Both of these marketing statements are true:
- The Hess Toy Truck brand is thriving.
- The Hess consumer-retail brand is dead.
No, this isn’t a strange SAT logic test. It’s an example of how a strong sub-brand can flourish even though the parent brand is essentially defunct.
Keep reading for the explanation, and the eight, winning brand management success factors.
For more than five decades, Hess Corporation operated retail gas stations, eventually becoming the largest chain of company-operated gas stations and convenience stores on the East Coast. The company and toy trucks were especially well-known in their New Jersey/New York metropolitan area home base.
Beginning in 1964, Hess promoted an annual holiday toy truck to build and boost their business. The trucks became a legendary collectible.
In 2014, Hess Corporation sold its retail gas station business, part of its transition to a pure play “energy company engaged in the exploration and production of crude oil and natural gas.”
The trucks lived on, though. In addition to consumer demand, Hess Corporation smartly understands that the toy trucks have some intrinsic brand equity that’s still good even for their now mission-refocused company.
How does an oil and gas exploration company keep the flame burning brightly for its eponymous consumer toy truck brand?
The answer lies with historical brand-building and well-executed brand management.
Starting with its first toy truck, Hess operated that part of the business like a consumer products manufacturer. They designed and developed a quality product, targeted a clearly defined customer, and sold at a fair price.
Of course, it helped that the gas stations were a ready-made distribution channel.
Marketing in the 1960s and 1970s consisted of newspaper ads and signs at gas stations. Television advertising began in the early 1980s, and that was a key factor in the toy truck brand’s success. Since 1988, every commercial starts with the line: “The Hess truck’s back and it’s better than ever.”
With the demise of the retail brand, Hess created a dedicated website platform and online ordering system to preserve the toy truck brand.
The Hess Toy Truck is famous. It’s a legend in collecting.
The Hess toy truck appeals to consumers of all ages, from small children to sophisticated adult collectors. For instance, in my family, my grade school nephews receive truck gifts each year, while my pre-med university nephew still gets his truck, all courtesy of their grandparents. Note: my niece could get one too if she wanted! While I don’t collect the annual trucks, I keep my 50th anniversary special edition on display in my office.
The Hess Toy Truck is a brand management success story. The success factors are applicable to a wide range of B2B and consumer marketing products and services.
Hess Toy Truck:
8 Brand Management Success Factors
▶ Quality. These are well-built toy trucks with an array of lights and sound, and they often move via battery power. They look good, and can take a pounding from kids.
▶ Value. Batteries are included and shipping is free.
▶ Brand Refreshing. Via innovative product development, the brand stays relevant and fresh, negating the need for a full-on renovation. The product mix changes to include all types of trucks, even airplanes, and combinations of different vehicles. An off-holiday-season, mini-vehicle series was added to spur year-round interest. New for 2017 are downloadable teacher and student materials to promote STEM education.
▶ Consistency. A new truck or vehicle is offered every year since 1964! Wow.
▶ Advertising/Communications. This brand was built the old-fashioned way, and it was built to last. The trucks reinforced the positioning and brand image of the overall Hess brand. Today, the toy truck brand stands on its own.
▶ Commitment. Hess marketed trucks for 50+ years. Toy trucks were not integral to running gas stations, but they probably became a differentiator that could not be copied. Even when the toys had no connection to the redefined business, Hess continued, making loyal customers happy and keeping a bit of polish on the corporate brand for the general public.
▶ In-Sync with Customers. Hess had the good fortune of connecting with a long-term consumer trend and interest in collecting.
▶ Adaptability. No more gas station distribution, no problem. Hess moved to a virtual, online sales model.
Harvey Chimoff is a versatile marketing and business team leader who believes good marketing sells. Contact him at StratGo Marketing, a plug-in marketing department resource for company leaders.