Naming In The News

When is a zombie not a zombie? Capitalising on brand heritage

February/March 2011 —
Diane Prange |
World Trademark Review

'Zombie' is a word that attracts attention and conjures a colourful visual metaphor. However, when using the term 'zombie' to describe brands and logos that have been effectively reanimated following disuse, one should proceed with caution. A 'zombie', as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is "a soulless corpse said to have been revived by witchcraft".

Zombie Brands

This would imply that a zombie brand has no heart and that the marketers who revived it earned their degrees in a neo-pagan coven. Since we know that the latter is not true for most marketers, it therefore follows that the term 'zombie' may be judged inappropriate.

Unfortunately, most of the common alternative monikers for zombie brands fare no better. Consider these synonyms:

  • Dead - this implies inanimate lifelessness, which certainly is not the case for wildly successful resurrections such as the McDonald’s McRib sandwich.
  • Orphan - not possible; after all, if a brand has no parents, then it surely becomes the parent brand.
  • Dinosaur - dinosaurs are extinct, which implies that dinosaur brands must similarly be extinct and cannot be reanimated.
  • Ghost - this may be one of the least objectionable terms, as a ghost is the soul of a departed entity, and the soul of a brand can essentially be brought back and reintroduced after a period of absence. However, the roots of the word ‘ghost’ are derived from a verb which means ‘to terrify’, a term which may unduly prejudice the effectiveness of the reanimation.
  • Graveyard - a graveyard brand is one that has been buried. Many brands with potential have been buried alive, but they must be removed from the graveyard before they can regain their effectiveness.

Nomenclature matters, so permit me to suggest, for the purposes of this article, that the word 'heritage' be substituted for 'zombie', as 'heritage' implies something that is transmitted from or handed down from the past. 'Heritage' defines a brand with inherited characteristics from an earlier generation. It has equity that has been handed down. 'Heritage' is also neutral in tone. Calling a brand a 'heritage brand' gives it a fighting chance to succeed. Yet to do so requires a number of factors.

Common qualities of successful relaunches

The fact that a brand is relaunched means that someone in management has recognised that the brand has some residual valuable equity and is hoping that the potential target market will see this too. This residual equity usually translates to retained trust.

If the original owner revives the heritage brand, a higher level of retained trust naturally exists. Brands are often viewed as part of an interconnected family and are difficult to divorce from their parent brand, since they always appear together and have a similar DNA. For example, it would be difficult to remove Courtyard by Marriott from Marriott, or Centrino from Intel.

For a brand to be successfully reborn into a new family with trust intact, the message must be carefully crafted and controlled. In some cases the best form of control is keeping mum about the new ownership. For example, do consumers really want to know that their much-loved Salon Selectives brand name has been sold to a new owner? Do they want to know that the new owner has been experimenting with how to recreate the original formula while retaining the same apple scent and pink bottles?

Proper timing is another important quality. Some of the most successful heritage brands are those that have brilliantly timed their re-entry into the market.

Taking the economic law of scarcity into account, marketers who pull a brand off the market while demand is still present may know more than we give them credit for. The trick is to make a brand disappear long enough for the market to mourn its loss, but short enough so that they still remember it.

Volkswagen held the hypothesis that consumers often don’t know what they have until it’s gone. When Volkswagen Beetles became scarce, they became exclusive. When they became exclusive, they commanded a higher price premium. Bringing the Beetle back at the intersection of exclusivity and recognition was a masterstroke of timing.

Likewise, McDonald’s has mastered its reanimation of the McRib sandwich. Its strategy is a combination of timing and geographic optimisation – limited-time offers in select markets encourage patrons to stock up and get their fill while the going is good.

The long-defunct Pan Am Airlines recently announced its reentrance into air transportation as a cargo carrier, with flights commencing in November 2010. Preceding the announcement, the brand released a retro-fashion Pan Am accessory line that included handbags, passport holders, watches, belts and cufflinks. At the same time, ABC began producing a television show about Pan Am in the 1960s. The fact that nostalgia for this brand is strong bodes well for the brand’s reintroduction.

The right support and investment

A strong endorsing or master brand can also be a key factor in successful rejuvenation. Without the support and foundation of the Ford master brand, heritage brands such as Taurus and Focus may have never earned a repeat performance. Even as the brands disappeared for years at a time, their support system remained strong. Dealers continued to sell and service used Taurus and Focus models and distributors kept their parts in the pipeline. Supported by this activity, Ford maintained ownership of these brand names in its trademark portfolio.

As mentioned earlier, the successful relaunch of the Beetle in 1998 had much to do with the support of the Volkswagen endorsing brand. Interestingly, both sides of the relationship prospered.

