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Edition 6 · BS or Brilliant: How to kill a heritage brand 😈

Updated: Nov 24, 2021


Feast your eyes on the ads above. We removed the logo and any mention of the brand. Which brand made them? American Eagle? Levi’s? Gap?

Alas, this uninspired regurgitation comes from the iconic Tiffany & Co. Yes, the brand with both a color and film named in its honor. This is the best a brand dripping with old-world charm could create.

But here’s the thing, Tiffany & Co didn’t create this campaign. Or at least, the campaign wasn’t created at Tiffany. A strategist close to the work who asked to remain anonymous reveals the “Not your Mother’s” campaign was actually destined for Revlon. It wasn’t until Revlon’s Creative Director moved to Tiffany & Co that “Not your Mother’s Lipstick” became “Not your Mother’s Tiffany”. How’s that for cookie-cutter?

To create something so avant-garde, Tiffany (via Revlon) hocked up an ol’ Oldsmobile line from General Motors. Notably, Oldsmobiles went the way of the sabre-toothed tiger (i.e. extinct).

The creatively vapid campaign reeks of fabrication, likely by someone who discovers youth culture via Accenture trend reports. I heard the young ones are doing TikToks!

According to marketing deity Mark Ritson, this is not a bad bit of advertising.It’s a rare moment of disagreement, but Ritson is wrong, and we’re here to tell you why. After all, Tiffany’s parent company LVMH is a Ritson client (or at least, a past one), so it’s likely he went easy on the critique. Allow us to pick up the slack.

In his piece covering the out of home campaign, Ritson argues the campaign ‘pushes Tiffany forward in terms of fashion credentials’. How exactly does a standard hot girl wearing denim and a white shirt advance the brand’s fashion credentials?

Any time-poor designer at Madewell, Forever 21 or J.Crew could slap their logo on this execution and call it done.

So what did Tiffany get wrong, and what did they get right? To illustrate why Ritson is wrong, we’ll use his own thinking from a rather fantastic Marketing Week piece where he simplifies brand strategy into three key axioms and questions.

Axiom 1: Diagnosis first, strategy second

Question to ask: Who are we targeting?

Tiffany’s audience selection is correct. Pre pandemic, the brand consistently showed impressive financial results, often beating profit and revenue expectations. But under the hood, younger consumers don’t eat breakfast at Tiffany’s. Contrast this with Gucci, where ~55% of revenue comes from people under 35.

Tiffany needs the young and fashionable to protect long-term revenue. These buyers need to consider the brand.

But understanding this audience is where Tiffany stutters. While young and fashionable is the right segment, Tiffany demonstrates a poor understanding of who these people are, what inspires them, and the patterns they exhibit. The image of an angsty, parent-resenting teen is a dated, low-resolution trope. A symbol stuck in the 90s.

An astute observer might notice things have changed. When “Not Your Mother’s Lipstick” was concocted at Revlon, the aforementioned strategist had pitched multiple versions of a heritage campaign based on research that revealed Gen Z actually take pride in their parents.

On TikTok teens dance with their parents. Users show off parents and grandparents as part of the ‘Generation Challenge’. College kids long for their mothers’ wardrobes and ask parents to style them, as vintage stores teem with teens on the hunt for retro finds.

Even a cursory look beyond the painfully obvious points away from this campaign as a good idea.

Given what’s known about the campaign’s copy-paste origins, one wonders how much the brand bothered to consider its own heritage to create its future. Which leads us to Mark’s second axiom and question.

Axiom 2: Strategy is choosing what you will not do

Question to ask: What does the brand stand for?

Without knowing the inner boardroom workings at Tiffany, it’s clear the brand ignored its heritage in this campaign.

In forming a coherent brand strategy, Ritson recommends considering everything from where the brand was born, to its founders, to its most passionate loyalists (more on that in this podcast with Alan Hart). None of that work shines through here.

Like Mark, the strategist close to the original campaign idea, agrees that ‘brand heritage’ is currency. Take Revlon as an example, their heritage translates to strong brand equity. Without this, they’d have been cleared from Walmart shelves long ago.

“Tiffany’s, like Revlon and any other brand dripping in heritage, has full permission to tap into their history. To strip away the paint and the pretence and showcase the original foundation of the brand in a way that proudly displays it for new and traditional audiences alike. Many will pat Tiffany’s on the back for bravely shedding their DNA in the pursuit of a new, more aspirational audience. But how brave is that when what made the brand famous in the first place, is precisely what would attract it to Gen Z now?”

Axiom 3: Strategy before tactics Question to ask: how will we achieve this? Cohesiveness of the message is lacking. Confusion abounds. It’s unclear what Tiffany’s ‘Not Your Mothers’ strategy was beyond a couple of random billboards in key cities that were then beamed across social media.

