Amongst the millions of brands around the world, a select few reach iconic status.
When one thinks of ‘iconic brands‘, the likes of Apple®, Nike®, Coca Cola®, Starbucks® and McDonald’s® immediately come to mind.
These iconic brands are internationally recognized household names. They have achieved market leadership and an ever-increasing market value. These brands have become very much part of the various cultures around the globe. And they evoke very strong emotional connections with their loyal consumers.
Even their slogans or mission statements have become iconic:
- Think Different of Apple®
- Just Do It of Nike®
- It’s the Real Thing of Coke® (circa 1972)
- One Person, One Cup at a Time of Starbucks®
- I’m Lovin’ It of McDonald’s®
These slogans may sound simple, but these are usually the result of extensive marketing research, consumer insights analysis, competitive analysis, market concept testing and re-testing, etc. before the campaigns based on these slogans see the light of day in the general market. These slogans are meant to represent the brand positioning statements that define the unique spaces that these brands aspire to occupy in the minds of their prospects. They are creative expressions of the very foundation by which all aspects of their respective brand architectures are built upon. In other words, these statements, while simple, are very sophisticated and have far-reaching implications on all aspects of the brand.
In this blog, we feature another iconic and extremely well-loved brand especially amongst its loyal base of customers.
I am referring to the iconic Italian scooter brand Vespa®.
It was founded in 1946 by Enrico Piaggio (the son of Piaggio & Co.’s founder Rinaldo Piaggio) who decided to leave the aeronautical field in order to address Italy’s urgent need for a modern and affordable mode of transportation for the masses.
Let’s Vespa! is its equally iconic slogan.
But before we talk about Vespa®, let’s talk a little more about ‘iconic brands’.
What makes a brand ‘iconic’?
In his piece in medium.com, Steve Harvey (not the comedian), outlines three key points that form the foundation of every iconic brand, as follows:
- Their cultural background: Iconic brands know how to engage with societal values, like the drive to achieve something or the global pursuit of happiness. These companies then build their brand purpose around the things that matter most to their customers.
- Their identity and image: Iconic brand identities are engaging because they have identities that remain consistent no matter where their customers might interact with them. Every aspect of their brand is carefully designed to resonate with their clients, and support their company story.
- Their story: Above all else, iconic brands will always stay true to their story and vision. Though their beliefs may be reinterpreted from time to time in order to appeal to new customers, iconic brands maintain the same company values throughout the years.
In other words, iconic brands go beyond the functional aspects of their positioning in the market and cross over to the more emotional and psychological aspects of their positioning and then build on these consistently thereby enabling the brand to be culturally ingrained in the lives of its consumers.
Within the context of the brand architecture, iconic brands have a specially unique and compelling combination of brand strategy (i.e. brand positioning, unique selling proposition and supporting evidence) and brand identity (i.e. brand name, brand logo and brand personality).
In the case of Vespa®, it checks all the boxes of the three key points outlined by Steve Harvey above. Founded initially with its functional mission of simply providing low-cost mobility for its citizens right after World War II in 1946, its Italian heritage and identity has provided the halo effect of Italian fashion, design and its carefree and fun lifestyle unto the brand which have served it very well in bringing this humble scooter brand to iconic status.
“From the moment it burst onto the scene in a nation that was in a post-war rebuilding phase and brimming with ideas, creativity and hope, Vespa® has represented a zest for life and a desire to embrace the future. It has become an icon of freedom and emancipation for young people the world over, combining effortless, distinctive Made in Italy style with cutting-edge technology.“Vespa Website
Furthermore, I believe Vespa®’s potent combination of its brand positioning and personality is its winning formula which served as its foundation for becoming an iconic brand. I have summarized the brand’s key ingredients in five key points which encompass its positioning and personality under the headings of Functionality, Females, Fashion, Films and Fun.
The original mission of Vespa® was very functional. It simply wanted to provide a low-cost but well designed and well-built means of transportation for Italians that was easy to use, even by females and even by teenagers.
Ironically, the original inspiration for Vespa® was the unstylish American military scooter called the Cushman Airborne Scooter, produced by Cushman Motor Works, which was dropped via parachute into the Italian countryside during World War II. Cushman made nearly five thousand airborne scooters for the US military starting in 1944. The rugged, simple Model 53 could travel through twelve inches of water, climb a twenty five percent grade and had a range of around one hundred miles.
