Anyone who has ever studied American history knows the story of the Boston Tea Party, when in 1773 the colonists yelled “No taxation without Representation” and dumped British tea into the sea rather than pay tax for the tea. So here we are in 2010 and the Tea Party is suddenly back in the news, having an enormous impact on the recently held mid-term elections. One can argue that the name had nothing to do with the frustration of voters, many of them conservatives whose stomachs turned at many government initiatives to bail out the economy, more specifically the banks. These were also people that simply cannot get past Obamacare (the term used for President Obama’s new health care laws).
I am absolutely enthralled with the genius of the idea of creating a label for a body of voters that may have been lost in the two-party system, particularly in the Republican Party. It created the right identity for disenfranchised voters even if they weren’t from the ranks of the core dissidents who are dead set against government intervention in a free market system, even during a deep recession. In short, here was an old and stale product that suddenly got new life simply by changing the label.
The Tea Party phenomenon is an everyday challenge for marketers. What to do when an established brand shows regression? With broad awareness and a long history, dumping the brand is obviously not an option, although not unheard of. The question then becomes how to create the impression that something has changed when in fact it may have changed little or not at all.
There are some marketers that constantly caution that one should never allow a brand to go stale. They suggest constant updating and refreshing so that it does not lose out to newer and fresher brands that capture the attention of consumers, particularly younger ones. Even the Cokes and Pepsi’s of the world do not take their iconic status for granted and are constantly tweaking their image and their message so that they not lag behind their competitors.
Some companies have a great deal of success with re-introducing a product or brand as “New and Improved.” The assumption by the consumer is that something was done to the product to make it better. For those that are loyal to the product, it may prevent them for trying something else and for those customers that were never there, it is an opportunity to at least try the product. In marketing trial leads to awareness which hopefully leads to brand loyalty.
The retro approach used by the Tea Party people has also worked for many who have tried to re-invent themselves or the product. By identifying with something that is clearly historic or at least lingering somewhere in the conscience of consumers, it actually freshens the image. The down side for the Tea Party people was that many natural adherents would yawn at something that may not be clearly relevant in contemporary times. They made sure to instantly position the relevance and they benefited from adding a face to the concept in the person of Sara Palin.