How to Transform a Seasonal Brand into a Year-Round Success (inspired by Quentin Tarantino)

Leigh Chandler, Partner & Executive Creative Director

Leigh Chandler, Partner & Executive Creative Director

Quentin Tarantino is the original brand elevator. Stay with me, I’ll explain.

Love him or loathe him, Tarantino has a knack for bringing out the best in actors who are past their prime and making them relevant again. Take John Travolta, whose iconic role in Pulp Fiction in 1994 revived his career as a ‘proper’ actor almost 20 years after his Saturday Night Fever and Grease-fueled heyday. Under Tarantino’s auteurship, and with his distinctive scripting, storytelling, and unique direction, the most irrelevant or obscure actor can be elevated and made significant again in popular culture.

There are plenty of brands that could take a leaf out of Tarantino’s book. Brands that have lost their way, fallen behind the times, or simply struggle to stay relevant as their market and consumers evolve. This is especially true for seasonal brands, those ones that seem to only appear around holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas, and are then forgotten about for another 364 or so days.

After Eight. Ferrero Rocher. Quality Street. Terry’s Chocolate Orange. All very nostalgic confectionery brands for anyone that grew up in the UK, and almost always associated with the festive season. These are brands that, at best, feel out of place at any other time of year, at worst, dated and irrelevant to emerging new audiences. Can you really imagine a Gen Z buying a box of After Eights?

I can see so many opportunities for brands like these. After Eights could own that mint & dark chocolate flavor space, shifting the brand from something that you ONLY eat after 8pm (on Christmas Day) and into a year-round offering. Mint Choc Chip is one of the most popular ice cream flavors, surely that’s a collab with a brand like Van Leeuwen just waiting to happen?

I’d also love to get my hands on Ferrero Rocher, which still lives in the world of an Italian dinner party, the Monsieur famously spoiling his guests. It desperately needs to shake off the old world of luxury design codes – all golden swirls and shiny 80s glitz – and live up to today’s consumer expectations around luxe treating experiences.

A useful exercise when we repositioned Baileys was to analyze ‘treating’ semiotic categories, and identify which brands sit under certain semiotic styles. In 2015, Baileys was firmly in the Ferrero world of ‘Old World Indulgence’. By shifting Baileys into a more informal, impulsive, and spontaneous space, we immediately unlocked more contemporary expressions of treating, which felt less formal, more year-round, and more everyday. This then dictated our design exploration. Out were the pristine gold embellishments, seductive chocolate drips, and stylized stark photography. In came half-eaten donuts, handmade trifles, and milk mustaches. 

For Ferrero Rocher to survive, the brand needs to go back to the drawing board and really understand what the next generation is treating themselves to, during what occasions, and how, and then build a visual world that fits. 

Milk Bar is a great example of a treat brand that has embraced a relevant contemporary space, balancing informality with nostalgia. Originally launched as a birthday cake specialist, Milk Bar has crafted a playful, spontaneous, and messy vibe, yet it still feels premium. Alongside Milk Bar’s iconic birthday cakes, truffles, and cookies, the brand really nails seasonal propositions such as Apple Cider Donut Truffles, making it a must-try at any time of year.

And that Terry’s Chocolate Orange? With such a unique spherical structure and that ‘tap to unwrap’ ritual for opening and eating, I can picture adapting these to make the brand relevant to so many other occasions. Sporting events, travel retail to connect with consumer desires to explore the world, a Seville Orange or Blood Orange LTO, there are so many ways to elevate this stocking filler favorite throughout the year.

Yes, I know that the brands I’m talking about have dipped their toes into new formats and tried out flavor variations, but nothing seems to have stuck. To be truly successful (and relevant) they need to make fundamental changes at brand level.

If I think about how Vault49 would reinvent a snacking brand, we’d consider taking the following approach.

5 Steps to Reinventing a Seasonal Brand

1. Real Insights from Real People

Using our Back Alley Insights approach, we gather real insights from real audiences to gain a thorough understanding of consumption habits and occasions of a target audience. When and where are they snacking? Is it a sit-down-and-indulge or an on-the-go occasion? Is it a shared or solo experience? What flavors are preferred? What % of people choose The Purple One in Quality Street first?

