not solely at the whim of CMOs.

At the same time, does it matter at all? Coke will taste the same, and so will McDonald's cheeseburgers. My Unilever beauty soap may arrive in a new package, but that will still end up in the recycle bin, and the soap will smell the same. As brand managers, we may study these cases with zeal. But as consumers, we might very well say, "Whatever." Is this split personality the result of our consumer-driven era?