Monday, May 19, 2008

dead brands aren't dead if they live in your head

Interesting article on brand revival in the NY Times Magazine yesterday about a guy who acquires brands that are dead everywhere but in the consumer's mind, then sells them to companies who bring them back to life.

Paul Earle bought the brand name for a discontinued line of ibuprofen painkillers and sold it to CVS, which is why it's the only place you can still find ("Nupe it") Nuprin. And convinced drugstore.com to buy (and sell) Salon Selectives.

He recently acquired (America Show Us Your) Underalls and the game maker Coleco. And Brim, a coffee that hasn't been sold in twenty years, yet retains an astonishing 92 percent awareness in people over 25, thanks to millions General Foods spent on it in its heyday. Curiously, what people forget is that Brim was decaff, even though they remembered the tagline "Fill it to the rim with Brim."

"Consumers remember the kind of high-level essence of the brand. They tend to forget the product specifics," Earle says. Which is why dead brands can be brought back to life in entirely new incarnations. Like the staid company that once outfitted gentlemen for travel is now controversial teen fashion purveyor Abercrombie + Fitch.

As interesting to me as the article itself are the comments online urging the revival of brands I haven't thought of in years:

Lemon Up, a shampoo with a cap shaped like a real lemon.

1-2-3 which was a faux Bavarian dessert that settled into three layers as it jelled.

Heaven Sent fragrance.

Gleem toothpaste.

Agree shampoo--They're selling old, gummy bottles of it for $50 a pop on eBay.

Another memorably-named shampoo--Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific

O-So-Grape (softdrink from the 50s)

Sunshine cookies

Orowheat Bread

Pine Bros. Cough Drops

Lifebuoy

Spoolies (hair curlers)

Fluffo - a solid vegetable oil shortening like Crisco - it came in reusable decorator cans with plastic tops.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Pudding Pies (originally made by Hostess)

10 comments:

auntie Christ said...

I have the magazine bookmarked to read that (I had to do the puzzle first -- the diagramless takes me most of the week, though).

I'll go to the web to read the comments, but this concept is fucking brilliant. I'm surprised those brands aren't owned by parent companies, or the holding companies who bought the parent companies. I'm also surprised that some of those products weren't around. I had no idea that something like Lifebouy soap was long gone. I just never thought about it. I thought Sunshine cookies were available regionally, maybe just not around where the commentor lives. What I wouldn't do for a nice cold Vernor's in a long neck bottle right about now....

Bob Hoffman said...

I also read the article in the Times.

For years advertisers and marketers have been grossly overstating the power of brands.

If brands are so damn powerful, how does Ford lose 12 billion dollars in one quarter? How does Sears flirt with bankruptcy? How does Polaroid fold up its tent and go home?

Brands are only as valuable as the products they represent.

These people who think they're going to make a killing marketing Brim coffee are insane. They are going to learn about the exaggerated power of brands the hard way.

Hey Auntie -- how can someone smart enough to do the diagramless fall for this brand babble?

auntie Christ said...

bob, I didn't say I finish the diagramless....and I had to turn to google to find out the Hebrew name for the month Moses was born, so I cheat.

Yes, you're right, about Ford, Sears etc. Ford is a huge company with labor isues, lawsuits and massive R&D costs though. But on this smaller scale, if you can find some private label coffee packager to TRY a Brim-branded can and it sells like crazy, it didn't cost you much to make it happen. Will people know the difference between Brim and Pathmark-Brand Coffee? I couldn't tell you. I think you're spot on, this will be hit an dmiss, but at some point, there will be a hit. Brand or Nostalgia -- it's still an interesting experiment.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

@Vernor's, Auntie? You got one on me. I agree about the brand revival thing being interesting experiment in exploring equity of nostalgia-- Earle in the article claims, in fact, that reviving brands is "a civic mission" because what he's really doing is saving Americana. BTW, I'm as impressed as Bob is by your diagramless abilities, google or not.

@Bob--Speaking of google, the #1 Brand in the WOrld (mit out advertising) is, to your point, a pwerful example of brands being only as valuable as the products they represent. As is Polaroid, whose core product was, alas, alas, made irrelevant by changes in the marketplace over which it had no control. But there are so many OTHER examples of brands being able to endow parity products with magic powers in consumer's mind that they'll shell out staggering amounts for that halo affect: $4.95 for a cuppa coffee?? (yet there I am lined up with the heat-seekers twice a day.) Nike, American Apparel, Tropicana, Kleenex--I doubt products are better than their generic counterparts. The only product difference, I'd argue, is branding dollars well spent.