2. Gather Inspiration From Far and Wide (even Tarantino)

Using these insights, we would pull together inspiration from the wider world of snacking to build potential territories for the brand to shift into. Inspirational semiotics and brand personalities can be found in all sorts of places – fashion, like-minded brands, food and drink, advertising, celebrities, movies. We use these inputs to create a visual territory that feels truly ownable, relevant, and inspiring to start building a new visual world around the brand. This exercise will often raise questions about its existing equities and the space the brand currently occupies.

3. Determine Your Equities (but don’t be handcuffed by what you’ve ‘always done’)

That said, it’s important not to throw everything away. An ideal territory would be born from an existing brand truth but shifted into a more relevant space. Equities that have been long-standing, the ones that really mean something to your brand, should be heroed, iconized, modernized, and streamlined. Cadbury’s Mini Eggs did an amazing job recently by iconizing just 3 things; the combination of yellow and purple, playful typography, and the eggs, whether in silhouette or photographic. Deciding to lose the bird’s nest (yes, they went there at one point), Easter chickens, cracking eggs, and bunny rabbits, the brand’s renewed focus on its core equities immediately removed the shackles of ‘for Easter only’.

If you are repositioning a brand that has a clear association with a particular season, think about what semiotics and codes are handcuffing it to that season. How important and valuable are those equities to the brand? Can you afford to shift them to broaden the appeal, or would you run the risk of eroding equity? The ideal solution requires a careful balance of keeping hold of the evergreen equities for recognition, but removing those that tie it to a particular occasion or time of year.

4. Consider a Partner – long-term, or just a fling

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: there is great power in a good collaboration for upping your creds and enjoying the halo effect of partnering with a brand that already has an in with the audience you are after.

Arguably the most limited of limited editions in the US this year was The Strawberry Bell Truffle, a collab between Milk Bar and Taco Bell that was only available at four locations and sold out almost instantly. Milk Bar is no stranger to collabs (it has dabbled with the likes of SoulCycle, Madewell, and Mariah Carey in the past) and is clearly aware that Taco Bell is not a ‘cool’ brand. Taking an interesting spin on collaboration, this one was ironically cool in its approach – a summer fling that perfectly demonstrates how partnering with the right brand can elevate the John Travoltas of the snacking and treating worlds to new, desirable heights.

5. Sustainability Is Not A Trend

One of the key things for snacking and treating brands to consider right now – in fact, they should have been considering it years ago – is how to rethink packaging to be more sustainable. Walk any supermarket aisle around the Holiday season and you’ll be shocked at how much excess packaging the Christmas stalwarts hold on to, afraid that it’s such important equity it cannot be switched for a more sustainable solution. But wouldn’t Terry’s Chocolate Orange be more fun to buy if it was a single-wrapped orange displayed in a reusable net bag in store? Couldn’t Ferrero Rocher design a beautiful container that can be returned and refilled? That would prompt re-purchasing long after the Christmas tree has been taken down, and would do away with the cupcake paper which, the more I think about it, is really confusing from a semiotic perspective.

The simple fact is that if these snacking and treating brands don’t think about sustainability soon, they run the risk of sitting on the shelf no matter the season. Tackling this aspect at the same time as breaking into new occasions is a win-win!

Break-Out Brand

Cadbury’s Creme Egg is an excellent example of a seasonal brand successfully breaking out. There’s an entire range of ice cream formats for summer, ‘Goo Heads’ packaging that transforms the humble egg into the perfect giveaway for trick-or-treaters at Halloween, and a Limited Edition Creme Stout collab with Goose Island brewers to tap into the craft beer market. There’s a cookbook to inspire experimentation in the kitchen no matter what month you are in, and a mayonnaise collaboration with Heinz (I’ll leave that one on the shelf, thanks!). Cadbury has totally rethought the Creme Egg for today’s consumers, turning the sweet Easter treat into an all-year cult classic.

Build Your Brand Right

“The good ideas will survive.” We’re back with a quote from the antihero of our tale, Mr Tarantino, speaking about filmmaking. But this is also true in brand building. If your brand idea is good – and by ‘good’ we mean if it’s rooted in authenticity and relevant to today’s consumers – then your brand is set up to succeed and survive.

Whilst there’s nothing wrong with a brand being connected to a particular time of year or occasion, if you create the right foundations and have a deep understanding of consumers and culture, then the opportunities for your brand to move outside of this and be a year-round success are endless…

Does your brand need to break out of a season or occasion? Get in touch to find out how we can help.

Leigh Chandler, Partner & Executive Creative Director