About ex-communist brands, once again

About ex-communist brands
For Ioana Moga – Answers for the Master Design and Branding Strategy, Revitalization of Communist Brands in Eastern Europe, Brunel University, London

First of all, I should start by making an observation. In the communist era, it is difficult to talk about brands, we should rather call them trademarks. Brands exist in a competitive market where there are comparison and free choice. As the market was being controlled by the state, the product/service brands existed, but there was no real form of branding. There were only names and packaging. In general, they were unique in their category. Another feature was the regionalization of the brands due to the economic planning of that time but with a few exceptions. Ursus was a beer that was only consumed in Cluj-Napoca and two other counties, Timișoareana was only consumed in Timiș County and so on. Only a few brands were” national”, such as: Carpati (a cigarette brand), Roma (a chocolate brand) or Borsec (a mineral water brand).

1. What do you think are the reasons why the revitalization of these brands works?

There are enough examples of revitalized brands in Romania and in eastern countries, as there are examples of failed brands as well. The reasons behind the successful revitalization could be:

– nostalgia, among groups of consumers who have had the experience of those brands in the past and to whom it awakens memories with pleasant or at least neutral connotations; let us not forget that in general the products/services from the communist period has a poor quality; because of this, there are present more emotional motivations (values, attributes) rather than tangible ones – the real improvement of quality and the comparative presentation with the ”past”, explicit or only implicit, ”between the lines”;

– solid business and brand strategies that have almost completely changed that particular brand, possibly, keeping only the name and/or elements that were essential for that band in order to make a” heritage/vintage” connection. For example: Ursus, Timișoreana, Ciucas (all of them are beer brands) and Rom (a chocolate brand);

– ‘coolness’, for groups of young consumers who did not know the brands directly, but for whom the purchase and association with them may be at least ‘interesting’ in terms of the personal image in the groups in which they are present; the association with revitalized” vintage” brands have always been a preference of young people.

2. So far we have identified three types of strategies that have been used to revitalize ex-communist brands:

Strategies that use the nostalgic feeling aroused by these brands – Ex .: Napoca Ice Cream – 2007; Strategies that use both nostalgia and humor with reference to the communist period – Ex .: ROM – 2005, Bucegi – 2002; A total repositioning of the brand, with minimal reference to the past and heritage of the brand – Ex .: Kandia (a chocolate brand)- 2003.
What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of these strategies?

Advantage: emotional resonance.
Disadvantage: potential risk among young consumers.
Bucegi (a pate brand) used this strategy and failed.
Nostalgia and humor: usually slightly self-ironic, but with a modernized brand.
Advantage: good mood, relaxation, assurance of new quality.
Disadvantage: may fall into disgrace, derisory.
Total repositioning.
The best and most successful example is Ursus. Other brands that can also be included in the category of brands that were successful are: Ciucaș, Timișoreana, Borsec, Dero (a detergent brand) and Rom. Cico (a juice brand) has registered major failures. There are multiple advantages – a total repositioning with minimal references to” tradition” and past allows multiple possibilities for upgrading the brand while attaching new attributes to it. It is a courageous attitude that not many have had the guts to do.

3. What product categories do you think can be used for these strategies?
In general, consumer products because they were, in a sense, the only communist” brands”. Be careful to differentiate between trademark and brand. As there can be seen on the market, there are not many examples and the vast majority refer to drinks: beer, juice, mineral water, with a few exceptions such as ROM. The vast majority of services were non-branded and were considered to be inefficient and made of poor quality, being directly related to state management. The only brand, or rather a relatively viable brand that has continued its post-communist existence, is CEC (a national bank), which is recently trying to revitalize itself. This revitalization is, in my opinion, debatable. My opinion about CEC can be found here: https://www.dailybusiness.ro/stiri-media-marketing/stiri-media-marketing/opinie-bogdan-branzas-strutocamila-cec-29031 We also meet, in isolated cases, brands that through their tangible characteristics imposed themselves and remained on the market. In this case, the list is quite short. I can mention Gerovital (a cosmetics brand), but Romanian cosmetics are an extremely widowed category in the current market. One of my opinion on this topic can be found here: https://www.dailybusiness.ro/stiri-media-marketing/stiri-media-marketing/bogdan-branzas-despre-branding-ul-in-industria-cosmeticelor-untura-la-pret -redus-27361. One of the problems raised by the use of nostalgia in the revitalization process strategies is that it targets mainly the consumer who has had direct experiences with the brand in the past. How do you think the young consumer could be attracted using the nostalgic feeling? Indeed, the best resonance might be with target groups that have had experiences with the product/trademark in the past. However, it is a delicate category because they have experienced many problems with those particular products/trademarks and must be regained through tangible attributes, quality and communication. The nostalgia may work in the young segment but it is much more impulsive and reacts to brand strategies built on modernity, humor, fun while being a more unstable segment in shopping habits. An example is the alcoholic products Prodvinalco (a company that produces alcoholic beverages): R26 and V33 (two types of alcoholic beverages that are similar to vodka) which are very” cool” to drink at parties with big bottles of beer. Do you think that using humor increases the chances of targeting a younger consumer? Yes, of course. See above.

4. How do you think the transition can be made from an old brand to a” vintage”,” cool” one?
First of all, the business must be rethought, this should be the starting point. They must realize that the market and the collective mentalities of the twenty-first century imposes certain customs when (re)launching products on the market from the point of view of quality and identity, both as a product and as packaging. Once these are solved, one can move on to building a brand strategy through partial or total reinvention, attaching new attributes and values to the brand. These future brands compete with international ones that are well known by consumers which will always compare the existing brands.

5. One of the most common negative associations of these brands is the quality that leaves much to be desired. How do you think this perception can be changed?
This perception can be changed by improving quality and tangible attributes. This is mandatory. It has to be part of the business strategy. Otherwise, any form of branding and communication is superfluous as the consumers might feel deceived again.

6. In terms of visual identity, how do you think these brands should be redesigned? (logo, packaging, etc.) There are several main ways.
– Minimal redesign, cleaning of visual ballast and refreshing the quality of materials and packaging execution while keeping most of the symbols, colours, fonts, ratios and proportions.
– Major redesign of brand identifiers (brand name, symbol) and preservation of the original layout. This is a transitional approach in my opinion.
– Total redesign of the brand identity and packaging in all aspects keeping minimal references to the ”original” past: the name, a colour combination, possibly a symbol.

7. Do you think that a total change of the brand’s graphic past is recommended?
This is the third situation that I have listed above. We did this with Ursus and it was a successful decision. Of course, there were successive stages of modernization and change, but at this moment, if we compare it with Ursus from twenty years ago, we find only the name and symbol of the bear – which was also radically redesigned. The same thing happened in the case of Borsec. The example of Ursus is very good for brand and design management. For almost 15 years since its relaunch, the brand has been paying constant attention to evolution, consumer and market research and changing strategies and packaging accordingly.

8. How do you think these products should be reintroduced to the market? (lots of advertising, creating word of mouth, promotional activities, etc.)
It is hard to offer a recipe. It is important to note that it is a process that lasts and success does not appear in the first year after the (re)launch of a brand. I noticed that this is the most common mistake – the belief that once the packaging is redesigned, the success is assured immediately. On the contrary, brand and design management are key activities that together with the active communication measures, chosen according to the target groups they address, will (re) impose the brand in the end. The success rate, as can be seen, is not very high.