Building upon Cushman Airborne Scooter’s functionality, so much about the Vespa® scooter made it appealing and equally accessible to the masses. The gear lever was on the handlebar to make shifting easy, and, thanks to the designer’s aeronautical expertise, he designed the body to absorb stress just as a plane would, eliminating the need for a chain that only created dirt. The design of the wheel was refined to make them easier to change when needed. The seat was made comfortable, and all of the workings of the scooter were cleverly placed behind elegant panels so the rider was never at risk of getting their clothes dirty.
“Vespa® was an original, useful and beautiful product that immediately won over the hearts of a post-WWII public when Italy was clamoring for a comeback. Vespa®’s creator, Corradino d’Ascanio, was an ingenious designer with a technology-first mentality who blended creativity and mechanical engineering into a functional, aerodynamic and simple vehicle.”
Another brilliant decision by the brand at the onset was to target also the female market, making the brand unisex. The brand’s founder Piaggo cleverly promoted the fact that young professionals and women could ride this scooter without having to worry about getting stained by mud and oil. The first advert in 1946 seen below depicted an independent woman on her way to work on her Vespa®. The progressive imagery was well received, perfectly attuned to the times since Italian women had just voted for the first time in the country’s history. Without a doubt, this was a clear open hole in the mobility market and the brand was able to capitalize on this very strongly.
Through the years, there have been some notable co-branding initiatives of Vespa® with well-known fashion brands. For example, to celebrate the year 2015, which coincided with the 40th anniversary of the foundation of Giorgio Armani and the 130th birthday of the Piaggio Group, Emporio Armani designed a special version of the Vespa 946 Armani®. The words ‘Emporio Armani’ appear on the side, while the iconic eagle logo of the brand sits above the headlight.
The Christian Dior Vespa 946 Scooter® is another fashion statement between these two iconic brands which was launched during the Spring of 2021 in selected Dior® stores and some Piaggio Group’s Motoplex stores.
There is no better free publicity for any brand compared to being featured in movies alongside well-known celebrities. In the case of Vespa®, there is a long list of such appearances of the brand which helps the cultural integration of the brand even more.
But the film that catapulted the brand to new heights of fame back in the 1950’s was Roman Holiday, a 1953 American romantic comedy film directed and produced by Willian Wyler and top-billed by Audrey Hepburn (playing the part of a princess) and Gregory Peck (portraying a reporter) set in Rome. Hepburn won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in this film.
The appearance of Vespa® in the film is said to have delivered an additional 100,000 sold units during that year.
During the filming of Ben-Hur in 1959, Charlton Heston was often seen on his Vespa® zipping around the Hollywood set in between takes. These are the kinds of images that solidify the notion that the brand is not only functional, but also cool, fun and liberating. It also delivered the message that the brand is not only for the ladies.
Since then, the brand has been featured in other films including:
- La Dolce Vita (1960) with Marcelo Mastroianni
- The Day of the Jackal (1973) with Edward Fox
- The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) with Jude Law
- The Interpreter (2005) with Nicole Kidman
- Bourne Ultimatum (2007) with Matt Damon
- The American (2010) with George Clooney
- Zoolander 2 (2016) with Ben Stiller and Penelope Cruz
These cameos provided invaluable brand exposure and further cemented its status as a brand celebrity in its own right.
From the very start, the brand positioned itself for fun. Its original slogan Let’s Vespa!, which was revived during its 70th anniversary in 2015, clearly establishes this aspiration for its young target market.
In post-war Italy, everything was about practicality and economics. In the 1950’s the key focus of the brand’s marketing campaign was all about fun and freedom. They accomplished this by featuring young teenagers with their Vespa®s hanging out after school, couples going for a picnic in the countryside, and in years later, the convenience of going through traffic with a Vespa®.
Last December 2021, the brand made headlines again through its announcement of its latest celebrity collaboration with Canadian superstar Justin Bieber.
“Over the years, the international star has been spotted riding Vespa, proving him a scooter enthusiast and the project inevitable.”Hypebeast
Last year, early in 2021, the brand celebrated its 75th year with the campaign ‘75 Year Young‘ and launched two commemorative limited edition models called Vespa Primavera 75th® and Vespa GTS 75th® which are the two most successful models in its 75-year history.
Today, it is estimated that close to twenty million Vespa®‘s have been sold since its first launch in 1946 and its brand value is pegged at around US$1.02Billion (€960million) making it the undisputed global brand leader in the scooter market.
This iconic brand leaves us with two key lessons:
First, the transformation from a strong brand to iconic status involves a transcendent combination and consistent execution of both brand strategy and brand identity.
And second, iconic brands are able to cross over to pop culture by consistently tapping into the emotional and psychological needs of their target customers while remaining aligned with their positioning and identity.
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