Under the Influence

Zombie Brands

This week, the topic is Zombie Brands - products and companies that had a long run of success, then ran into difficulties, and were either shut down or slipped into bankruptcy - only to rise from the dead and exist yet again.

Back in 1989, NBC premiered a new television series on Friday nights at 8pm.

It was called… Baywatch.

The original Baywatch team. (findmyhome.at)

It starred David Hasselhoff as a veteran lifeguard overseeing a bevy of young and buff lifeguards on the beaches of Malibu, California.

The Hoff. (dailymail)

Each week, sexy lifeguards saved vacationers from drowning, shark attacks, earthquakes, and the occasional nuclear bomb.

Baywatch began as a highly rated program, but by the end of the year, it had slid in the ratings, to 73rd place out of 103 TV shows.

It was also expensive to produce, so NBC cancelled it after one season.

After the cancellation, the overseas distribution company asked the producers for more episodes. When they were told there weren't going to be any more, the Europeans said it was a shame, because there was a huge market for Baywatch there.

That's when producer Douglas Schwartz had a conversation with his uncle, Sherwood Schwartz.

Famed TV producer Sherwood Schwartz. (mail.co)

Sherwood had been a TV producer, too.

He created this show:

And this one:

And this one:

Uncle Sherwood told Douglas the cancellation was a golden opportunity that he might never have again.

He recommended Douglas go to NBC and buy back the rights to Baywatch, raise some money and put the show into syndication. That's when a television show is produced independently and airs on multiple stations, instead of just one network.

As Sherwood told Douglas, "This could be your Brady Bunch."

So the Baywatch producers went to NBC to buy back the rights. NBC had no hope for Baywatch anymore, and sold it to the producers… for $10.

That's when Baywatch rose from the dead.

The producers of Baywatch bought back the rights to the show for 10 bucks. (amazon.com)

Baywatch returned to television in 1991. The producers had asked star David Hasselhoff to take a 50% salary cut in order to get the show's budget down, but offered to make him an executive producer.

Hasselhoff resisted the offer at first - then changed his mind and signed on. That decision would pay off for the Hoff.

In 1992, Canadian actress Pamela Anderson joined the cast.

Baywatch just needed a little Canadian content. (findmyhome.at)

That's when Baywatch exploded.

At first, Baywatch started airing in five or six countries in Europe. Soon, that number swelled to 144, making it the number one show in the world.

At its peak, one billion people watched Baywatch every week.

Last year in a global poll of television producers and critics from 80 countries, 45% of them voted Baywatch as the best television show of all time.

In distant second place was Seinfeld, with only 22% of the votes.

Baywatch had lived. Then died. Then rose from the beach sand like a zombie.

Baywatch rose from the dead and attracted a billion viewers around the world. (findmyhome.at)

The world of marketing also has its zombies.

A brand is created. It's successful for a time.

Then killed off.

Only to rise from the dead years later.

The list of exhumed products is fascinating. And the amount of them that still roam this earth will surprise you.

They are… the Zombie Brands.

The brand graveyard has countless tombstones.

If you're a baby boomer, many of the products you grew up with are now dead and buried.

Think Kelvinator appliances, Admiral Television sets, and Underwood Typewriters.

So many of the products from the 20th century are dead and gone. (Pinterest.com)

Automobiles like Studebaker, Mercury and Pontiac.

Even some of the once mighty car brands are dead and gone. (hemmingway.co)

Toys like Easy Bake Ovens, Lawn Darts and Creepy Crawlers.

Remember Easy-Bake Ovens? Baked into history now. (nbcmiami)

Each one a successful product in its time, selling in the millions, backed by huge advertising campaigns, stocked by all the top stores and dealerships.

Until they stopped selling, were abandoned by their makers and quietly buried in the brand graveyard.

But miraculously, some products rise from the dead.

In order for a zombie brand to rise from the dead successfully, it still has to exist in people's minds.

