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100 not-out.

100 not-out.

When a person turns 100 in the UK, they receive a letter from the Queen and awestruck congratulations from everyone else. It’s a major milestone that very few of us reach, so it’s natural that a person’s centenary should invite grand celebrations.

The same is true of brands that reach the ripe old age of 100. OK, a huge corporation is unlikely to get any post from Her Majesty, but making it to three figures is a landmark achievement for businesses too.

This year several big-hitting brands are celebrating their centenary, including Tesco, British Airways, Hilton, Aperol and Beaverbrooks. Their plans for marking the occasion say a lot about the continuing importance of brand heritage – particularly in today’s age of startup upstarts and digital disruption.

The Most Connected Brands 2018 report by market research firm Opinium, which ranks those brands deemed “indispensable to consumers’ daily lives”, found that 31 of the top 50 were founded before 1950, while 13 date as far back as the nineteenth century. This includes Heinz (founded in 1869) and Colgate (founded in 1806).

The index, based on a survey of 6,000 consumers, suggests that heritage is still a key determining factor of whether people will feel closely connected to a brand in their daily lives. Yes, the tech giants and ‘disruptors’ feature prominently too (Amazon claims the top spot in the ranking, followed by Google) but the strong showing for heritage brands is proof that consumers’ longstanding attachment to certain brands is still a powerful asset.

And yet goodwill alone isn’t enough. The decline of many established UK retailers – seen currently in the huge swathes of store closures across the country – is proof that heritage will only take a brand so far. The deepening high street crisis underlines the need for brands to move with the times by ensuring their offer is still compelling and relevant to new audiences.

A centenary celebration is a great opportunity to do just that. Tesco (founded in 1919 as a market stall in Hackney, London) has had its fair share of ups and downs over the last 100 years, and its strategy for marking the occasion shows an acute awareness of the challenging market in which it now operates.

Its marketing around the anniversary has used plenty of nostalgia to stir up positive emotions in consumers, from using Mr Blobby in its 100-year celebration advert, to selling Cadbury’s Freddos at their ‘old school’ price of 10p.

Alongside the nostalgia trip, Tesco has reaffirmed its commitment to price cutting in its centenary year as it seeks to meet the challenge of discounter competitors like Lidl and Aldi. This includes the headline-grabbing launch of its own discount chain, Jack’s, last September. Tesco’s 100-year activities are therefore an interesting case study in how brands can use heritage as a powerful way of looking back, as well as a springboard for the future.

The same is true of jewellery brand Beaverbrooks, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year with a showpiece ad for cinemas and VOD that aims to avoid the cheesy clichés associated with its rather tired and traditional category.

Rather than homing in on the expensive nature of its products, the ad (produced by BJL) features a series of animations which connect the jewellery to a particular moment of emotion. It’s another way of connecting the brand’s values, built on 100 years of heritage, with a stand-out, fresh approach.

And to understand the true value of heritage as a marketing asset, look no further than British Airways – a brand that was invented in 1974 but which traces its origins as a business (through various disposals and mergers) back to 1919.

The brand has worked hard to cultivate its own historical brand story, from its ‘To Fly. To Serve’ relaunch campaign in 2011, which drew heavily on its imperial origins, to its new ‘Made by Britain’ advert to mark 100 years, which uses homegrown talent including Olivia Colman, Anthony Joshua and Grayson Perry  to explore the theme of ‘modern Britishness’.

All heritage brands go through phases of growth, decline and rebirth, and reaching a 100-year anniversary is undoubtedly something to celebrate. As plenty of other established brands succumb to the forces of disruption and disappear entirely, we need these survivors to show the way forward by building on their heritage, and building for the future.

By Nicky Unsworth