Tried And True Is Alive And Kickin’
By Rob Wallace
Keeping “Icon Brands” Relevant  
Smart marketers know that only change is certain. That’s because research tells them consumers have an ever-shortening attention span: They want their brands to live and move at the frenetic pace of their lives, adapt to their instantly changing needs, and constantly seduce them with the allure of the “new.”
But what about brands whose unique value is built on their long-standing success? Can heritage brands remain relevant?
Like any brand left unmonitored, a heritage brand’s identity can quickly become dusty. However, with proper care, vintage brands can be recast to address current and relevant messages, while still leveraging their established consumer connections.
“Authenticity” is the new brand mantra
The value of being the genuine original cannot be overstated. Behaviorists like Malcolm Gladwell and Barry Schwartz maintain that, in a sea of newness, consumers find comfort in brands that are consistent, honest and real.
Heinz ketchup is one example. Whether you buy into green ketchup or clever label quotes like “Are Your Fries Lonely?”, you can’t deny that Heinz is top of mind for the ketchup experience.
Beyond ketchup, however, dozens of products in numerous categories also live under the Heinz brand. They range from traditional and specialty vinegars to cocktail and Worchester sauces and dozens of pickle and relish products.
On face value, though, these products have little in common. In early 2005, all 30+ of these products were loosely connected using variations of the Heinz logo and the brand’s “keystone” label shape. They were never promoted as a family of products, never structured to encourage cross-brand sales and never unified under “icon brand” status.
Aaron Schwartz, director of marketing for heritage brands at Heinz, says the situation posed a challenge. “Each product line was perceived as a separate brand. We may have supported one product, but we couldn’t talk about another because they didn’t look alike,” he explains. “It was difficult to leverage the overall Heinz brand.”
Own an experience
Heinz recognized the issue and took on the job of integrating these products under one relevant message.
Schwartz was clear with the challenge. He wanted us to elevate Heinz’s incongruent products into a unified and relevant brand that would result in purchases across product lines and, at the same time, would maintain visual drivers for each product category.
To begin, we defined the Heinz brand experience as “Tried and True,” which became the emotional and experiential rallying cry of the entire brand communications architecture. Traditionally, the design process serves to visually interpret such a statement. But one marketer’s visual perception of “Tried and True” can be quite different from another’s, leading to a subjective analysis and lots of wheel spinning.
Visualize the essence
To streamline design development, we quantified the most effective visual strategies before initiating design. Other heritage brands were visually deconstructed: their colors, type styles, graphic cues, product presentations, iconography and design strategies were analyzed for potential impact on the unique Heinz heritage message.
Through this process, two visual strategies emerged as most effective. The first, labeled “Turn of the Century Americana,” used graphic conventions of late 19th century design. A second strategy, termed “Old as New,” effectively married late 19th century conventions with early 21st century sensibilities. While both strategies showed merit, the “Old as New” aesthetic best resonated with consumers.
With the visual brand essence pre-determined, an efficient design process could now begin.
Exploring heritage through design
We started by exploring enhancements to the Heinz logo and signature “keystone” label shape and applying them to three core SKUs that represented the greatest adaptation challenges. Several of the most effective concepts were refined across the extensive product line. Life-sized shelf simulations were also developed, to indicate how each design system would appear in differing retail sections. Again, market research was conducted to confirm the one most effective design architecture.
And it is unmistakably Heinz. Adjustments to the Heinz logo create more impact and readability. Our consistent and prominent use of the signature “keystone” shape now establishes it as an icon of recognition. A consistent product illustration style captures the heritage perceptions. All form and flavor descriptions and supportive copy appear in the same “staging areas”, so consumers can more readily find their specific product.
Visual consistency in all of these core areas allows Heinz to change background colors to reflect each product’s individual benefits. For example, traditional vinegar uses a white background as a meaningful differentiation from the specialty vinegar’s richer, darker, more premium color cues. The resulting identity balances brand-wide consistency with individual product distinction.
Rolling it out
The rollout, which began in October 2005, was a four to five month process. And while it’s still too early to report on sales, Schwartz says the project garnered valuable insights with which to manage the overall brand: Early testing, for example, revealed that consumers were surprised Heinz made certain products.
Such feedback supported Heinz’s decision to initiate the extensive redesign.
“It was a long process, and time will tell whether consumption will go up,” Schwartz tells us. “But at the end of the day, we’ve created a better shopping experience. We’ve made it easier for consumers to shop the overall brand.”
More importantly, perhaps, by recasting its authentic heritage in a richly meaningful way, Heinz has more relevance, more authority and higher value. We set the stage for the “icon brand” to reclaim its rightful place in consumers’ hearts and minds. BP
Rob Wallace is managing partner of Wallace Church, a brand identity strategy and design firm. You can reach him at