“In times of uncertainty, we tend look back. We long for seemingly simpler times,” says Chris Anderson, a director of Omnicom Group's marketing agency The Marketing Arm. “From music to motorcars to Muppets, we seek out products and brands that we’re familiar with.”
And when the consumer is feeling nostalgic, lapsed legacy brands and forgotten luminaries can architect a return to prominence. We’ve seen it in years passed: A heritage deodorant line revitalized with an “Old Spice Guy” campaign; a new voice and updated look for Planter’s Mr. Peanut; and the revival of General Motor’s Chevy positioned as an American battle cry that could save Detroit. All it takes is renewed investment, clever marketing and a strong historic foundation.
So which consumer brands and personalities will make a splashy comeback in 2012? Branding and marketing experts make their predictions for the New Year.
Jim Henson’s Muppets were created in the 1950s and enjoyed a long, successful stretch on TV before drifting to the back of consumer consciousness. However, after the Thanksgiving release of new movie The Muppets, starring Jason Segal and Amy Adams, they have exploded back onto the scene. The critically acclaimed musical is currently getting press for its Golden Globe “snub.” Meanwhile, some high-profile critics expect it will get the Oscar nod for its original songs, which would keep the brand at the top of conversation through 2012’s award season. Kermit and Miss Piggy are also reaching out to a new tween demographic with a glittery nail polish line (“12 unFROGettable colors!”) and ad campaign with beauty company OPI.
[See also: Ways to Improve Your Finances]
Miriam Quart, president of ad agency Madison Avenue Consortium, calls the one-name legend “the original Gaga factor” and predicts she will return to prominence in the New Year. Love her or hate her, Madonna, remains a household name. According to The Marketing Arm's Celebrity DBI, an independent index that quantifies consumer perceptions of celebrities, 99% of U.S. customers are at least familiar with her. Considering her recent hiatus, that makes the Material Girl ripe for a major comeback. She will release a new single, “Gimme All Your Luvin,” in January. Then she will take to the nation’s biggest stage on February 5, headlining the Super Bowl’s halftime performance using a theatrical Cirque du Soleil concept. In March, she will release her first album in five years through Universal Music Group’s Interscope Records--just the first in a reported three-album deal.
With the slowing European economy, Quart believes the Italian car company’s recent partnership with U.S. superstar Jennifer Lopez is “an odd marriage in marketing heaven” that makes it a classic comeback brand. Because she’s featured in its recent TV commercials, Fiat lucked into a press wave after her divorce from Marc Anthony, which will likely intensify when the new season of American Idol premieres in January. Fiat has “not had a stellar reputation over the years,” agrees Anderson, “but since its reintroduction in the States this year, the brand has been carefully managed.”
[See also: How to Extend Your Smartphone's Battery Life]
The Three Stooges
The latest TV reruns of the long-loved slapstick trio are just the first step in an all-out comeback scheduled to hit next year. Moe, Larry and Curly will grace the silver screen in the April release of The Three Stooges, directed by the Farrelly brothers and featuring Sean Hayes, Jane Lynch, Larry David and even Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi (yes, you read that right). The trailer released in early December to mixed reviews, but all suggest it won’t be ignored. Plus, it’s likely to trigger new licensing deals, like the semi-recent Arby’s "Curly fry.” Dating back to the 1920s, this nostalgia brand is on the upswing.
Sitcom and reality show fatigue, says Quart, may be the perfect setting for Oscar-winning actor Dustin Hoffman to make his comeback in HBO drama Luck, which debuts in January. “His recent gig as a high-rolling gambler nicknamed Ace is a different side of the actor most of us grew up knowing as Rainman and The Graduate,” she says. Playing opposite Nick Nolte and taking on a corrupt, vengeful character, Hoffman is poised to shine.
Marketing and branding expert Adam Hanft, who has worked with consumer brands like Barnes & Noble and Match.com, says the “enormous train-wreck of a reputation disaster” that Netflix experienced this year—after first splitting the company in two and then re-connecting it--will recede from memory next year. Hanft explains that Netflix is an emotional brand with an innovative chief who has maintained transparency, so he believes consumers will forgive this year’s mega screw-ups. He’s also betting on the company’s original programming play. The anticipated drama House of Cards, by David Fincher and starring Kevin Spacey, is set to premiere in 2012.
The 74-year-old tech company has been trying to architect its comeback for years, and is finally gaining momentum. This year, Polaroid announced its partnership with pop star Lady Gaga to much fanfare. She’s helped them design a new line of products called Grey Label that includes GL20 Camera Glasses--sunglasses with a built-in camera that also display images on the glasses’ LCD screens for others to see. While they missed a supposed market debut this year, company executives say the glasses will likely be out this spring. Polaroid is gaining ground, but will it come all the way back?
She was off the circuit for years but with a new daily talk show on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, O’Donnell is inching towards a total revival in 2012. She just got engaged to Michelle Rounds, will turn 50 in March and said recently that she’s “not going to lay back and take it anymore" when it comes to homophobia in the media. She reignited flame wars with David Letterman and Donald Trump this month and had harsh words for presidential hopefuls Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. With a new platform and confident voice, expect O’Donnell to turn up the volume.