Whimsy Innovation: How Brands are Reinventing Engagement

Growing up as part of Generation X, I developed an affinity for the lazy orange striped cat affectionately known as Garfield. For many reasons, I associated with this character: his affinity for napping, eating lasagna, hating Mondays, and wreaking havoc on those who merely wanted his attention. The interest grew beyond collecting carton books and slowly took over my childhood bedroom. As far as I was concerned, I needed every Garfield product I could get my hands on, including the iconic Garfield telephone. Looking back, this is one of my earliest memories of how I became hooked on a brand, and personal amusement was at the core.

It seemed to me, at the time, that particular brands meant something to my family, as our house was dotted throughout with them. The fact was that we trusted only what we determined to be quality products, which helped instill shopping habits that I still practice to this day. If a brand means something to me or entertains me—with quality at the forefront— chances are I will try it.

Today’s retail landscape has changed, in that we are constantly bombarded with all types of new brands: independent, collaborative, and value-based. This presents a space in which heritage and legacy brands can play, as they compete for relevance in a quickly changing market.

However, how can a company draw attention from its tried-and-true fans and the ones that got away, at the same time? Thinking differently is at least one answer, and the following brands are pushing innovation beyond simply providing a new product.

  • Children’s entertainment company, Nickelodeon, is bringing its iconic Nickelodeon Slime to a new food category, that of ice cream pops and bars. These treats are appealing to millennial parents and their children. The frozen treats are Walmart-exclusive and give kids and nostalgic adults alike the opportunity to ingest that glowing green-colored substance made famous by Nickelodeon shows. The vanilla ice cream cups are mixed with green icing swirls, and the bars are available in lemon-lime and orange ices.
  • Taco Bell is a food company with cult-like status whose fans are eager for the next innovation. Following themed releases such as a “reBELLious” clothing collection and churro donuts for breakfast, the concept of a hotel only seems natural. Palm Springs, CA will soon be the home of the first Taco Bell Hotel and Resort, giving fans an interactive taco-themed travel experience. The resort will house a boutique filled with branded gifts, and a salon will offer guests services, including taco-inspired manicures and original hairstyles.
  • Trans World Airlines recently remodeled its 1960s-style JFK airport terminal to create a new travel destination, complete with a hotel, restaurants, food hall, and bars. The TWA Hotel restoration included a re-opening celebration with former employees—some wearing their retro work uniforms. Interior design played a large role in recreating the feel of each renovated section, which included a rooftop lounge and a bar located inside a restored airplane from the 1960s.

The adult consumer I am today thinks twice before handing my money over, and my shopping habits are a direct reflection of how brands are part of a changing retail space. While I may still connect more with a familiar brand, I am more inclined to try new ones—particularly those that connect with my lifestyle, fondness for nostalgia, and fun…let’s not leave fun out of the equation.

This is a trend the team at CultureWaves is exploring as part of our Quarterly Report (Q1-2019), and you can download that infographic  here. Until then, you can find some of our employees enjoying green ice cream, collecting Garfield animation cells, and sporting our favorite taco sauce-themed nail art.

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