Global Practices

Understanding Brand Reinvention. Literally and Figuratively.



Brand reinvention may be harder than brand invention. Just ask J.C. Penney. Or MySpace. Or Superman.

People don’t just vote with their wallets. They use every platform at their disposal to campaign against you if they disagree with where you’re headed. Haven’t seen many new logos since Gap unveiled a new one two years ago, have you?

With recent brand restages generating a lot of conversation, we decided to share our thoughts on how to stay relevant in this up-to-the-second age.


Most of what I find worth knowing, I learned from superheroes. Branding is no different.

They don’t look it, but superheroes are old. Superman is 75. Spider-Man is 50. For a city so enamored with youth, Hollywood loves them. And for good reason. To date, only 15 movies have ever grossed more than $1 billion worldwide. Three of them star superheroes.

In America, leaked scripts and set photos tend to break the Internet. Should Spider-Man have mechanical or organic web shooters? Should Superman’s costume have red underpants or not? These were conversations that actually happened among a very passionate, involved fan base.

You can respect your brand’s history without being beholden to it. Fans accept certain liberties. But understand your spirit and know the untouchable. Baby Kal-el has to land in Kansas, not Chicago. Peter Parker is a science geek, not a quarterback, before that spider bite. Know your fans, both the casual and the passionate.

When he was introduced, Superman didn’t fly. He could only leap tall buildings in a single bound. Iron Man was never as funny in comic books as RDJ made him on screen, which has led to a reinvention of the character in all mediums. Brand evolution should always add to what makes your brand great, rather than subtract a fundamental reason why people love your brand in the first place.


I think that reviving a brand is like resetting a relationship.

There are lots of reasons why relationships break. Someone gets distracted. Things get stale. Someone gets angry. Disappointed. Frustrated. We’ve all experienced a friendship we’ve outgrown or that we just don’t find time for.

It’s natural. We’re human. And we need to remember that, increasingly, people expect brands to behave like human beings, not faceless entities. So what do you do when it’s time to reinvigorate your brand’s relationship with people?

I’ve seen people re-establish or reinvigorate relationships by finding shared values and building from there – on many levels of sentiment.

To do that, companies need to dig deep. Figure out who they are. What they stand for. Then find common ground between people so that they can find a relevant and meaningful way to engage.


So, when it comes to refreshing a brand, men are from Krypton and women are from Venus?


Exactly. If I were a brand looking to reinvent, I’d do three things. Look back at who I was. Decide on the changes that I want to make and who I want to be. Then, make a commitment to my significant others that the changes I’m making are for the better.

There needs to be talk – a communications strategy that shares all the new to come – and actions. You have to find a way to operationalize so the experience matches the promise. The last thing anyone wants to feel is that their partner is lying to them.


Every great hero has a vulnerability. Kryptonite. A weak heart. Magic. Whatever. If you’re going to evolve, understand your weaknesses. Avoid stretching into a place where you’re just not very strong.

Superman shouldn’t fight street level thugs because that’s not what people want to see. They want to see a guy who can move some planets do just that: move some planets. This is the same reason a place like The Gap shouldn’t try to open a coffee bar. People expect clothes from clothing stores. They already have plenty of places to get great coffee.

Beth Engelmann is managing director and Alan Kercinik is group creative director of Edelman’s Consumer Marketing practice. Follow Alan on Twitter @AlanKercinik.

Image by JD Hancock.
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