Thursday January 11, 2018

I See A Little Silhouetto Of A Brand: How Old School Products Survive

(Richard Drew/Associated Press)

Listen to Full Episode 27:32

This week, we analyze how old school products survive in the 21st century.

Many brands can't keep up with the digital age, but others have found a way to succeed – some doing even better business today. We'll look at how one company makes money by retiring its products, why another partnered up with its biggest competitors to stay relevant and how an entire profession saved itself by not going digital.

From Crayola to Velveeta, it all comes down to smart marketing.

A Twenty-First Century Trim

According to Forbes magazine, barbering is the fastest-growing profession in the U.S. However, that wasn't always the case. Barbershops are an old school business that took a steep decline in the late '80s/early '90s when unisex hair salons became all the rage.

But today, short, neat or shaved back and side hairstyles are trending. Those cuts require regular return visits and maintenance, and men are seeking out classic barbershops - not hairdressers.

man getting haircut

The barber is back. (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

The renaissance in barbering has brought on a new kind of barbershop. They don't just offer a haircut and a shave, they offer an experience.

Amenities include LCD TVs at each station. There are checkerboards, pinball machines and pool tables. Some even offering beer or whiskey. Others playing vinyl records. Many have their own line of grooming products.

Like the barbershops of yesteryear, these new barbershops have become gathering places. But more than anything, 21st century barbershops are selling masculinity.

Colouring in a Digital World

In a sea of toys that are struggling with the rise of technology, one company turned a product rooted so far from the information age into a digital success: The humble Crayola crayon.


Nostalgia in a box. (CBC)

Founded in the late 1800's, Crayola still commands an 80% market share after all this time.

The crayon company came out with an innovative app that animates children's drawings on their smartphone or tablet.

But today, Crayola's target market isn't just limited to kids, because they have another very powerful tool at their disposal: Nostalgia. So Crayola tapped into that nostalgia and led the adult colouring book craze. Crayola also made some strategic partnerships with makeup and nail polish brands.

But apps and collaborations aside, Crayola's original product, the crayon, is still their star player.

Today, they sell over 120 different colours and often feature limited edition shades.

Crayola has not only withstood the test of time, it's thrived. Proving that with smart marketing, old-school brands can weather the tech age… with flying colours.

The Dawn of the (Modern) Drive-In

If you're of a certain vintage, you grew up going to drive-ins. In the '70s, it was our favourite dating spot.

But that was a long time ago. So how are old-school drive-ins coping in the 21st century?

Drive-in movies

Moviegoing reinvented. (CBC)

Back in 1933, the first drive-in opened in Camden, New Jersey. People paid 25 cents, parked their car and watched the first movie ever shown at a drive-in, titled Wives Beware. The first drive-in to open in Canada was in Stoney Creek, Ontario, in 1946.

The industry flourished and peaked in 1958. But in the intervening years more and more drive-ins disappeared.

As cities expanded, the land drive-ins sat on became valuable, and owners sold the land to developers for big dollars. People didn't leave drive-ins, drive-ins left people.

When the film industry moved to digital equipment, the cost to switch was steep – prompting many of them to close. But the ones that could afford it found a rebirth. Drive-in owners became smarter marketers.

Not unlike barbershops, drive-ins don't just sell movies anymore - they sell an entire experience. They promote flexibility to patrons – because you can bring babies, pets and you can even smoke in your car. Some drive-ins promote healthy concession stand food now. Others even stream live concerts and sporting events.

Today, drive-ins are some of the highest-grossing theatres during the summer when the weather is good.

And the secret to that success is the double-feature of new ideas mixed with old-school nostalgia.

Each of these old school brands has found a way to thrive in a 21st century digital era. It's a fascinating balancing act between fitting into the tech age while staying true to what made the brand or service successful to begin with.

For these stories and more old school brands, click or tap on the "Listen" tab to hear the full episode.

You can also find us on the CBC Radio app or subscribe to our Podcast.

Under The Influence is recorded in the Terstream Mobile Recording studio - a 1969 Airstream trailer I've restored and transformed into a studio on wheels. So I can record the show wherever I go.

Follow the journey on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and search for the hashtag: #TerStream.


The Terstream Mobile Recording Studio in its natural habitat. (Image Credit: Sidney O'Reilly)

See you next week.