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06/02/00 - Running On Empty

Consistency is critical in building relationships for any brand. In fact, sometimes, if a brand's personality is well established, it can coast along in memories for years without any support.

Several years ago, I encountered this phenomenon in a focus group discussing First Alert smoke detectors. Most participants believed the brand's current advertising featured TV detective William "Cannon" Conrad.

In reality, Conrad hadn't appeared in a First Alert commercial for over a decade. He was so strongly linked with the brand during its introduction in the 70s that many people swore they'd recently seen spots with him (doubly impossible since he was also dead).

The Conrad campaign carried as much weight has he did (he also starred in "Jake and the Fat Man"). It tipped the recall scales in its favor over any subsequent First Alert advertising.

Of course, this is hardly unique case. Who can remember any of the 15 years of Charmin advertising that doesn't feature Mr. Whipple? I wonder if it would have had any impact on sales if Proctor and Gamble completely stopped advertising Charmin during the years between Whipple's "retirement" and his comeback last year.

There are products that once had very visible campaigns, but haven't had media support for years. Yet their brand identities live on in the minds of consumers old enough to remember them.

For instance, the wine cooler category was a creative showcase when it was introduced in the '80s. The Bartles & James campaign swept the ad award competitions. For a while, there seemed to be a new spot every week featuring those two geezers thanking us for our support.

Today, in the absence of any ad support, the characters have "bought the farm" (perhaps in real life, too). Yet their spirits continue to haunt the product.

Remember the "Nupe it with Nuprin" campaign? If you do, you have a good memory because that product hasn't made a media appearance since the early 90s. Yet it still survives on the market.

I haven't seen a Crazy Glue commercial for years, but the construction worker stuck to on an I-beam demo sticks in our memories, with a thumbnail illustration on the packaging prompting recall.

The brand identities of these advertising orphans were frozen in time with their last campaign (which was often their first). Ironically, this actually provided them with more long-term stability than having their identities reinvented every year.

In a traditional media sense, it may seem brands like these are running on empty. But the mnemonics they've tapped into consumers' minds will fuel their success for years to come.