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These legacy retail brands modernized their marketing strategies, and now they're thriving

Help your clients thrive in a competitive landscape and challenging economy

Design by Ron Mizrahi

Profile picture of Catherine Thorpe


5 min read

It seems as though every week brings a new headline about a retailer going under. Bed, Bath, and Beyond, Party City, and Revlon have all filed for bankruptcy. It’s enough to make retailers of any size shake.

But with a savvy, digital-first strategy, retailers can quickly turn their fortunes around, find new momentum and thrive. Just as the past year brought store closures, century-old brands notched record sales after going viral on TikTok. Who’d have guessed?

Well, perhaps you could’ve. Digital agencies can—and do—provide creative solutions and an outside perspective to execute a quick turnaround for struggling clients everyday. And even if your client isn’t falling on hard times, there’s a lot you and your team can do to take their success into another stratosphere.

The proof is in these well-known brands that pulled off next-to-iconic turnarounds. Ahead, you’ll find their success stories, plus the marketing strategies that can help your clients thrive in a similarly competitive landscape and challenging economy.

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01. Lego

At the turn of the millennium, the toy maker was in trouble. Kids were spending time on screens, not constructing physical worlds. In search of new revenue, Lego developed video games, theme parks and even a line of clothing—with mixed results.

To turn things around, they re-centered on their customers. They closely observed families’ play habits and spending preferences, which inspired such hits as Ninjago and Lego Friends, the Guardian reported.

They also pursued savvy partnerships with Star Wars and Harry Potter to enhance their core product lines, and partnerships with Adidas and Balenciaga appealed to adults who grew up playing with Legos.

The payoff has been substantial: in 2021, consumer sales grew 36%, helping operating profits double to $1.2 billion, according to License Global.

The lesson for agencies: build strategies on data, not desperation

Lego uncovered new opportunities by getting back in touch with its original customers. These interactions prompted a renewed focus on popular product themes, such as outer space, that led to partnership deals with Star Wars and other hit franchises (and could have marketing holiday tie-ins). Start a brand revamp with market research and customer surveys to understand what buyers want, and build organically from there.

02. Stanley

The rise of eCommerce posed an existential threat to the 175-year-old manufacturer. Most of Stanley’s revenue came from small items such as tape measures and hinges, and its supply chain was ill-equipped to handle direct-to-consumer demand.

A massive investment in online selling was in order. Recognizing that “eCommerce is the number one growth opportunity,” Stanley hired more than 150 dedicated staff to pilot digital initiatives globally, Digital Commerce 360 reported.

This specialized expertise helped rejuvenate the brand’s image. In 2019, feedback from influential bloggers prompted the brand to capitalize on the rising popularity of reusable water bottles and drink containers, according to NPR. New colors and designs for the cup-holder-friendly Quencher tumbler resulted in a viral sensation on TikTok and Instagram. Product sales rocketed 275% year over year, and the company’s net income has more than doubled since 2013.

The lesson for agencies: digital-first is more than a buzzword

Trusting bloggers to guide product and marketing strategy is a leap of faith Stanley was prepared to make thanks to its organization-wide focus on digital initiatives. To maximize success, develop responsive online strategies that build on feedback from existing customers and leverage new marketing channels.

03. Claire’s

After decades as a shopping mall staple, in 2018 Claire’s filed for bankruptcy and shuttered nearly 200 stores. Changing shopping habits and a middling digital presence had nearly killed the brand.

To reboot, Claire’s rethought their approach to in-person shopping. Through “concession” partnerships, Claire’s offers aisles and kiosks within popular retailers like CVS and Walmart in the U.S. and Galeries Lafayette in France, according to Glossy. The company repurposed its own locations as omnichannel hubs with the debut of same-day store pickup for online orders.

Online, a collaboration with Roblox connected the brand with its core audience in a new way. Tween and teen shoppers can earn loyalty club points as they play ShimmerVille, according to Modern Retail. Overall, the brand reboot helped lift sales 53% year-over-year in 2021, Marketplace said.

The lesson for agencies: go where buyers gather

Claire’s proactively established a presence where tweens and teens already preferred to go—both online and in the physical world. Prioritize digital investments by catering to your audience’s specific omnichannel preferences.

04. Polaroid

A “juggernaut of innovation,” the original Polaroid Corporation pioneered instant-photography cameras, earning more than 500 patents, according to the Boston Globe. But faster film processing from regular cameras and the rise of digital photography put the iconic brand out of business. It went bankrupt twice and churned through six CEOs in the early 2000s.

A relaunch in 2009 focused on blending retro appeal with modern functionality. New Polaroid cameras offer users the old-is-new experience of instant-print physical photos that can also be saved as digital files. Drones and mini-printers that generate photos on sticky-back paper are extending Polaroid’s offerings to adjacent product categories.

Brand nostalgia has played a role in its rise in popularity, boosted by collaborations and tie-ins to pop-culture hits like “The Mandalorian,” PetaPixel reported. Promotions on thoroughly modern platforms like Snapchat introduce the Polaroid brand to the next generation.

The lesson for agencies: balance legacy with innovation

Polaroid maintains its iconic brand identity through retro design and functionality that blends old and new. The company has extended key features such as instant printing while relegating to history ideas that flopped, such as a filmstrip recorder with a built-in viewer. A brand relaunch should spotlight classic elements with staying power, then build on them.

05. Lancôme

The well-known French skincare and makeup brand launched in 1935, then joined L’Oréal’s luxury portfolio in 1964. But in recent years, independent and celebrity-driven beauty brands flourished, challenging Lancôme to remain a mainstay.

In response, the brand put a fresh spin on its tradition of featuring iconic celebrities as brand ambassadors. To appeal to its audience in China, Lancôme named singer and actor Kris Wu as a brand ambassador in 2019, according to Daxue Consulting. And in 2023, Emma Chamberlain became a Lancôme ambassador, introducing the brand to her millions of social media followers, Cosmetics Business reports. (Related: Are internet holidays marketing genius or just social media noise?)

Lancôme further appeals to Millennial and Gen Z shoppers with mobile-first experiences such as facial-recognition and augmented-reality shopping tools, according to Launchmetrics. The company has doubled down on experiential retail since the pandemic, launching an AR experience at its flagship Paris outlet and immersive pop-up displays globally.

The lesson for agencies: engage the next generation on their own terms

Lancôme is connecting with Gen Z luxury beauty buyers through influencer marketing tailored to diverse audiences, coupled with a commitment to innovation that’s more than skin deep. When relaunching a brand, research and engage with influencers relevant to the category and follow through with shopping tools designed to appeal to digital natives.

Bring fresh eyes to your clients’ eCommerce strategy

In the digital era, survival—or shall we say thrival—as a retail brand requires unprecedented agility and creativity. Companies can leverage the perspective and expertise of agencies to rethink their offerings, connect with new audiences and forge new partnerships. Armed with fresh insights and a focused strategy, there’s no limit to where your clients can go.


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