Brand Health Check: Spice Girls

Despite a sell-out tour, their latest single limped into the charts. David Tiltman asks whether girl power can still cut it.

Can it really be 11 years since the Spice Girls burst into our lives? In 1996, Posh, Ginger, Scary, Baby and Sporty banished the boys with guitars from the charts and had the world at their feet with an orgy of catchy tunes, Union Jacks and dodgy brand tie-ins.

The fab five has reformed, but things are not going smoothly. Comeback single Headlines (Friendship Never Ends) became the worst-selling Children in Need single to date, peaking at number 11 in the charts. It was even beaten by Loch Lomond, the unofficial Children in Need song released by Scottish group Runrig and Tartan Army, which reached number nine. Their album also failed to top the charts, reaching number two.

Not that this has harmed the girls' commercial appeal. TV schedules are awash with ads starring the multi-millionairesses doing their Christmas shopping in Tesco - a concept so far-fetched it makes the idea of Lulu buying Christmas dinner in Morrisons seem credible. Compare that with Take That's hit albums, sell-out tours and, the ultimate badge of respectability, a deal to promote Marks & Spencer.

But the enduring fascination with the Spice Girls stems from their role as heralds of 21st-century culture - a world where celebrity and talent lie in independent dimensions. The allure of the band remains the members rather than the music. Who will be thinner, Geri or Victoria? Who gets the most screen time? Will they be able to hold a note? Their music might not sell hand over fist anymore, but tickets for the first night of their tour sold out in just 38 seconds.

And what of 'girl power' - a form of feminism for 14-year-olds? It all has to be a bit more grown-up, now reality has set in. There's Paternity Suit Spice rowing with Eddie Murphy, Friend of the Cruises Spice contemplating the twilight of her husband's career, and UN Ambassador Spice regularly having to justify her weight. Eleven years after Wannabe stormed the charts, the girls' ambitions are a little more complex than 'zig-a-zig-ah'.

We asked Mark Swift, the sales director of Viacom Brand Solutions, once a drummer for Britpop outfit Pulp, and Duncan Bird, a founding partner of Another Anomaly in New York and formerly the vice-president of brand partnerships at Sony BMG Music Entertainment, how the girls can spice up our lives again.

DIAGNOSIS 1 - MARK SWIFT SALES DIRECTOR, VIACOM BRAND SOLUTIONS

I have always had a soft spot for the Spice Girls, as I was at Five (then Channel 5) when all the fame and 'girl power' of Baby, Posh, Scary, Ginger and Sporty was employed to launch the UK's fifth terrestrial channel.

A decade on and Five has matured, developed and reinvented itself, but what of the so-called 'world's biggest girl pop band'? Can they really recapture the magic and success of those heady girl power years? Let us remember that in the world of comebacks, for every Take That there is always an East 17 or All Saints.

Individually, the girls have all been active during their time apart, but I don't think any of them can claim to have been an outstanding success.

So, if they still need each other, who is going to be their audience second time around. Will it be their original fans, now 10 years older, the current crop of nine- to 12-year-old girls or the gay community, or are they going for a 'catch-all' strategy as suggested by their Tesco alliance?

REMEDY

- According to my two daughters, aged 12 and 10, the girls should remember their ages and motherhoods, and dress stylishly but appropriately.

- Drop the 'Scary, Sporty, Posh, Baby and Ginger' and put an end to the rumours of ice-cold relations within the band once and for all.

- Release a decent record and quickly. Their first comeback single has already been branded a flop.

DIAGNOSIS 2 - DUNCAN BIRD FOUNDING PARTNER, ANOTHER ANOMALY

'Do you still remember, how we used to be, feeling together, believe in whatever.' Ah, the unforgettable lyrics from the Spice Girls 1998 single Viva Forever. The girls appeared as animated fairies in the video, which may just point the direction of how to spice up this 'brand'.

But before getting too schmaltzy, let's pause for thought about what the Spice Girls mean in 2007. Out-dated, money-obsessed, over, cheesy pop group, washed-up, silicone-filled and manufactured nonsense are some of the more printable replies to an email I sent to various colleagues inside and outside the entertainment industry to canvass their views.

While there are many reviews of last week's opener of the reunion tour in Vancouver proclaiming a return to form, there are many people out there wanting to knock Spice 2007.

Suggestions of lip-synching and relevance abound, best summed up by someone called Ortrud at tmz.com: 'I was laughing hysterically watching these old flea bags try to move and dance. Be gone, Old Spice.'

REMEDY

- Go animated - it is cheaper and more effective than Botox - and launch a TV programme.

- Generate some interest around 90s nostalgia through PR, and ensure the Spice Girls are at the centre of that.

- Give the post-X Factor generation their girl power in synchronised dance routines on dance mats.

- Have another go at dolls inspired by the Viva Forever video. Spice Bratz anyone?

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