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December 11, 2006

Brand Names: Horror Story For Some, Fairy Tale to Others

montgomerywards.jpgAn interesting post entitled “Montgomery Ward is Back. Or is it?” on AdPulp got me thinking. Five years after going out of business, the famous holiday catalog name has reappeared as an online brand name.

Direct Marketing Services Inc., the catalog marketer that purchased the name in 2004 after Ward’s bankruptcy, is trying to seamlessly carry on the business that stretches back to 1872 and has been responsible for lots of good memories among millions of people. The person who wrote the post asked his readers a question that branding gurus don’t address all that often. He asked if readers have run across any products that are branded with names they thought were long out of business.

Well, of course! Lots of product names that you know and love have been reincarnated after going belly up. We have written about some of them, including some of the electronics brand names you're probably familiar with (Westing House and Zenith) that were brought back by Asian companies. The Commodore computer name was resurrected last year by Dutch Yeahronimo Media Ventures as well. The list goes on and on.

prestigebrands.jpgJoel Warady directs us to a Chicago Tribune article entitled Reviving the Past that talks about this in some detail, outlining brand name coups like Wal-Mart’s revamp of the White Cloud Brand name and companies like Prestige Brands that specialize in bringing what we call brand name “orphans” back to market after their original owners have folded.

Earlier this year Rich Ottum at Marketing Blurb wrote a hilarious post entitled “Burping an Orphan Brand” profiling the comeback of Bromo Seltzer, a classic antacid brand that dates back to 1888 and is fondly remembered by the World War II generation. It’s being advertised on TV via the “Bromo burp” which its new owners think will act as a mnemonic device for customers.

Beware that whenever you bring a brand name back from the great beyond, there are financial risks. Just before Thanksgiving, one blogger wrote on the Inelegant Investor blog about his “biggest turkey.” It wasn’t a 50-pound gobbler, instead it was an ill fated investment in Aurora Foods, a consortium of famous orphan brands that included Duncan Hines, Lenders Bagels, Van De Kamp, Mrs. Paul’s, Celeste Pizza, Aunt Jemima Frozen Breakfasts and others.

His lesson?

Big companies rarely sell brands that can easily be “fixed." If Procter & Gamble’s marketing whizzes and ample capital can’t fix it, Joe’s Overleveraged House Of Dead Brands probably can’t either.

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Posted by William Lozito at December 11, 2006 1:38 PM
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