Secret Trick: Brush Up Your Oldest Brands

Even if a venerable brand is beloved, companies still need to continue to invest in the product’s brand story.

Such is the case with the key brands of Procter & Gamble, which has a long record in investing in its oldest brands.

Last month, Target Corporation stores featured Crest, Secret, Old Spice, Scope and Ivory on one of their main aisle “end cap” displays. The displays did not feature new brand extensions, but instead had vintage packaging that evoked the original.

The display, seen here at their Sarasota, Fla. full-line Super Target, is situated in their redesigned personal care section, in a prime area across from the beer and wine aisle, and on the way to the milk and dairy section, which is sort of the back-store draw of the left side of the store.

The display also gave the establishment date of the brands, including Ivory in 1879, Crest in 1955 and Scope in 1965. Old Spice was created in 1938; the display reads “Smell Ready for Anything Since 1938.” Secret is advertised as for “strong women” since 1956.

Most appropriately, P&G promoted their oldest brand, Ivory, and perhaps their most trusted brand, Crest. The promotions are in the mould of the current P&G brand Old Spice, which was a former Shulton superstar brand that was revived with a new campaign a decade ago. Secret, featured at the top, displays three different flavors including a “Flower Power” scent.

The vintage Crest tube (seen below) plays up our old ingredient friend “Flouristan” which we have not seen in decades. Good for old Floristan to make an appearance! Flouristan was the trade name for stannous flouride, or SnF2. Stannous flouride has been mostly replaced with sodium flouride, a different compound.

Brands with a Story

This approach works for any historic brand, even one that is only three or so decades old. This can be done in a number of ways in an in-store display, from an aisle freestanding cardboard rack to shelf cards. It can also be done with advertising, either with social media posts and videos, or television. Radio is also a good medium for the freshening up of an old brand, as it is inexpensive, and can connect with the people who actually have a memory of the original version.

The promotion of the “original” version of the brand is not always to make it a top seller. Instead, it is to give the whole product line a story, so that the brands efficacy can be shown to be something that bridges multiple generations.

Christmas is a good time for this; many grocery brands revive old packaging and nostalgic images for displays. The idea is to attend to the present, and yet know the past. Once those two things are accomplished and understood, you have something that has a future.

C.S. Lewis, in his The Screwtape Letters, talks about the issue of past and present, in writing that applies directly to brands. In the book, Lewis writes to Wormwood, another evil spirit trying to corrupt what is good and successful in the world.

Lewis’ ideas can be directly applicable to brands. Chapter 15 in the book is about what gives something a eternal life. To make it applicable, I inserted “brand” where there was a them.

“The humans live in time, but our Enemy destines [brands] to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which [brands] call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.

“For the past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.”

To ditch the past, and only try for the future, exhausts the consumer. Telling of the past, in the present, projects into the future.

Procter & Gamble is well suited to this sort of approach. It has giant legacy brands that are well-known over generations. But it is not the only one. Colgate-Palmolive has brands like Cashmere Bouquet (seemingly defunct), Colgate and Palmolive. Unilever also has brands like Lux, Noxzema, Dove, Q-Tips and Pond’s that have been around for generations, and brands like Camay, which was once a P&G product.

When these brands were new, all you needed to do was talk about them in the present tense. But as they age, they have a story that needs to be addressed.

In recent years, P&G has returned to corporate marketing of its different brands together. This was the case during the heyday of the soap operas, when all the products of P&G appeared in collective promotions, often featuring the P&G logo. While the practice declined, it is a correct one, as it is important for stockholders of consumer products to see the products of a company marketed together.

The idea is to attend to the present, and yet know the past. Once those two things are accomplished and understood, you have something that has a future.


  • Know the year your brands were founded.
  • Tell the brand story online.
  • Use radio and other inexpensive media.
  • Revive old packaging for special promotions.
  • Dig up old advertising and commercials for use on social media.
  • Use old logos in point-of-sale displays.
  • Keep the “classic” version of your brand in the brand family.
  • Update the brand regularly, but use similar colors and idioms.


  • Garland Pollard

    J. Garland Pollard IV is editor/publisher of BrandlandUSA. Since 2006, the website has chronicled the history and business of America’s great brands.

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