So--how is it that "the ceo of a pretty big ad agency" (nice site) rails against the power of branding? Must make for interesting new business pitches. Contrarian indeed!

Bob Hoffman said...

AB:

I believe brands are powerful and valuable, but their power and value have been grossly exaggerated by the advertising and marketing industries for their own benefit.

Consumers are mostly loyal to products, not brands. They may have 4 or 5 brands they're loyal to, among the hundreds of products they buy.

If you'll send me your address off line (adcontrarian@gmail.com) I'll be happy to send you my book, "The Ad Contrarian", that deals with this.

As for new biz presentations, yeah, we get laughed out of 2 out of 3, but we're doing okay. At least we have a point of view.

Glad you like the site.

Bob Hoffman said...

Apropos our conversation about empty brands -- from this morning's NY Times some excerpts from an article about a company about to go broke.

"The fast-growing buyout firm that owns the fashion house Bill Blass, the retailer Athlete’s Foot and the ice cream chain MaggieMoo’s appears to be on the verge of collapse…

"NexCen Brands, a little known firm that owns many high-profile brands, said on Monday that it faced a severe cash squeeze and warned that there is “substantial doubt” that it will remain in business…

"Robert W. D’Loren, the chief executive of NexCen Brands, has called it a “think tank” approach to building brands that cuts across industries...

"Mr. D’Loren has pioneered the business of buying and expanding consumer brands that did not own their manufacturing plants or stores, minimizing investors’ risk…"

Yeah, right.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

I saw that piece, too, Bob. But the company profiled isn't a brand builder, is it? I believe NexCen is more a warehouser of failing brands in different categories that managers hoped would synergize each other. Seems NexCen's biggest problem is management trouble. CFO fired recently for failing to disclose $21 million debt. Oops.

joker said...

On a brighter note the TMNT pies were the bomb.... I'd almost forgotten about them and I did my part to try and keep em alive, just ask my mom. Here are some other things that could use a re-vamp:

Mr. T cereal. Want to see if fads can make or break a brand, try the T cereal. Apart from the nostalgia factor, I loved it.


Zagnut. I'm sure you can still find it somewhere but damnit, I can't. if anyone knows a place where I can even order em online, let me know.


Like Cola... call me a weirdo but I liked the damned thing.


Instant Smores... yes I am that lazy and they were that good.


Bottle Caps candy, I don't want to only be able to find them in a variety mix. i want a big bag of em.


Garbage Pail Kids. They already had one comeback and I didn't mind it one bit.

As for the practices of multinationals, seems like some people are trying to cut corners to make money and trying to cash in on "guaranteed" brand equity sounds like some crock pot plan to not have to work for the money.

Regarding nostalgia, sometimes it works, sometimes it's just Snakes on a Plane (sounds promising seems to have a huge audience and flops worse than Newt Gingrich after a Happy Ending massage).

And finally, regarding the power of a brand. I agree that there are certain brands we are faithful to. In my case the clearest one would be my surfing equipment. I buy BZ products and have for about 15 years. They have always delivered, they are always getting better and no matter what other board I ride, I get my hands on a BZ and could care less if there were a hundred brands. Now ask me what brand shoes, jeans, or soft drink I'm loyal to.... exactly.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

Thanks for introducing me to brands I never knew, Joker, but now wish I did. Zagnuts? Like Cola? Oh, I have to smile at the concept of Instant Smores.

joker said...

Zagnut was a peanut butter and coconut candy bar.... lord it was delicious. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zagnut

Like Cola was a Soft drink launched by 7 Up and it was 99% caffeine free. Surprisingly I enjoyed the taste and thought they had a good thing going.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Like_Cola

Apparently I was the only one.

And the Instant Smores I forgot the brand but I made my mom go to a specific supermarket (that kinda sucked) just so I could buy them. now THAT's selling power.

ps.: God Bless Wikipedia eh? :)

pss.: Yes I will taste pretty much any new product. :D