Skip to content

Burberry Reinventing The Brand Case Study

 

Much ink has been spilled, in print and otherwise, on Burberry’s comeback from what many branding experts thought was a mortal wound. In the 2000s, the brand became inextricably linked with “chav culture”, a stereotype of the British working class that sent sales plummeting. Burberry had been a brand for the country aristocrat; inextricably tied with genteel pursuits. When Burberry decided to turn things around, they didn’t try to go back to the country house. They capitalized on their history to rebrand—and tell a new brand story—as a fashion-forward, upscale and glamorous brand that epitomized contemporary Britain.

Burberry always had a sharp eye for marketing. Its’ founder, Thomas Burberry, worked hard to ensure that Victorian luminaries like Robert Baden-Powell wore Burberry gabardine weatherproofs. Burberry outfitted several explorers and daredevils, outfitting Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition. With the arrival of the First World War, Burberry outfitted British troops in a garment that was christened the “trench coat”.

Now firmly associated with the well-heeled outdoorsy set, the brand was assured of a posh, albeit staid, clientele. Burberry adopted a logo of a knight with the Latin motto “Prorsum”, meaning “forwards”.

As in many branding missteps, it had begun innocently enough. In 2001, they had hired the gifted Christopher Bailey away from Gucci’s womenswear division. Bailey had been key to injecting sex appeal into a conservative brand, making Kate Moss the face of Burberry. Burberry was suddenly, and unexpectedly, cool.

Looking to capitalize on their success, Burberry extensively licensed their products. It provided a cash injection, but opened the door to downmarket imitation. When Angela Ahrendts took over in 2008, the brand was in trouble.

Ahrendts said that one of her first jobs was to take back control of Burberry’s intellectual property. However, simply removing the check from dog beds wasn’t sufficient; Burberry needed a new story, and like all prime storytellers, they started by understanding their audience. Burberry’s customers are now increasingly based overseas, with exploding demand in China. In order to take back their brand, they simply couldn’t turn back the clock. They needed to tell their story how they were moving forward, but in an authentic way that took the best aspects of the existing brand identity with them.

So, how did Burberry turn things around?

They embraced innovation.

Bailey cites Apple as the brand that inspires his conception of Burberry. Bailey, with Ahrendts’ support, moved Burberry aggressively into the digital space at a time when many design houses saw elaborate websites as liabilities. This sparked innovation. As the Telegraph reported:

‘Burberry in 2005 meant British and plaid,’ says Maureen Mullen, the director of research and advisory for L2, a think tank for digital innovation, which recently named Burberry the top-ranked brand in its Digital IQ Index for the second consecutive year. ‘That brand now, in the minds of consumers, means British, plaid – and innovation.’

Burberry embraced social media, livestreaming of fashion shows and digital engagement with consumers. The content that was generated energized rebranding efforts by showing Burberry in an aspirational context. Burberry even redesigned its Regent street store to reflect the burberry.com website, providing a seamless experience from digital to retail.

Their digital prowess became so admired that Ahrendts was eventually lured away from Burberry by Apple itself.

Brand content stuck close to key brand principles.

At Burberry’s website, history is lovingly curated with images in a mobile-friendly setup. To move confidently into the digital sphere, you need content. Kept scrupulously up-to-date, the timeline connects Burberry’s current campaigns with the highlights of the company’s past. Although the house check was limited to less than 10% of products, it still peeked out under shirt collars in advertising. Furthermore, Burberry’s contemporary marketing efforts were decidedly upmarket, using aristocratic models in the English countryside shot by Mario Testino. It was a fresh and irreverent throwback to their original fusty image that still emphasized Burberry’s sophisticated side.

Carefully curating their corporate history allowed Burberry to draw a clean line from their past exploits to their forward-thinking approach today. It brought the brand respectability and a sense of adventure. They also embraced their “Britishness”, employing young British actors, musicians and models and bringing their runway shows to London from Italy. Exploiting their history reinforced their brand alignment, but also underlined that they understood what they did well.

They were confident in their creative vision.

Burberry had reached an impasse with their brand not only because of their downmarket associations, but because they had not evolved their brand for some time prior to Bailey’s hiring. For all brands, creativity and evolution will continually refresh their brand. Ahrendts and Bailey agreed on a creative vision that leveraged the best of Burberry’s history, but was resolutely contemporary.

Their Latin motto seems ever more appropriate as Burberry, the brand, moves with audacity.

When even the Daily Mail is busy writing your obituary, it’s hard to feel confident. Burberry was successful in rebranding itself because it was determined to start fresh. That’s not to say that they jettisoned everything of their history. Instead, they leveraged it, moving to become a fashion powerhouse that finally began to be spoken of in terms of innovation and style.  Their Latin motto seems ever more appropriate as Burberry, the brand, moves with audacity.

Even if you’re not passionate about high fashion, there is much to learn by following Burberry’s brand story refresh. A high level of comfort with innovation allowed rebranding to stretch beyond shaking off uncomfortable perceptions to become truly forward-facing.

Want more?
Read about how fashion brands leverage their archives on social media, or read ECHO Storytelling Agency founder Samantha Reynolds’ take on why authenticity is the Holy Grail for your brand. 

How do you rebrand your high-end fashion label after it becomes associated with hooliganism? Or resurrect your beer when it acquires the nickname “wife beater”?