On the Tiffany site, ‘Not your Mothers’ has evolved into ‘Knot your [insert thing], to highlight Tiffany products with ... knots in them. The campaign sentiment was barely extended on social media, besides a few snaps of the billboards on Tiffany’s Instagram. The few posts that do feature it contain head-scratching copy: “Your Mom Called. She said I told you so” reads one of them. Why would she call if it’s not her Tiffany? “Uncool, you say, tell us more” reads another. Sorry, what?! For a brand intent on attracting the young, Tiffany’s TikTok is notable only by its absence. If there was a strategy beyond the tactic here, it’s difficult to spot. Is this the beginning of the end for Tiffany? Hardly. The brand’s making clever moves, playing with its brand codes in interesting ways (see: Tiffany blue temporarily becoming Tiffany yellow). With brand ambassadors like Beyonce, Jay Z, and Lady Gaga it’s very likely this turnaround will indeed turnaround, but this is a shit bit of advertising.


If there’s one word to describe John Mayer’s latest album, it’s ‘nostalgic’. There’s something about the current moment that has us yearning for the past. According to The Drum, lockdown numero uno saw 37% of UK consumers revisiting childhood dishes. Tweets including “I miss” went up by 63%, while Spotify reported a 54% increase in nostalgia themed playlists.

And it’s not just the past’s perceived comforts, the aesthetics are back too. Trendy young’uns can’t get enough of all things yesteryear. Y2K fashion is back. Cassette tapes are the new vinyl. Flares hath returned. Windows 90s aesthetic has been revived - and Clippy is back with a vengeance.

Above: Old computer aesthetic is a thing now

It’s precisely this retro revival/collective exhaustion that John Mayer tapped into so flawlessly in the promo of his latest album “Sob Rock”. After an excess of ‘unprecedented, in-this-together’ advertising, the whole thing is wonderfully light-hearted, refreshing, and nostalgic in all the right ways. So what happened, and what makes it genius? It all started when John Mayer subscribers received an email with the subject ‘What is Sob Rock?’. The linked landing page read “Sob Rock is coming soon…We can’t tell you whose album it is yet, but sign up below to learn more when it’s announced”. The beginning of the intrigue! In the following days, mysterious print and out of home ads appeared from Columbia records (pictured below). Mayer teased the idea of Sob Rock on social media, posting catchy hooks encased in retro electronics. The dots were intricately connected across media. You know how much we love that.

Post album launch, Mayer revealed the album name of the album was Sob Rock because “you’d never have imagined that was the name of the record”. Top points for originality.

The next evolution of ads were a nostalgic extravaganza. Funny phrases like “make every drive a road trip”, “it’s time to love an album again” and “new music for old flames” were emblazoned in posts, on boards, and in print.

Sob Rock merch was the cherry on top. Cassette tapes. Mugs for Mom and Dad. Baby onesies that read “I Sob. You Rock”

Smart product placement and gifting helped this old-school music reach new audiences. Mayer merch made it on to it girl Lizzo, helping ‘Sob Rock’ reach new music fans it otherwise might have missed. In a fun interactive fan moment, he also sent a ‘thank you’ guitar to Blackpink Rose (a K-POP star) after she covered an old Mayer song. And all this worked. The original term ‘Sob Rock’ has over 7M mentions on TikTok, and Mayer’s album hit the top 10 in 14 countries, and was #1 in 4. Spotify users even made ‘mood’ playlists, anticipating the sound of the yet to be released album.

It’s clear that Mayer and his team get the fundamentals of marketing. What can be learned?

Here are the bits that stood out.

Mayer didn’t just make an album, he built a world that harks back to a simpler time.

Sensing the collective sigh, everything connected to the album evoked a pleasurable pang of the past. This is a cultural mood as much as it is an album. Mayer further penetrates culture with Sob Rock extending into merch. Smart artists understand the need to go beyond music to all-encompassing entertainment. Take Deadmau5 as another example. The electronic artist teamed up with gaming company Manticore Games to create ‘Oberhasli’, a virtual world that’ll host interactive concerts and provide a social space for fans. Think Facebook metaverse vibes but not terrifying.

The enduring appeal of nostalgia

Much has been written about nostalgia in advertising. AdAge calls it a ‘hot trend’. We’d call it an emotion that brands with rich histories (a-hem, Tiffany & Co) can always call upon.

Non-cringe nostalgia that excites both old and new fans isn’t something marketers pull off every day. It’s a rare feat, but to make someone smile and fondly remember moments in their life is to cement yourself in their memory structures - Marketing’s most valuable real estate!

So if you’re detailing your next brand or campaign strategy, start from how you want fans to feel and what action you want them to take. A deep understanding of people and culture beyond what you’ll read in AdAge moves you from a tactical marketer to a strategic one.

Whether you’re a superfan like this lady or couldn’t care less, all marketers have something to learn from Mayer’s smooth launch.

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