SLIGHTLY more than cursory desktop research and consultation with online friends about South Africa’s “heritage brands” reveals an amazing gold mine of iconic brands many of us have grown up with and relate to with degrees of intimacy. 2df2c440b73848e39fdcccecc8e14336 (1)

They cover a whole continuum ranging from the cultural and political to mining, financial services and a whole range of fast moving consumer goods that remain with us to this day.


Their journey with us

Many of us continue holding on to these brands because our parents used them. Our lasting trust in them emanates from having actively and passively observed our parents talk about them, joke about them, and recommend them on the basis of some unquestioned advice handed down over two or even three generations.

They used them as part of their nurturing toolkits for coughs, headaches, backaches, energy, stomach pains, hunger, thirst, entertainment, house cleaning, etc. But we also hold on to them because we’ve never dared to believe that anything else could do what they purportedly do as well as they can.

In some cases, the emotional ties we share with them almost have religious overtones.

Any attempt to unpack our fidelity to South Africa’s iconic heritage brands reveals an amazing tapestry woven together through personal, familial, neighbourhood, communal and regional anecdotes that span generations. If this is all we need to realise that seemingly elusive nation-building ideal our politicians so clumsily – and often hypocritically – preach about, we would be silly not to succeed.


Lessons for marketers

Heritage brands, as the name implies, are passed on from generation to generation by marketers who know how to keep renovating, innovating and introducing variants of the brand and growing into new market segments without sacrificing their essence. But this cannot be done carelessly.

There are several approaches marketers adopt to keep these heritage brands fresh and relevant over generations. Firstly, before they can even think of tweaking anything, they have to understand the brand’s core promise, as it were its essence.

Secondly, they have to take time, through robust consumer research – i e seen from the consumer’s perspective – to understand why the brands have remained so strong over decades; what they mean in the lives of the people who consume them and why support for them remains steadfast.

Thirdly, they must understand conditions in the fast-changing world in which consumers make buying decisions.

These may include the values of modern society, rights issues (human, environmental, worker, animal, children, women, etc), health considerations, family structures, fast changing media consumption patterns, proliferation of media platforms and their effect on consumer choice, and the like.

Finally, like seasoned sculptors, marketers can go about integrating the results of these findings into brand refreshment processes without taking away or radically changing the brand’s core promise.


Heritage brands can be unifier brands

We may argue and squabble a lot as South Africans, but we have a lot more that ties us together than keeps us apart. We’re just not looking in the right places all of the time. The ethnic celebrations we tend to place much focus on, on successive Heritage Days, are the silos, perhaps even the pillars, on which our nation rests. But our iconic heritage brands together form the overarching structure that makes us one big family.

South Africans living and travelling abroad enjoy the pleasure of sharing these South African-bred brands with friends and associates in other countries. Perhaps there is an opportunity for the likes of BrandSA, SA Tourism, Trade and Investment South Africa and others to commission South African creative minds who know these brands well to come up with amazing ideas to use them in enhancing our nation brand, here and abroad?

Nation building doesn’t have to be done through song and dance alone!


The heritage brands: a shortlist

Take a look at the list below, no doubt very far from complete, and see which of them still take you down childhood’s memory lane:

• Tastic Rice – 60+ years old
• Sasol – 65 years old
• Anglo American
• Koo – 70+ years old
• Jungle Oats – 120 years old
• Fattis & Monis – 100+ years old
• All Gold, Purity, Oros, Ingrams, Doom & Enterprise – 94 years old
• Zambuk, Colgate, Vaseline, castor oil, etc.
• Sunlight – 124+ years old
• Woolworths, Pick n Pay, Checkers, Shoprite
• Castle Lager, Black Label, etc.
• Putco, Golden Arrow
• Gallo Records, etc.

What space do these brands still hold in your heart and mind? What kind of associations do they evoke and, importantly, how has their modernisation through marketing look-and-feel affected your relationship with them over time?

Are you as attached to many of their newer variants as you have remained to the original brand? Have you ever ventured out to try newer, competing, brands and ended up returning to the ‘devils you know’, out of nostalgia or disappointment?