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'Updating' Trusted Brand Icons Can Be a Dangerous Game
By: Ron Romanik
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Early in the Twentieth Century, the chairman of Quaker Oats said: “If the business were split up — I would take the brands, trademarks and goodwill, and you could have all the bricks and mortar — I would do better than you.” The current owners of the Quaker brand, PepsiCo, are not necessarily heeding that sage wisdom. They have decided that it was high time the iconic personified Quaker became a younger, trimmer version of himself, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

A brand can be a delicate and ephemeral construction, an embodiment of trust and attachment only to be tampered with carefully. Of course, PepsiCo is going for an evolutionary change, not revolutionary. But the jury is still out on whether a significant change was necessary at all, as the real voters are, naturally, the consumers.

Longtime Quaker Oats spokesperson Wilford Brimley is angry. No, not really; it’s a Stephen Colbert bit. But Stephen makes an interesting point by way of comedy, comparing Larry’s “plastic surgery” to other hypothetical brand icon makeovers. He rhetorically ponders how much better Toucan Sam would look with a nose job, the Michelin Man would be after lap-band surgery, or the Aflac duck might after breast augmentation.

Pepsico has done well with many product and line extensions that leverage the “parent” brand of Quaker. Even Life Cereal is watched over by the caring and trustworthy Larry (the Quaker Man’s moniker with the brand managers). Especially dangerous to the Quaker brand is that consumers may now learn his name. It would have been much easier to let him go if he had less of a permanent identity. It's the same reason you don't name pet pigs that may one day be dinner.

Larry in his most recent form was born in 1946 at the hands of graphic designer Jim Nash (colorized in 1957 by Haddon Sundblom). He will surely be missed. The new logo adds the “Est. 1877” to remind consumers of the heritage. It could be argued that it was through the strength of the previous logo that this history reminder was unnecessary. The logo alone, as a representative of the entire brand, expressed the deep trust associated with a long track record of consistently quality products.

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About the Author
Ron Romanik is principal of Romanik Communications, a brand consultancy outside Philadelphia founded with a mantra of “Authentic Stories. Resonant Tones. Sustainable Brands.”
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