Sometimes It Ain't Broke

Change is all around us, and it can often feel that if you don't change, then somehow you or your business can't possibly be advancing. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the world of marketing, where people never seem to be content with success and where re-engineering brands and messaging can feel like a sport.

As the revolving door in the marketing suite spins faster, each new entrant feels obligated to blow up whatever came before, no matter how good or how successful, and to apply their own stamp in the form of change. A new CMO, a new campaign. A new Minister of Tourism, a new campaign. A new agency, a new campaign. A new year, a new campaign.

Al Ries recently described this very thing in the brilliant piece he wrote, "Marketing Sense Isn't the Same as Common Sense," in which he cited the misguided changes engineered by the folks at Little Caesars as they abandoned their long-running "Pizza.Pizza." campaign and subsequently turned a market leader into an also-ran.



His blunt conclusion: "What was wrong with Little Caesars in the 1990s is what's wrong with too many companies today. They tinker with new ideas when they should be hammering the ideas that already exist in consumers' minds. Once a brand is established with a clearly defined marketing position, the brand's owner should ask a fundamental question before making any significant changes. Why tinker with success?"

It's a lesson that more of us in the travel space need to be contemplating the next time someone suggests blowing up your brand story.

For years, the islands of the Bahamas had marched to success with a great line, "It's Better in the Bahamas." It was memorable, simple and an ideal platform from which to tell the country's unique story in an infinite number of ways. But as often happens, the marketing people tired of it and before long it had become "It's Hip to Hop to the Bahamas," which was soon replaced by several equally forgettable lines through the years. So perhaps it's no accident that the Bahamas has ultimately returned to the line that had found its way into the consumer's mind, for once again "It's Better in the Bahamas."

For those of us living in the Northeast, you couldn't avoid hearing the Foxwoods Resort Casino ads that had jazz singer John Pizzarelli crooning, "The Wonder of it All," a catchy tune that was the centerpiece of a campaign that carried the property to some of the most successful years in its history. In fact, Pizzarelli was known to add the song to his concert shows because it had become so requested and well-known.

But when the Foxwoods marketing department was largely retooled and new people came on board, they decided to sing a new tune. Literally. And with it they threw away a valuable piece of their brand equity. Perhaps realizing the error of its ways, Foxwoods recently tried to run an "American Idol"-flavored contest to find a new version of the song, and the new campaign has returned to "The Wonder of it All," but in a version that doesn't grab your attention or have you sing along like the original.

Need more examples?

A wonderful New England resort in a rush to contemporize itself and attract a younger customer has abandoned all its rich history and traditions and made its story infinitely less interesting and compelling for people of any age. And, there's a well-known travel publication that has introduced four different taglines in the past 10 years.

Sometimes it almost seems as if we're flying too close to the sun and become blinded to our own stories. Like a carefully carved piece of wood molding that we find ourselves applying a fresh coat of paint to each year, to the point where today you can no longer distinguish the detail that made the molding memorable in the first place.

In a world that's rapidly changing, sometimes the best thing to do is stay the course. To look toward building upon those things that are already working. To leverage the equity that has been gained in messaging and marketing assets that you've already made significant investments in. And, to further trigger those brand messages that have begun to take hold in the consumers' mind.

So the next time you contemplate changing your brand story, do as Mr. Ries suggests.

Ask why?

4 comments about "Sometimes It Ain't Broke ".
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  1. Steven Kirstein from OnProcess Technology, December 6, 2010 at 1:34 p.m.

    One of the few times Mr. Ries has been correct :)

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 6, 2010 at 3:30 p.m.

    Since when you think this is new or limited to the travel industry? A tag line must roll "trippingly on the tongue" and be able to be its own sentence (thought). If the travel industry wants to increase business, make sure they have 2 beds in a room. There are millions of single people who will travel together including resorts, are not couples and will not pay for 2 rooms.

  3. Adam Hartung from spark partners, December 6, 2010 at 3:53 p.m.

    It's the easiest thing in the world to tell a company (or client) to do "more of the same." It's lowest cost, and most comfortable. But it all really depends upon performance. I'm from Chicago, and not familiar with most of the examples given. But I do know that "pizza, pizza" became synonymous with "cheap and crappy, cheap and crappy" to the point people preferred frozen pizza to Little Caesars.

    When programs stall, change is needed. Maybe it's enough to update an old campaign (new rendition of the theme song, or new graphics to an old phrase.) Because it is far more common that a company/brand "stay too long at the party" investing more and more in a tired campaign with weak results than jumping into a new campaign before a brand loses momentum.

    CEOs (even more than marketers) like to keep costs low. They don't like spending on new materials, hoping to get another cycle out of something old. "Consistency" becomes the cry, when what's needed is something entirely new. While the examples here may have merit, I'd be very careful about applying the logic too often. The world is a very dynamic place, and it's the rare brand that can stand up to the winds of environmental change for very long. Read more about consistency vs. change at Forbes mag

  4. David Aaker from, December 6, 2010 at 5:12 p.m.

    THere is a bias toward change that should be resisted because consistency over time has a huge payoff. But that doesn't mean that a program should be continued that was never successful or is no longer successful because the target market or value propositon has changed or it has become tired or dated. The trick is to tell whether a change is warrented and will result in something better. In my book Building Strong Brands, I have a chapter on this topic. There is no question it is a key and underappreciated issue.

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