Can Lassie be saved? When re-branding doesn’t work

I’m still reeling about Lassie. That the scion of a loyal, courageous, elegant line of war heroes (The Courage of Lassie) has been re-positioned as the “Kate Middleton of animals” is more than I can bear.

Lassie, enduring her rebranding as a product pitch dog.  Courtesy of The New York Times.
Lassie, enduring her rebranding as a product pitch dog.  (Courtesy of The New York Times)

Granted re-branding is tricky, as are brand extensions. Should this young Lassie have been a brand extension instead of a re-brand?  Can Lassie come home?

Case in point:  I’ve been admiring a new extension of a venerable local brand as it’s come together over the last several months.  The new building is adjacent to the original, so the relationship of mother-to-child is obvious. Of course, this is not Hollywood, but we’re getting close to it here in Austin, Tex.

The original, Fonda San Miguel, is a gorgeous place filled with a world-class art collection, food and drink. A welcoming, elegant restaurant with adjacent gardens.

It's the kind of restaurant eople take pictures of each other standing in front of
It’s the kind of restaurant where you go to curry favor.

Here’s the extension. It’s unannounced, unopened but rumored to be a tapas bar.  Perfect, no?

The new tapas bar of Fonda San Miguel in Austin, Texas.
The child of the grand Fonda San Miguel, just across the garden in Austin, Texas.  A bit of hipster funk.

The brand extension works because it contrasts with the original while maintaining the flavor. It’s unexpected, but it makes sense. (I sound like I’m at a wine tasting, don’t I?  But you understand what I’m saying.)

A lesson for Dreamworks?  Don’t tamper with an icon.  Did anyone ask Marilyn Monroe to lose weight?  Well, probably, but that’s another conversation.

Is it presumptious to compare a Hollywood icon to a local institution?  Perhaps. But then again why not, if something is to be learned?

Maybe Lassie’s great-great-great offspring should have been renamed “Lasi” and positioned as a fashion blogger?

Reinvention and upside down tomatoes

I stopped into my favorite charity shop and watched a volunteer pull one of those grow-tomatoes-upside-down kits out of a bag.  A botanical reinvention built on the premise that plants — like people, corporations and planets — can be reinvented  to instantly adapt in ways that are painless, prompt, productive and  profitable.

Reinventing the tomato plant -- upside down.
Reinventing the tomato plant — upside down.

Yes and no.  Reinvention is systemic. It’s metric is survival. That tomato, for example, knows it’s supposed to grow up, so you’ll find it straining to turn itself upside upside down to be rightside up.  This can be distressing to watch if you have rigid ideas of how things should be, but that’s the trade off.     

I’m a boomer, raised on pap spun out by that evil genius of happy endings, Walt Disney.  Did he know he was shaping an entire generation’s psychology?  All those fairy godmothers, princes and ball gowns?   I would have loved to have seen him locked into a joint script-writing project with the Brothers Grimm.  The result would be very 21st century.  

When Plan A and indeed B and C don’t work, I try to give myself a break.  I realize I’m tapping my foot in anticipation of a fast, inside-out extreme makeover — fewer wrinkles, better real estate and clients who hang on my every word.  Fascinating opportunities are out there.  We just have to trash the old script — and pen a new one.

So, heave ho.  We know what to do. Read the pundits.  Keep moving forward.  Cheerfully.  It’ll soon be tomato season.