After re-releasing the Beetle in the United States in 1998 following a 25-year hiatus, Volkswagen sales reportedly rose 59.3% over the previous year. In this instance, parent brand endorsement coupled with residual equity made the new Beetle an instant success. Speaking to Advertising Age in 1998, James Hall, vice president for industry analysis for marketing consultants AutoPacific, stated: “Volkswagen doesn’t even need to advertise the car… because you select markets in the United States in the first half of 2010 for a temporary introduction of the already well-known McRib. Volkswagen, meanwhile, spent in the region of $35 million worldwide in 1998 to advertise the new Beetle.

Capitalising on brand equity

Reintroductions often succeed because they use product and feature formulae that maintain the core categories of the original brand. For example, in 1926 Packard Bell started producing consumer radios until 1986, when a group of Israeli investors bought the brand to begin producing personal computers. As mentioned earlier, Pan Am Airlines announced its transition into transporting cargo instead of passengers beginning in 2011 – a primary example of offering products or services relevant to the brand equity.

A further key to the success of these reintroduced brands is not only similarity to the original, but also a commitment to making the brand relevant for today by updating the product with the latest technology and reflecting the needs of the consumer.

It is worth noting, however, that for some brand owners, the trademark’s name makes it difficult to adapt the product to meet new consumer needs, even if they are relevant to the previous brand’s equity.

In the mid-1990s Knoll AG acquired Burnol, an antiseptic cream developed to treat burns. It decided to market Burnol as an allpurpose cream, but many consumers did not associate the product with purposes other than treating burns due to the limitations in its name.

Semantic and linguistic qualities

The actual name itself can be a positive or negative factor in the success of a brand introduction. Some types of coined name carry a parental birthmark that makes it near impossible to bring them back under any other umbrella brand. For example, Motorola’s RAZR, RIZR and ROKR use a vowel-omission tactic which is closely wedded to Motorola and may not resonate as well with another parent brand. Relaunching a much-loved brand without itsassociated parent, such as Kodachrome without Kodak or Quake cereal without the Quaker Oats Company, would be equally risky.

On the other side of the spectrum, brands with overly generic names are also at a disadvantage upon reintroduction. Although well known, a generic descriptive name such as General Cinema (the trademark for which was placed for auction on December 8 2010) carries little emotional value or brand personality. It is not an iconic name from the cinematic world that is emblazoned in consumers’ memories.

Even had it been, it is important to keep in mind that words that were unique historically may be over-exposed today. Although the Hollywood brand candy bar holds some heady memories for many baby boomers, the name is far too ubiquitous today to retain much equity. Today, the Hollywood candy bar would have to compete for a share of the consumer’s mind with the Hollywood Cookie Diet, Hollywood Records, Planet Hollywood Restaurants and Hollywood Fashion Tape, to name a few.

Not to be discouraged, there are names that make for excellent reanimation contenders. Strong and colourful metaphors usually have what it takes to stand the test of time. The name ‘Beetle’ (affectionately known as the Bug) is fun to say, sends a visual cue and provides a broad creative platform.

Names that are suggestive, rather than descriptive, can often ‘own’ a category benefit. For marketers, monikers such as White Cloud toilet paper, Coppertone sun cream and Ivory soap are worth their weight in gold.

Interestingly, the White Cloud brand was pruned from the Procter & Gamble (P&G) portfolio in 1996 only to be successfully reintroduced by Walmart. One suspects that since Walmart is P&G’s largest customer, it did not object to the retailers plucking the name for the mere cost of a trademark registration. In the toilet paper category, where the greens fees are softness, the cloud metaphor speaks volumes to Walmart customers and it is now one of Walmart’s best-selling brands.

Clever coined names that are rooted in the familiar get noticed again and again. They strike a chord in our brains and tell us, ‘Something interesting is going on here.’ For example, the Underalls brand of undergarments took a slightly taboo and light-hearted naming approach in a very personal product category. Consumers noticed it then and they remember it now.

Finally, memorable names that surprise and delight have an advantage as heritage brands. Who doesn’t remember Pop Rocks candy? Not only is the product uniquely fun, but so is its name.

Why heritage brands are worth it

For marketers, there are a myriad of reasons to consider a heritage brand. First there are the tangible advantages:

  • Less Risk - a heritage brand has already had the advantage of a ‘trial run’, so much of the risk has been removed from the equation. It has been estimated that 85% to 90% of new brand introductions fail. For heritage brands, however, failure rates hover between 20% and 30%. So even before the first dollar is invested, the odds are three to one in favour of a heritage brand.
  • Price Premium - the brand equity inherent in a heritage brand translates to charging a higher price, which in turn translates to greater profitability.
  • Less Risk - the New York Times reported that P&G spent $7.7 million in 1997 to advertise White Cloud and then, in an effort to create portfolio efficiency, plucked the product from the market. Walmart leveraged this previous advertising investment by reintroducing the brand name in 1999.

