If you are of certain age you remember The Smith Brothers Cough Drop. With their signature bearded brothers and shiny box, the cherry-flavored drops were not only around when you had a cough or a sore throat, but often times were used as candy when other items weren’t around. However in the uber competitive, high spend marketing world of cold products, Smith Brothers disappeared from the marketplace in favor of brands like Hall’s, and Cold-eeze, and Ricolah, many of whom spent big time in the sports space.
However as a story by Danny Ecker in Crains Chicago pointed out this week, because of some sports ties, The Smith Brothers, with some new found equity money and some ties to the ice, are making a comeback.
The tie was through the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that under President John McDonough has undergone quite a brand revival of its own even without its pair of Stanley Cups. The key link between hockey and the cough drops was the beard. A longtime staple of superstition in the NHL postseason, the beard growing has morphed in recent years into a cause celebre’ for fans and for charities looking to engage in hockey playoff fever, with Beard-A-Thins popping up in almost every NHL market. The unshorn, rough and tumble look as also been embraced in other sports for the postseason, especially baseball, where the Red Sox beards were the stuff of legend during their second World Series run. However hockey and beards are really where it started, and those bearded cough drop-promoting brothers came along at the right time last winter.
With little traditional marketing spent, Smith Brothers staged a call to action last winter in Chicago with Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, and had over 1,000 fans turned out at of all places a Walgreens for the brand coming out party, albeit one with the Stanley Cup. They repeated the promo, actually a co-promotion with Walgreens with the Hawks Duncan Keith, and again turned out a solid crowd on a busy day. The affinity with the Blackhawks served as a great entrée for the brand in its home market.
Their “Bring Back the Beards” slogan has also been a big help, as has their use of two actors bringing the brothers to life to participate in the promos, all again, without the mega-spending of many of their new-found competitors in the market. The expansion of the program will see “Beard Nights” at the United Center and a branded “Beard Cam” in the building, as well as probably an expansion of the Walgreens co-promotional partnership.
There is also talk, according to the story, of bearded brand extensions into hockey-solid markets like Boston and New York, also solid Walgreens areas, pulling in players like Zdeno Chara and Henrik Lundqvist into the mix, which should lead to a natural extension of the program when the beards really come out in hockey next spring, maybe even tied to existing charity programs, with a natural affinity to the health and wellness category.
But how about outside of hockey? How about tying to Ryan Fitzpatrick’s ever-growing beard with the Houston Texans, or Brett Keisel with the Pittsburgh Steelers? The crossover into the NFL would be a much bigger spend than for the NHL marks, but who knows what natural affinity could grow (no pun intended) out of the beard promotion and beard awareness that seems to spiral into every sport not on a track or a pool these days.
The Smith Brothers logo, and its story, also extends to those 40 and above who recall the brand from their youth, which could help ease the company into more homes without a massive relaunch at first. Then again, it looks like the Blackhawks have gotten them back in the game.
Now make no mistake, cute and smart local viral promotions, even in a major market, don’t translate into national sales and success overnight, especially when there is private equity money involved which is looking for immediate ROI and low spending to get there and you are going up the massive marketing programs of big pharma.
Even with those obstacles, it’s nice once again to see a brand that found a way to engage with the right partner at the right time and is leveraging its initial success into a much larger play. Certainly nothing to sneeze…or cough…at.