As many businesses know, reputations take time to build but can be shattered in seconds. However, there have been some remarkable turnarounds by well-known companies, which have rescued their languishing brands. From Lego to Stella Artois, we take a look at what went wrong and how these companies changed their fortunes for the better:

Stella Artois

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for the pilsner beer brewed in Belgian since 1926. Back in the 1990s, Stella’s sponsorship of Channel 4 broadcasts and outdoor cinema events, combined with the clever tagline “Reassuringly expensive”, positioned it as an upmarket beer brand.

Come the mid-noughties, however, and it was more closely associated with lager louts than beer connoisseurs. Part of the problem was supermarkets’ practice of selling discounted crates during the summer and key sporting events. Despite it not being any stronger than many of its rivals, the moniker “wife-beater” has been hard to shake. Sales inevitably slumped as a result.

Stella’s answer to the problem has been to create a range of beers under the softer umbrella Artois brand. In addition to Stella, it started producing Peeterman, a wheat beer of 4% strength, and Bock, a 6% lager. It followed that by launching its own brand of cider, marketed as Stella Artois Cidre.

Old Spice

For years Old Spice was considered untouchable for any man under the age of 60 and receiving it as a present in your 20s usually led to it languishing at the back of a bathroom cabinet until finally giving it away to your granddad for his 80th. That was until 2010, when a viral ad campaign turned the product from fusty to feisty.

The ad featuring former NFL player Isaiah Mustafa telling women to “Look at your man, now back to me” while sitting on a horse or taking a shower instantly appealed to the younger consumer and generated tens of millions of online views. A hugely successful social media campaign followed. As a result, sales of the Old Spice Body Wash rose 11% in the 12 months following the rebrand.

While the product itself remained largely unchanged, its image underwent a radical transformation. Of course, a small business would struggle to invest in an ad campaign on the same scale as Old Spice, but a sense of humour can go a long way. Ben Maxwell, senior strategist at creative consultancy Wolff Olins, says the power of laughter – even if it is at your own expense – is too often overlooked by businesses: “It’s a very small point to take away from that campaign but here is a brand willing to make a joke about itself, but realising in doing so it can reach a new audience and grow.”

Lego

Who would have thought that little plastic blocks would be competing with tablets, video games and 24-hour TV? Yet over a century after Lego was founded, last year the Danish toymaker saw profits rise to 7bn Danish krone (£655m).

However Lego’s rise hasn’t always been smooth. With competition in every corner, the company faced bankruptcy in the late 1990s and was forced to rebuild itself brick by brick. Current Lego chief executive Jørgen Vig Knudstrop ditched hundreds of products to focus on bricks again. And it appears to be working. Lego sold 62 billion Lego elements last year, buoyed by a successful foray into cinema with The Lego Movie.

Ben Botes, associate lecturer of digital marketing and new media at London School of Business and Finance, says Lego succeeded by tapping into the demographic with strong memories of the brand and, through them, reached a younger audience – their offspring.

“They use social media a lot,” he says. “They have a massive number of social media followers.” The Lego Group has 280,000 Twitter followers.

One thing it is particularly good at, says Botes, is using customers to create content. “Marketing is becoming far more content driven, far more engagement driven. They tapped into that trend and that in part has led to their resurrection.” Lego provides customers with the tools to share what it is all about, he adds.

Burberry

Just over 10 years ago, Burberry’s famous check design was banned in pubs and clubs from Aberdeen to Leicester for its association with hooliganism. Today, the company boasts brand ambassadors including Emma Watson and Cara Delevingne. What’s behind the transformation?

Angela Ahrendts, former chief executive of the fashion label, is credited with steering Burberry from baseball caps to high fashion. After she took over in 2006, she handed creative control to Christopher Bailey and bought back 23 licences Burberry had sold to allow other businesses to use its check on anything and everything. During her time at Burberry, the company value rose from £2 billion to more than £7 billion.

Claire Ritchie, director of International Fashion Studies at the London College of Contemporary Arts, highlights two strategies that have worked particularly well for Burberry’s renaissance – use of technology and personalisation.

“[Burberry] is a brand that comes up time and time again when promoting good practice. They have been very clever in terms of how they have integrated technology into their brand,” she says.

“The Art of the Trench campaign is a really good example of a clever use of social media. Luxury brands are predominantly about heritage, tradition and craftsmanship, so it’s about how you balance that with technology.

“In terms of personalisation of the product itself, you can order straight from the catwalk and have your initials or name etched into the garment’s labels.”

Apple

With the success of the iPod and then the iPhone, Apple products are the pinnacle of 21st century cool. But it wasn’t always that way. Back in the 90s, Apple products had about as much street cred as shellsuits and Noel’s House Party. Thanks to stiff competition in the computer market from rivals IBM, Dell and HP, the company came dangerously close to bankruptcy in 1997.

It was up to chief executive, Steve Jobs, to turn the company’s fortunes around. His most important move in his mission to revamp Apple’s naff image for a new generation of tech lovers, was to launch a clever advertising campaign called “Think Different”. The drive challenged customers to see Apple as a lifestyle choice which reflected their own individuality. And it worked. Apple is predicted to soon be worth an estimated $1tn.

“Steve Jobs took a radical step by ruthlessly focusing on what made people care about them and stopped trying to emulate their competitors,” explains Maxwell.

He adds: “If they had just carried on making the same computers at that point, it would have just been an ad campaign. But what they were signalling was a completely different change in tack, a really bold step into a new type of computer. It was about making the idea real through what you say, what you do, what you make. It is not just an empty claim.”

Sign up to become a member of the Guardian Small Business Network here for more advice, insight and best practice direct to your inbox.