Heritage brands also provide less tangible, but perhaps equally important, abstract benefits for the marketer. The first is the halo effect. As mentioned earlier, the reintroduction of the Beetle in 1998 had a positive financial impact across all Volkswagen brands. Similarly, when New Balance bought the rights to PF Flyer, one of the largest sneaker brands in the United States, in the hopes of diversifying its product line, this synergistic strategy resulted in an overall corporate sales increase from $918 million in 2003 to $1.112 billion in 2007.

Interestingly, brands with a notorious heritage – which have been forgiven, but not forgotten – can benefit from consumers’ short attention spans. Over time, negatives are forgotten or blurred. Few consumers recall the rumours that the Pop Rocks candy was dangerous and would cause children’s stomachs to rupture if mixed with a carbonated beverage.

This leads into the abstract benefit of recalling to mind the ‘good old days’. Memories of happier times built around a heritage brand have a strong residual effect. Given the mood in the United States today, the yearning for things ‘the way they used to be’ plants a potent seed for brands that have a nostalgic undertone.

One hundred years ago, Indian Motorcycle was the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer. The romantic notion of a wideopen race from sea to shining sea is almost irresistible to consumers today, and bringing the Indian Motorcycles brand back gives consumers a chance to ride down memory lane.

Since its resurrection in 2008, Indian Motorcycles has bucked the economic trend – in August 2010 it reported that year-on-year sales were up 80%.

Other nostalgia brands which have recently been resurrected, such as Old Spice aftershave, the original Beetle and Salon Selectives hair products, are examples of creating demand through a longing for the way we once were – younger, freer and with a thick head of hair!

One indicator of the potential for a ‘good old days’ brand is activity on eBay. For example, a search on eBay for GTE telephones or Polaroid Instant Camera yields a wealth of results, suggesting that these are brands that are still held dear by many.

The downside of heritage brands

Although there are many potential advantages to reanimating a heritage brand, marketers need to keep in mind that the original heritage brand failed for a reason – or perhaps for several reasons. For some of these brands, it may be more appropriate to call them ‘dead’ rather than ‘heritage’.

Projectable quantitative research with the intended target market is therefore needed in order to understand how relevant those reasons for failure are today.

All things being equal, it is not improbable that the cost of reintroduction can outweigh the value of existing equity. Often, residual equity is simply the equivalent of sunk cost.

Knowing when to fold up versus hold up requires diligent research and analysis.

Measuring residual brand equity/goodwill

This is not just one measure, but two – one financial and one strategic. The financial brand equity is more appropriate to measure if the reintroduced brand will embrace a similar product or service and serve a similar target market.

The McRib reintroduction of the same product to the same audience is strictly a financial calculation. Estimating the strategic value of a heritage brand, however, is a bit trickier.

The strategic potential of a brand is determined by factoring a portion of the residual value into the potential untapped value when it is unleashed on a new target market or when endowed with a new series of features and benefits. This strategic value is less about what a brand is worth than about what the brand can do for the marketer in the future.

There are a variety of measures and formula for establishing brand equity/goodwill, but perhaps the most important levers for a heritage brand are as follows:

  • Awareness - this is measured by a composite score of both aided and unaided awareness. Unaided 24-hour recall is also a consideration.
  • Leadership/market share - market share refers to a brand’s share of all product sales within the product category in which the brand competes. It measures the degree of dominance and muscle that the brand enjoys in a particular product or service category.
  • Price premium - this is the selling price of the product or service minus the selling price of a reference product or service. That reference product is often the closest competitive product. Being the market leader gives the brand licence to charge this price premium.
  • Marketing Support - this is the existing infrastructure and strategic plan for the brand’s marketing programmes. A brand that has been off the market for a long period lacks this asset. However, if the brand can be folded into a marketing infrastructure that supports a similar product or target, economies of scale may emerge.
  • Perceived Quality - this is defined as the target market’s perception of the brand’s ability to fulfil their expectations. It may have little or nothing to do with the actual excellence of the product. Perceived quality is based on the brand’s current public image and the target market’s experience with competitive product. The influence of the opinion leaders and peer groups must be taken into account.

Ultimately, resurrecting a heritage brand takes time and effort, but the result can be marked. Certainly, successful resurrections can boast the one quality lacking in true zombies – heart

This article was published courtesy of World Trademark Review.