Plenty of big brands no longer exist today that, not so long ago, were household names. Think Pan Am, Blockbuster Video and Compaq to name a few. It can happen to the best of them.

But, perhaps more interesting, are the household names that teetered on the edge of that list, brands that faced extinction as a result of failed product launches or simply failing to understand their customers and their markets.

Here we take a look at how 3 renaissance brands have re-invented themselves. It’s possible to stare into the abyss and come all the way back.

Lego

From the brink of collapse to the world’s #1 brand

Lego is the most powerful brand in the world today, but rewind 20 years and things looked very different for the Danish company. In 2000, Lego was on the brink, losing market share to its rivals. Sales were down some 40% and debts had piled up as high at $1bn.

Lego had become too complicated. Over the years it had become distracted by the success of its rivals, attempting (and failing) to imitate Mattel and Hasbro, the company expanded their inventory of toys, listed 13,000 brick types in 50 different colours and opened new ventures like theme parks that became financial black holes.

Then came the turnaround. In 2004 new CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp took lego back to basics: he halved its inventory of bricks, stripped out non-core ventures like its theme parks and, for the first time, put its fans at the heart of its business.

Lego executives engaged for the first time with children, child psychologists observed how they played with the bricks, and the product teams began to carry out research into different target groups, building insights into new segments like young girls and adult fans of lego (or AFOLs as they’re known) that could be a rich source of growth.

The results have been astonishing. Lego is now the world’s number one toy maker and in the US, it’s sales topped $1bn in 2015 for the very first time.

Why we love it: Consumer insights drove Lego’s turnaround. They came to understand that what consumers loved about Lego was that it inspired creativity.  It wasn’t about imitating Hasbro or producing the next ‘must have toy’ or piggybacking on movie franchises (although that doesn’t hurt). Children (and adults) wanted the basic building blocks of creativity and the freedom to let their imaginations do the rest.

Old Spice

From your grandad’s brand to ‘the man your man could smell like’

There was a time when you wanted to make an ‘old man’ joke to your dad and the punchline would have included Old Spice. The 80-year-old fragrance brand had been a favorite for decades, but by the mid-90s it was beginning to smell stale. Sales declined rapidly as young consumers saw it as their dad’s or even their grandad’s brand.

And no young man wants to smell like their dad, right?

In the mid-00s P&G hired creative agency Wieden & Kennedy to introduce a fresh identity for Old Spice.

Their research found that being ‘old’ wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, their target consumers valued brands with heritage, but when it came to Old Spice, the brand identity simply wasn’t resonating with younger consumers compared to rivals like Axe.

And so, Old Spice’s now iconic ads were born. ‘Smell like a man, man’ dialed the masculinity up to 11 with former NFL player Isaiah Amir Mustafa speaking directly to female viewers claiming he was ‘the man your man could smell like’.

It worked, and sales of Old Spice soared, not just recapturing its market share but gaining new ground as sales grew 125%.

Why we love it: First, P&G understood their buyers; they found more than 50% of men’s bodywash was bought by women, driving the decision to have Mustafa speak directly to them in their advertising. Second, they understood the brand experience men wanted. They didn’t change the product, simply the brand messaging and the experience they built around the brand. And they executed it all in a tongue-in-cheek style, self-deprecating humor that resonated with their audience in a way they hadn’t done for decades.

Nintendo

A former heavyweight back at the top of its game

In 1989, Nintendo was the undisputed king of gaming. It dominated arcades in the 70s with Super Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong, owned the home in the 80s with its NES and SNES consoles, and launched the most successful handheld platform with the GameBoy in 1989.

But in the late 90s things started to go wrong. Sony launched the PlayStation 2 with better graphics, complex storylines, and immersive gameplay combining to make it the best selling console of all time.

In comparison, the 2D graphics, predictable gameplay, and a tired stable of game franchises left Nintendo struggling to keep up as Sony appealed to a new generation of older, more affluent gamers who had grown up with Nintendo but now abandoned the brand in droves.

A series of failed products followed over the following decade – the Wii aside which, while not quite keeping up with Sony, did provide a brief spike in sales.

But in 2017, Nintendo was back with the Switch, the year’s hottest gadget that beat the record for first year sales set by Sony’s PS2 all those years ago.

In the intervening years mobile gaming had grown exponentially. Many consumers now essentially had two consoles – their smartphones and their TV console. Nintendo had spotted the gap – what if a console could be both? And it was – the Switch does exactly as the name suggests, simply dock it at home to play a TV console, take it out and you have a handheld console that trumps anything your phone can offer.

Why we love it: In retrospect, Nintendo’s move seems obvious – bring two huge segments together with a single device. Executing on that is much harder, but Nintendo learned from previous product failures, addressing customer criticisms around third-party games and access to the latest titles. Plus, the product is designed to be completely frictionless as users switch between TV console and on-the-go-gaming – something they needed to get right if they were to tempt gamers to consolidate to a single console.

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