As a consumer brand’s core customer base gets older, it’s inevitable that the brand itself will start to feel old as well. Some brands embrace the shift and smoothly transition from trendy mass darling to beloved old-timey classic. More often, though, brands have a difficult time accepting that their years in the sun have faded, and that hipper, trendier labels are taking over.
What’s particularly tricky about the attempts of old-fashioned brands to remain relevant and in-demand today is that millennials are notoriously difficult to reach with traditional marketing. Nonetheless, from NASCAR to Maxwell House Coffee and beyond, we’re seeing all manner of brands launching makeovers and tweaking old products to woo millennials, with varying degrees of success—and awkwardness.
As AdAge noted, Maxwell House coffee is 122 years old, and it’s “one of the retiree set’s favorite brands.” Instead of remaining focused on its core gray-haired customers, Kraft-owned Maxwell House has been trying to reach millennials, who love coffee but rarely brew their own at home and more rarely still drink it black. Kraft’s proposed concept to woo the flavored-coffee-loving youngsters is Maxwell House Ice Coffee Concentrates. They’re squeeze bottles that are poured over ice for instant iced coffee, in Caramel, Vanilla, and other flavors. “Think of it as Mio with caffeine,” the Chicago Business Journal explained.
The Marriott-owned extended-stay hotel is turning 40 in 2015, and like many turning the big 4-0 before it, the brand isn’t ready to embrace old fogey status. Instead, the chain is trying to inject some hipster cred with a new program called Residence Inn Mix, with guests encouraged to mix and mingle other business travelers on various “themed nights.”
Local food trucks show up every other Wednesday, for instance, and there are hangouts around fire pits. A few Residence Inn locations are also testing a pilot program involving an augmented reality technology called Blippar, in which guests are presented special “beverage coasters that allow them to unlock unique interactive experiences including multi-player trivia games, customizable selfies and premium Anheuser-Busch content including suggested food and beer pairings.” Food trucks, tech rewards, selfies: What more could a millennial want?
Why are DJs, go karts, and foam parties turning up at NASCAR races? The added side attractions are all about trying to turn the children of prototypical NASCAR Dads into NASCAR Kids. For instance, ticketholders for car races this summer at the Michigan International Speedway are simultaneously granted admission to Keloorah, a two-day festival that sounds a lot like a rave, with “live concerts, deejays, video games, tailgate games, foam parties and paint parties.”
There are also “dedicated spaces for hanging out with your friends even into the wee hours of 3 a.m.,” the Detroit Free Press reported. The overarching idea is that while millennials might not turn up for a plain old car racing event, they’ll be intrigued with a three-day festival that includes electronic dance music and late-night partying.
Ruth's Chris Steak House
The experience at this upscale steakhouse chain—butter-topped steak served in quiet, low-lit rooms draped in dark woods—is classic. But another way of saying “classic” is old-fashioned, and perhaps out of touch with what young people want today. To boost its sway among millennials and younger diners, Ruth’s Chris is undergoing a broad “Ruth’s 2.0” renovation at as many as 15 locations this year, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Some of the dark polished wood will disappear, to be replaced with hipper (and lighter) stone. Bigger bars and more open space will be added on patios too, because, you know the youngsters like to drink and socialize.
To avoid alienating the established clientele accustomed to the way things have always been at Ruth’s Chris, the changes will be subtle. And they’re not daring to get rid of the butter on the steaks.
Following the trend of other big travel companies introducing “hotel for millennials” concepts, Hyatt recently rolled out Hyatt Centric. The new hotel brand, with locations only in Chicago and Miami’s South Beach thus far but many more on the way, is targeted at younger customers who might otherwise use Airbnb because of a preference for city-center locations and a residential feel. Among other millennial-friendly amenities, Hyatt Centric guests always enjoy free wi-fi and are allowed to bring their pets, and the on-site lounge features “local flavors, artisanal cocktails and an occasional riff on an acoustic guitar.”
General Motors’ Oldsmobile brand was phased out more than a decade ago. But GM, and the entire auto industry for that matter, has been understandably concerned that millennials think car ownership in general is old-fashioned and out of date. To win over the millennial generation, which now accounts for one-quarter of new car sales, GM’s Chevy brand has launched huge social media campaigns not only on Twitter and Facebook, but Vine, Tumblr, Snapchat, and other “emerging” platforms. Specifically, Chevy is using social media to promote models like the Spark, Sonic, Trax, and Cruze, which are smaller, more affordable, and (presumably) more appropriate for millennials than other kinds of cars.
On the one hand, Good Humor is using nostalgia in the form of vintage ice cream trucks to give ice cream sales a boost this summer. While that should play well with “vintage” old-timers who remember when an ice pop cost a nickel, the Unilever-owned brand is simultaneously going for younger generations with a series of brightly-colored tricked-out ice cream trucks that blare Taylor Swift and Beyonce tunes instead of the ice cream jingles of yore. Perhaps inevitably, customers will be able to place orders with iPads at the new trucks too.
You’ve probably noticed that Colonel Sanders has made a comeback. While the return of KFC’s white-haired founder-mascot may not seem to have anything to do with millennials, the goofball humor of the new Colonel, now played by SNL veteran Darrell Hammond, certainly seems aimed at a new generation of consumers who may largely ignore KFC’s “finger lickin’ good” food. What’s more, the revamped Colonel is part of KFC’s larger hipster makeover that includes a screwball online video game in which players make Colonel Sanders punch people in the face and bounce babies off of trampolines.
The rise of hipper, or at least more organized thrift store chains like Savers and consignment shops has pushed stalwart thrift brands of old such as Goodwill to take a look in the mirror and try to appeal to a broader—and younger—base of consumers. A spokesman for a group of Goodwill locations in western New York recently explained that stores were undergoing upgrades such as improved lighting and more user-friendly layouts in order to attract “young families, college kids looking at getting really good branded products at a good price, do-it-yourselfers, just getting new shoppers to give us a shot.” In some cases, the buildings housing Goodwill stores have been upgraded, or are brand new construction rather than serving as the replacement when a fading retailer like Barnes & Noble or Toys R Us fails. Improvements at Goodwill stores seem to be the inspiration for upgrades to Salvation Army stores as well.
If any group is intrigued with tasting fast food monstrosities like Pizza Hut’s new hot dog pizza, it’s millennials. They’ve come of age as full-fledged foodies who welcome spice and quickly tire of the same-old, same-old. In addition to wacky creations like the hot dog pizza, Pizza Hut has been shooting for a youth surge with a radical new menu featuring a wide spectrum of crust, sauce, and “drizzle” dipping options, as well as gimmicks like this funky pizza box that turns into a film projector.