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May 20, 2008

Zombie Brand Naming Back in the News

brimcoffee1.pngThis week there has been a great deal of talk about whether or not a dead brand can live again spurred by an article in the NY Times Magazine on Sunday by Rob Walker. He discusses how some well-known brands, like Brim coffee, stay in the consumer's memory and have equity long after they are no longer available.

Now, some bright sparks are out there collecting those names and bringing them back to life. Turns out that 9 out of 10 people over the age of 25 remember Brim and its tagline line: “Fill it to the rim, with Brim!”

Bringing back dead brand names may be an uphill battle, but it sure is interesting to watch.

What I love here is that Walker reminds us of the lingo around dead brand names; they get referred to as “ghost brands," “orphan brands,” or “zombie brands”. The company Walker profiles is interested in brand names that are dead, “not ailing.” At least one marketing blogger has an interesting take on this, telling us that the Yahoo brand is not dead, but is more comparable to the “walking dead," because Google owns the online search industry. This is a differentiation I have not thought of, most likely because I think that reports of Yahoo’s demise are a little premature.

Nancy Friedman calls bringing zombie brands back to the shelves “The New Old Thing,” while others refer to the phenomena as Dinosaur Brands or Graveyard Brands.

What we have here is a company prompting the “attack of the killer zombie brands.”

Coleco_Main.pngNames that have been exhumed include Underalls, Salon Selectives, Nuprin, Coleco and a list of others. These guys are engaging in what is referred to as “Retromarketing,” and it’s based on the theory that consumers will keep buying a certain brand name as long as it works or its “functional attributes” remain sound.

Walker asks us to witness the revival of White Cloud at Wal-Mart, a former P&G brand name that was eclipsed by Charmin, just like Maxwell House did for Brim.

The only problem is that consumer memory is faulty. We may all recall the Brim brand name, but few of us seem to also recall that it was decaf only. This could mean, argues one interviewee, that a caffeinated Brim might be possible.

Zombie brands also infest the electronics industry because Chinese no-name tech groups love to buy up well-known American zombie TV brands like Zenith and Polaroid to bring out new products. The average consumer, seeing a caffeinated Brim, wouldn't even blink, just like they’d be willing to buy a Zenith flat screen TV.

I have to say that many members of my staff are unashamedly retro in their tastes. We cheered when we saw the Indian motorcycle make a comeback and at least one guy on my payroll wants to chevynomad.pngget a Chevy Nomad.

Good brand names retain their equity over the years, the trick is to decide just how much. The Indian, the Nomad, and even the Beetle are all essentially niche brand names now, although they once were mainstream. Seems to me that so long as you are happy having your zombie brand occupying only a tiny percentage of the consumer landscape that it once held, you’re OK.

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Posted by William Lozito at May 20, 2008 8:02 AM
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