Breathing new life into an old marketing symbol has often helped weakened companies boost sales -- a trend that appliance maker Maytag and retailer Kmart are hoping can happen again.
Both companies have recently launched advertising campaigns that feature well-known consumer icons with a new twist.
Maytag chose a new person to portray its revered Maytag Repairman who traditionally had nothing to do because the appliances were so reliable.
And Kmart, a division of Sears Holdings Corp., created a character called Mr. Bluelight, a talking blue bulb that hearkens back to the Blue Light Specials once featured in its stores, to tout products in its ads.
Making over marketing icons is a strategy that has worked for many brands in recent years, said Ken Bernhardt, regents professor of marketing at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
Specifically, he said that food brands such as Betty Crocker, Aunt Jemima and the Pillsbury Doughboy have been revamped several times to refresh them.
It's taking the equity that the firm has built and leveraging it by using the attention-getting characteristics to get consumers to notice changes have been made, Bernhardt said.
Since it bought Maytag last year, Whirlpool Corp. has unveiled new washing machines to revive the brand, which had lost market share in recent years as spending on product development waned. The selection of a new Maytag Repairman, a revered figure in American advertising, extended that effort.
We want to keep one foot in the past and one foot in the future, said Jeff Davidoff, Whirlpool's vice president for brand marketing.
Earlier this year, Maytag launched a U.S. search for a new Repairman. Davidoff said the winning candidate needed to be approachable, dependable and young at heart. Clay Jackson, 33, of Richmond, Virginia, fit the bill.
To make the Repairman more contemporary, ads show him out in the real world helping people repair things other than appliances. Ol' Lonely, the familiar moniker for the character who was introduced in 1967, was dropped.
With the Repairman being younger, Jackson said, he can introduce Maytag to a new generation while having the older generation fall in love with him all over again.
At Kmart, new ads feature the animated Mr. Bluelight. With big blue eyes, the character points out value items carried only by the chain as well as limited-time specials.
People were very excited to see the Blue Light come back, but they were really excited that it was presented in a whole new way, said Bill Stewart, Kmart's chief marketing officer.
Kmart featured Blue Light Specials in the 1970s and '80s to highlight sale items, but stores discontinued them in 1991.
Bernhardt, the Georgia State professor, said the Maytag Repairman and Mr. Bluelight can help attract consumers as the companies face new rivals.
Kmart, for example, has cited rising competition as it reported that quarterly sales at stores open at least a year have fallen for the past year.
In Kmart's case, sending a message that things have changed can help improve its image among shoppers who might remember times when many stores were not well-maintained, he said.
A lot of people still think of the old Kmart and don't think of it very positively, Bernhardt said. But one thing they do remember positively from the past is the Blue Light Specials.