The Press, October 2008

Georgie Pie is back! Sort of.

Last month the beloved pie brand was temporarily revived in Christchurch by a pair of local broadcasting students. The success of this initiative says a lot about the power of brands in selling products.

Started in the 1970s, Georgie Pie was a fast food chain owned by supermarket chain Progressive Enterprises that grew to prominence in the 1990s. According to the The Press, it was selling 700,000 pies a week before being closed down by new owner McDonalds in 1998.

New Zealand Broadcasting students Drew Chappell and Gareth Thorne organised a Christchurch bakery to turn out 350 of the famous pies as a part of a documentary they were producing.

The pies sold out in 50 minutes, with a number of people coming from out of town especially to recreate their Georgie Pie experience. 13,000 have joined Chappell and Thorne’s Facebook group calling for the return of the much-loved chain.

“Retromarketing”, the practice of reintroducing or reinvigorating brands is growing in strength. A famous recent example is the relaunch of the VW Beetle in the late 1990s. An iconic vehicle brand which had almost died, was injected with a new life and a new design, attracting good sales.

A number of firms in the USA specialise in acquiring ‘dead brands’ and reintroducing them to the market. A recent New York Times article focused on a host of brands that were being brought back to life by these companies.

“In most cases we’re dealing with a brand that only exists as intellectual property,” says Paul Earle, founder of a company called River West that tries to breathe life into old brands. “There’s no retail presence, no product, no distribution, no trucks, no plants. Nothing. All that exists is memory. We’re taking consumers’ memories and starting entire businesses.”

An example they outline is a coffee brand called Brim (marketed under the slogan ‘Fill it to the rim – with Brim!’). Acquired by a multinational in the 1990s, the thirty year old brand was retired, but has been purchased by River West who plan to start selling Brim coffee again.

Why are they bothering?

It’s because of what you could call the Princess Di effect. A vast majority of people can remember where they were and what they were doing when the people’s princess died. It’s the same for many other seminal events.

The reason people can recall these events so clearly is the emotion associated with them. Feelings of joy, anger, anger, sadness, delight and so on help us remember things more clearly.

As Bill Schley and Carl Nichols write in their excellent book Johnny Can’t Brand, “. . . the power, clarity and endurance of memory is directly proportional to the amount of emotion attached to it. Emotion is the fuel that powers memory . . .”

To return to Brim coffee, research done by River West showed that of Americans over 25, 92% had heard of the brand. This awareness represents a multimillion dollar investment in promotion, acquired for a lot less.

Of course brand awareness is not enough, you still have to be able to offer a good product, at a competitive price and an easy means of access. But an emotional connection to your brand is a strong contributor to a successful brand.

The strength of this emotional bond to brands is clear in the recent controversy over Cadbury Schweppes’ decision to stop making Snifters, Tangy Fruits and Sparkles. Cut in response to diminishing sales, the multinational must have been surprised by the strong consumer reaction. Facebook groups sprang up, a Savethesnifter website emerged and the company’s Dunedin base was picketed.

The reason for this reaction wasn’t the nice green coating of the snifter, the chewy centre of the Tangy Fruits or the pretty wrapping on Sparkles. It was largely described in terms of emotion. Happy memories of sitting in the cinema with friends rolling Tangy Fruits down the aisle; sharing Snifters with your new girlfriend; or Mum treating you to a packet of Sparkles as a young child.

It is hard to say whether these brands are being discontinued because Cadbury hasn’t bothered to invest in them, or they have just gone out of fashion. But it is clear they will live on the minds of consumers, and be remembered for a long time to come.

What does this mean for a company marketing their products? Can emotion be attached to the brand of a nut and bolt, an accounting practice or a funeral home?

Of course. Both the nut and bolt and the accountants can make you feel safe, a great funeral director conveys respect for you and your loved one. The ability to make these connections helps people remember your brand over others – particularly when there is not much difference in price, product features and distribution channels.

Georgie Pie restaurants might not replace your local Burger King any time soon, but the emotions it engenders in Kiwis will ensure it won’t be forgotten for a long time to come.

Owen Scott is from technology marketing consultants Concentrate Limited. He was shifting house when Princess Di died.

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