Earlier this week, my husband and I were shopping for Easter candy. My husband spied Peeps, and commented we needed to buy them. I asked why, and he said “Because you like them.”
Truth be told, I don’t particularly care for Peeps. However, they make me euphorically happy, recalling how my husband hid them in the nooks and crannies of his motor home prior to our first camping trip. It took me the entire weekend to find all the packages.
No doubt, countless people purchase saccharine Peeps, waxy chocolate bunnies, sugary jelly beans, and chalky malt balls because they had them as a kid or feel nostalgic towards them, even though the product quality is questionable.
Sugar-coated, and more malleable than Wonderbread, Peeps were originally produced by Russian immigrant, Sam Born, in 1953 at the Just Born candy factory in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Made from sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, and various food dyes, they’re typically shaped like chicks or bunnies. For holidays like Halloween, Valentine’s Days, and Christmas, they morph into pumpkins, snowmen, hearts, and banana-flavored minions.
They’re almost always packaged in flimsy cardstock with crinkly cellophane. The shape of the confectionaries is somewhat inconsistent, as is the crunchiness of the sugar coating, depending on the freshness of the product. Nevertheless, Peeps are as ubiquitous to Easter as pumpkins to Halloween.
Many foods have withstood the trials of time, with the ingredients, packaging, and branding barely evolving. Velveeta, Gatorade, Ding Dongs, Twinkies, Special K cereal, Corn Flakes, Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce, Colman’s Mustard (powered), Nabisco Saltines Crackers, Hormel Spam, and Wrigley Doublemint gum are examples of products that enjoy an enthusiastic following without having to revert to extensive marketing campaigns to impassion buyers.
There are relatively few consumer products that evoke the same fervor. Although products used as a child, like chubby, navy blue no. 2 pencils, Dixon Ticonderoga school bus-yellow pencils with rosy erasers at the end, and Crayons are beloved generation-after-generation. Prior to school children plopping laptops and tablets into their backpacks, there were cheap Pee Chee folders for organizing school papers and projects.
Some brand clothing induces pitter-patters of the heart, including OshKosh B’gosh overalls, Levi’s 501 jeans, Lacoste polo shirts, Docker khaki pants, J. Crew button-up shirts and turtleneck sweaters and of course, Converse or Chuck Taylors sneakers. To retain the allure and prestige of these nostalgic clothing, throughout the years, they’ve been extensively marketed with new colors, different fabrics, and refined styling. In addition, their prices have significantly risen.
Creating and maintaining a brand that remains strong generation-after-generation is an extraordinary feat. It requires persistence on the part of the manufacturer to make what’s old seem new (or at least, desirable). Old Spice, male grooming products, has been able to take the stodgy brand from 1934, and continually spin it to hip to every subsequent generation.
In 2008, the original Old spice scent – aftershave and cologne – was repackaged as “Classic Scent” and sold in plastic versus the original milky glass bottles. In addition, the “classic” shower gel was promoted, using the slogan, “The original. If your grandfather hadn’t worn it, you wouldn’t exist.”
What truly ignited the brand was an ad – The Man Your Man Could Smell Like – featuring NFL player Isaiah Mustofa. Melding sex appeal with humor, clever copy, and snappy imagery, the ad went viral and spurred a sundry of similar ads, later featuring NFL player and actor Terry Crews, and actresses Neve Campbell, and Courtney Cox Arquette.
Nutrition Action, a monthly health letter, recently published “Under the Radar: What made you buy (and eat) that.” It highlights the triggers that influence our food purchases. When the author Deborah Cohen, a physician and senior natural scientist at the RAND Corporation, was asked how ads influence us, she responded, “They can use priming, for example. That’s when something conjures up a memory that later influences you. So if an ad reminds you of something from your childhood, you might suddenly be interested in candy or other foods you liked when you were a child. That’s because you were primed to think about your childhood.”
Maybe the secret to creating brands and products that survive and thrive for generations is to create indelible impressions, which lead to yearnings that can only be fulfilling by once again buying the product.