Can You Teach an Old Brand New Tricks?

I am a rather nostalgic guy- like many people I am drawn to the past. Things like retro architecture of baseball stadiums, classic ad campaigns, and branding from days gone by remind us of the past. To this day, I laugh when I think of the Calgon laundry detergent commercial in which a Chinese dry cleaners owner claims his cleaning formula is an “ancient Chinese secret” but his wife exposes him as a fraud… Calgon is his secret!

Another brand from the past that is at a crossroads in its history is Duck Head. The apparel brand has a heritage that dates back to 1865. However, the brand actually disappeared from the market when its owner, Goody’s Family Clothing, went out of business in 2009. The brand has been licensed by Eagle Dry Goods of Nashville (where the company originated) and returned to market. The obvious question now is whether Duck Head will succeed in connecting with men like me who wore the brand as a teen and young adult as well as capture the attention of that same market today.

For a brand with a heritage story like Duck Head, there are two key criteria that it will have to meet in order to gain traction in the market: 1) Be relevant to its target market and 2) differentiate the brand from the myriad of apparel options that men have. Relevance will be easier to establish with “alumni” who are familiar with Duck Head and wore its products in the past.

For the young male market, achieving relevance will be more challenging. It will take more than having a Facebook page and Twitter feed to be “cool.” Duck Head must figure out how to integrate the brand with young males’ lifestyles. For example, linking the brand with a Southern tradition like college football is a strategy that could raise consciousness of Duck Head among young males. Differentiation will be even more challenging- Duck Head must create a niche related to its relevance. Perhaps it is tapping the Southern traditions theme, or it can be done through linking the brand with a greater aim, as it has done with Soles 4 Souls, a charity that donates gently used shoes to people in need.

The bottom line question for a consumer in Duck Head’s target market is “Why should I buy your brand?” Right now, Duck Head is just another brand vying for attention. It must succeed in working its way into the lifestyles of the audience it seeks to reach. The nostalgia buff in me hopes Duck Head succeeds- I am ready to buy. The marketer in me is more skeptical, but if the brand can leverage its heritage to be a lifestyle brand it will prove that you can teach an old brand new tricks.

The Tennessean - "Can Duck Head Rise Again?"

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