Oct 28, 2014

How brands with their roots in the distant past remain desirable today

The Elixir of Youth 

They have existed for more than a century, sometimes for more than seven hundred years. Defying the traditional laws of marketing, they appear to be blessed with immortality. Names like Maille, Hennessy or Cire Trudon seem to possess the secret of youth. What if their success can be explained by a subtle alchemy of true story and innovative design?

Why do the timeless brands seduce us?

Product truth with no spin

Created by artisans and craftsmen these brands embody timeless values that have been largely lost to time. Precision, a mastery of process, and a savoir faire that is passed on out of love and commitment to a profession. A product of true quality seems increasingly rare in a world of instant disposability and replacement. And if this kind of quality were to disappear, replaced by something more 'standard'. A 'standard' born out of a prioritisation of process over the creation of a product of the highest quality? These kind of businesses, often family firms, were created at a time when ROI wasn't valued above all else. Today many brands are viewed with suspicion by consumers (really?). Social media and online reviews offer us all the chance to assess the promises and commitments made by brands. Unencumbered by such concerns, the classic brands retain an honesty and authenticity. If a classic brand continues to thrive it shows that it has, at its core, values and relevance that have nothing to do with opportunism.

The importance of nostalgia

The feelings of nostalgia prompted by such classic brands evoke a time that seems simpler to understand than our own. A sweet echo that sparks the memory and which can be felt at several different levels. First of all, on a personal level: a brand can be powerfully linked tomemories of the past, sometimes even as far back as childhood. And on a more social level the brand can hark back to a period, to a community, that is a symbol to a bygone, and lamented, era. The most important assets of these timeless brands is the emotion that they spark within us, this 'Proustian' effect. When we buy one of these classic brands we are buying a magnified representation of the past and open ourselves to the experience of authenticity and values that have now become rare.

Age doesn't lie

Great age cannot be bought or invented. This exclusivity is one of the key characteristics of the classic brands. The fact that they have survived for so long can mean only one thing: that the brand still exists because it has been sufficiently strong to resist all the challenges of the market. And if the business continues to prosper it is because it has understood how to evolve through time, buiding on its heritage and continuing to be relevant. More than anything else, a long history is proof of excellence. So the date of the brand's creation and its connection to the product are key; and of course it should appear next to the brand name: Maille, maison fondée en 1747; Banque Monte dei Paschi de Siena, dal 1472.

A date can be such a strong asset that even recently founded brands choose to make an association with the year of their creation, an element of branding that will gain value over the passing of time. But is age really the guarantee of success for such classic brands? After all, year by year memories fade and history is forgotten. Remember La Roche aux Fées or Chambourcy, brands that we once loved which have now disappeared. So it seems that age and nostalgia are not enough. How then can brands exploit their heritage?

The rules to building a timeless brand

Cultivate a myth

Classic brands cannot rest on their laurels. They must 'cultivate' their story and make it constantly relevant by writing new chapters. New ranges of product, new graphic language, new points of view: they have no choice but to innovate. These great survivors have in effect been able to balance two competing forces: to remain almost unchanged so as not to disappoint, whilst at the same time continuing to evolve in order to remain relevant and  desirable. According to the model put forward by Georges Lewi, only brands that manage to maintain this equilibrium can achieve the status of a mythical brand. The myth then becoming the key that preserves the balance between modernity and tradition.


We often forget that timeless brands came into being as a result of intense creativity and a radically different perspective on their market. In 1893 a formula based on natural reflectors was key to the success of Email Diamant, the brand that has retained its position as the specialist in whitening. The Italian stationer Fabriano invented the watermark to combat counterfeiting. And in rather tastier territory Antoine Maille, as far back as 1747, was presenting numerous varieties of mustards with astonishing flavours (eg ravigote, mousseron, millefeuille). What is it that links these brands? They have understood how to stay true to their innovative roots, continuing to develop new products and creating iconic packaging.

Here are the stories of 4 brands that have used their history and heritage to succeed. Re-generated, re-energised or re-invented they illustrate the essential role played by design in the on-going success of the most ancient of brands.

4 Evidences 


Jack Daniel’s is one of the rare brands that has managed to create staying power.

The main reason is consistency. The brand has stayed true to itself since its creation, with one core message and communication platform that speaks to America. 

Independence, Freedom and Integrity are Jack Daniel’s core values and timelessness is their power.

These values built the ‘American Dream’ in the 18th century and still ring true today for new American generations. The values of Independence and Freedom are also respected overseas; people are attracted to them and can identity with them. That is the power of the Jack Daniel’s brand.


The most recognizable hot sauce in the world comes from an incredibly small insular land in South Louisiana: the Avery island. It is now a fifth generation family business that has raised people on spicy food since 1868, even at the White House table.

The famous recipe was created on the back of the account book of Edmund McIlhenny.

The secret of its success: no other hot sauce was available at this time.

It was an original, brand-new product. In addition, the amazing island, the daily testing by their founder, the simplicity and the incredible quality of the ingredients and the know-how have ensured this brand’s timelessness.

Today, their secret weapon comes from the lab where food scientists create new flavors and experiment until they find the best new formula.

Now, Tabasco sells a line of 7 flavors that has gained our hearts and makes it essential in our kitchens.


It all started years ago with a small black item that could fit into one’s pocket.

Moleskine is the straight inheritor of the legendary notebook used by artists and intellectuals in the two past centuries, from Vincent Van Gogh to Pablo Picasso, not to mention Ernest Hemingway.

“The heir of a legendary notebook”: this sentence welcomes visitors on the brand’s website. This is where the rewriting of the story begins.

Is is known that neither Hemingway nor Picasso really used a Moleskine notebook. The reason is simple: the brand didn’t exist when they lived. The word Moleskine appeared for the first time in 1987 in a novel from the English writer Chatwin. This is only in 1998 that the company Modo and Modo created and deposited the brand. A tad of well-though storytelling associated to a design edge was enough to set the brand off to a great success. Today the brand regularly launches novelties and doesn’t hesitate to partner with Disney or Star Wars, which would certainly have surprised Hemingway.


A mythic brand can seem distant, nestled in its gloriouspast. It has to create a lasting conversation with its consumers. The boutique Maille is one example of how to stretch the brand’s meaningful universe and how to create an exclusive experience. When everything is one click away, a visit from a client nearly becomes a gift to any brand. A brand needs to provide in return a dose of enchantment. The new boutique Maille settled in Picadilly – CBA designed it – delivers mustard straight from the pump at a dedicated counter.

A new purchase ritual which allows the brand to grow into its category, by becoming a fresh product, delivered by hand.

This boutique, with its “maison” spirit, becomes the vehicle of the brand’s unique history, unleashing its potential which is normally limited in the traditional retail channels.


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