Friday, January 26, 2007

Dead can dance.

There is no more anguished proof that a brand is out of ideas than the plundering of its past. From “Hilltop” redux to Burger King’s creepy disinterring of The King to the zombified Orville Redenbacher (which is, like, mega-creepy), every time I see one of these acts of creative despair I think that the perpetrators should be banished to writing Johnson Boxes at the nearest junk mail sweatshop.

(Seriously, this Orville Redenbacher thing is macabre. Take a look. Then come back here.)

So the other day, I’m out for a stroll and a billboard for another brand resurrection catches my eye. As in, I literally did a double-take and reread it to see if I could find the inevitable stupidity. Nothing. The needle on my stupidity meter was almost motionless.

TaB is back. And might possibly be cool.

To be exact, it’s a newish product called TaB Energy, and its proposition is, “Fuel to be Fabulous.” And the Coke folks have pulled off a pretty neat positioning trick with it. To start with, they’ve actually found some white space in the insanely cluttered beverage category: an energy drink for women. And I don’t mean the “hear me roar” variety. This is aimed at the modern sort who, besides being emancipated and empowered corporate executives and rock-climbing marathon runners, also like to read trashy magazines, collect cheap sunglasses and look cute when the mood suits them. It's Red Bull for for the girl power crowd.

But wait, you’re thinking. Didn’t TaB die ignominiously in the last century, a victim of its own obsolete pre-feminist positioning and possibly evil saccharine? In its final days, wasn’t it shorthand for antediluvian feminine vanity? Well, yeah. But, see, they’ve actually made that work for them. There’s an inviting sense of playful, pink irony about the whole thing that somehow seems to acknowledge that maybe, finally, we have come a long way, baby.

(TaB is, of course, no stranger to irony, or the subject of fabulousness for that matter. Consider this, taken with ruthless disregard for context, from Andy Warhol’s 'America': “You can see a billboard for TaB and think: Nancy Reagan drinks TaB , Gloria Vanderbilt drinks TaB . Jackie Onassis drinks TaB, and just think, you can drink TaB too. TaB is TaB and no matter how rich you are, you can’t get a better one than the homeless woman on the corner is drinking. All the TaBs are the same. And all the TaBs are good. Nancy Reagan knows it, Gloria Vanderbilt knows it, Jackie Onassis knows it, Katharine Hepburn knows it, the bag lady knows it, and you know it.” And it doesn’t get any cooler than Andy Warhol, right?)

If you snoop around their web site a bit, you’ll see that things kind of fall apart with the rather-too-perfect models in the photographs and the “Fabulous is…” philosophical stuff. Fabulousness needs neither explanation nor apologia, nor does it need some kind of presumptuous role model lecturing us on confidence to sanction it. Dove has that covered, thanks.

Even I, a mere oafish man, know that fabulousness is a state of mind and that earnestness is its kryptonite.

But out there in ad land, TaB Energy has got the thing just about dialed. I’m going to enjoy sitting back and watching this reincarnation.

And I guarantee you I won’t be eating popcorn while I’m doing it.


Stuart said...

So Cowboy, I don't get if you love this or hate this. Is re-birthing an old brand desperation or enlightenment? You seem to be waxing both ways here (course that could be l'il old me).

Personally, when I first saw TaB back on the shelves a few months back I thought "smart". Take some vague awareness and reshape it. Why not?

Likewise for "Raisin Bran" regurgitating "Old Danny McGee, up his 59th tree"? Heck, who can't remember and sing that? Maybe it doesn't inculcagte deep brand meaning, but it sure gets you singing about frickin' Raisin Bran. Or PEI's "Eight-double-zero, 5-6-5..." (okay, maybe that was just in the Maritimes but still, I would challenge you to find one person of a certain age who can't rhyme it off by heart).

Anyway, I'd say that dusting off the old brand or creative is mostly an acknowlegment of work done right the first time and tossed in to the trash bin for what was likely the wrong reason.

- Stuart

BrandCowboy said...

Boy, that's a more generous generalization than I'd be willing to utter. Yes, sometimes that 'work done right the first time' thing is true. Often for packaged goods brands, where the benefit is functional and the objective is to create a habit. And, as in the case of TaB, I think that leveraging a long standing brand equity can be really smart (remember, the product has changed, here, too). And there are times when continuity is a good thing because tradition is part of the brand's value.

But there are times, amigo - and I hate to break this to you - when brands or their ad agencies simply have nothing to say. They're out of ideas. Embarrassed by what their brands or ad campaigns have become. In a standoff because the client won't let them do dirty jokes. Then, reaching back is lame. Intellectual grave robbing. The TaB thing is cool. Orville is sad and weird.

Not every reference to a brand's past is weak minded and disrespectful. But as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said about pornography, "I know it when I see it."

Stuart said...

Fair enough :)