Dear Hostess Brands,
It's a sad day when a culturally iconic brand such as yours announces that it is bankrupt. A member of my creative staff, who eats Twinkies for breakfast a few times a week (seriously), might have been playing "Taps" softly at his desk this morning. For me, Ding Dongs and Ho Hos were a special treat in my home when I was growing up. We didn’t get them often, but when we did it was a reason to celebrate. Through the years, the Hostess brand has symbolized nostalgic sentiments of childhood and American tradition for many, including me.
The possible demise of Hostess could mark the end of an era. But it also serves as a warning to other brands. Legacy brands such as Hostess, with its strong footing in American culture, should not rest on its laurels. With the changing market and consumer demands, brands need to fight to maintain their traction by evolving their relevancy and position. The childhood memories of yesteryear are not a strong enough foundation to maintain marketshare. Admittedly, I have a warm appreciation for Hostess. But, frankly, nostalgia doesn’t necessitate purchase for me. And I have to wonder, how many other families feel the same way?
Here is a cold, hard fact: Families today are reading labels. They are checking the nutritional panel. They are trying to eat healthier. Many parents, like me, feel pressure to do right by their families and provide nutritional meals and snacks. We don’t want to give our children chemically laden baked goods that have a shelf life that can survive a zombie apocalypse. Consumers are also concerned about heavy consumption of sugar and HFCS, both contributing to the obesity of our nation. But has Hostess taken any of this to heart? I have never seen Hostess make an effort toward clean label products or items with less sugar. Sure, it quietly introduced 100-calorie snack cake packs and a small line of whole grain muffins, but that was just in 2010.
I say, "Too little, too late." If Hostess wanted to maintain its position as a trusted brand for today’s families, then it should’ve considered product innovation long ago. As a brand, it should’ve evolved its position, and as a company it should’ve invested in product development to help parents provide easy, healthier snack options for her family.
Here’s my message for legacy brands who’ve managed to survive this long: Don’t squander your history, and don’t squander your brand equity. With some effort, you can be as fresh and relevant today as you were in the past. Currently, a number of legacy brands, big and small, have succeeded at evolving their brands and expanding their product lines in ways that are appealing to new consumer groups and markets.
For example, look at Campbell’s Soup. It’s still the red can that everyone knows. But now Campbell’s has Go Soups that incorporate global flavors, like curry, and newly popular ingredients, like quinoa. It even introduced limited-edition Andy Warhol labels to honor the artist’s legacy on the 25th anniversary of his death.
Crayola is another legacy brand that historically focused on the production of wax crayons. Today, it has a dizzying array of innovative products–from 3D sidewalk chalk kits to blending markers and glitter glue–to engage the ever-evolving kids’ market.
Legacy brands like this prove that it’s possible to stand the test of time. But it takes innovation, flexibility, an open mind, and a lot of heart. I think Hostess had a lot of heart. And it holds a place in the heart of many Americans. But turning that sentiment into measurable results is the challenge that many legacy brands face, and some, like Hostess, can’t meet.