The actual product isn't on the shelves, it isn't manufactured anymore, there is no retail presence, no packaging, no advertising.

Just the memory of the product exists. In other words, just the brand name and everything that name conjures up.

It's astounding to discover what brands people remember – even though they've been gone for decades.

Which is why some companies purchase the brand names of dead products.

Getting a new product off the ground and achieving national awareness is one of the most expensive aspects of marketing.

It doesn't just take millions and millions of dollars, it takes years and years of marketing.

That's why some Zombie Brands have so much appeal. They come with built-in awareness, and in many cases, years of affection that can still be tapped. Saving a marketer untold millions.

It's like starting a race halfway down the track.

A race the automobile category understands perfectly.

The VW Beetle is the poster child for Zombie Brands.

One of the most beloved cars ever would turn into a zombie. (diseno-art)

Selling over 20 million units since its introduction to North America in 1949, the last original Beetle sedan sold in the U.S. and Canada was in 1977.

Then, in 1997, the VW Beetle rose from the dead.

Behold the zombie VW. (newbeetle)

The new Beetle was reminiscent of the old Beetle, but it was clearly designed to be a modern take on a classic.

The basic shape was there, but the changes were many – including the fact the engine was now in the front.

The Beetle was not only one of the most influential cars of the 20th century, it was one of the most beloved cars of all time, and that affection was something Volkswagen could leverage.

As a matter of fact, the theme line for the re-launch of the VW Beetle was:


That theme line was important to the launch, because Volkswagen needed to tap into the love and affection that had been in cold storage since 1977.

It wasn't difficult. I drive a 1963 Volkswagen, and I cannot tell you how much attention it gets. I've watched people take pictures of my car in parking lots.

But being unconditionally loved is not necessarily a prerequisite for zombie brands.

Take… Brim Coffee.

Do you remember Brim Coffee? Do you remember what made it unique? (fastcompany.com)

Brim was launched by General Foods back in 1961.

You probably remember the slogan:

Brim disappeared from shelves in 1995, but a company called River West Brands purchased the Brim brand name and trademark.

When River West did research into the equity of the Brim brand name, they discovered it had 92% aided awareness. In other words, when asked if they remembered Brim, 9 out of every 10 people over 25 years of age said "Yes."

While it wasn't unconditionally loved like the Beetle, Brim's residual awareness was worth millions. So River West used Brim's coffee credibility to release a programmable coffee maker in 2014.

The Brim brand name rose from the dead to become a coffee maker. (hsn.com)

It appears there are plans for a new Brim coffee, too. As writer Rob Walker noted in a New York Times article, zombie brands count on your memory, but they also count on the fact you have a faulty memory.

Put another way, you only remember the high level details. The big picture.

So while you may remember Brim, you probably don't remember what made Brim unique.

Brim only came as a decaffeinated coffee:

Because most of the 92% who remember Brim won't remember that detail, it gives River West an opportunity to re-launch Brim any way they want.

And Brim's decaffeinated past won't hold it back.

The number of Zombie brands roaming the earth is surprising.

For example, the Sony Walkman is back. Created in 1979, the original cassette Walkman sold over 200 million units, but was eventually discontinued 31 years later. Sony unveiled the new Walkman in 2015.

The Walkman zombie is now walking the earth again. (thenextdigit.com)

Polaroid was founded in 1937, declared bankruptcy 72 years later, then recently reappeared licensing its name to a line of televisions, digital cameras and mobile products.

The once mighty Polaroid Brand died then rose again. (slashgear.com)

Salon Selectives shampoo is back. Created in 1987 by Helene Curtis, it once reached sales of $100 million, then slowly shrank and was discontinued in the early 2000s.

Salon Selectives went down the drain, but is back again. (acidbrands)

Remember Clearly Canadian? The sparkling water once had worldwide revenues of $150 million. Then disappeared in the early 2000s. Now it's back – thanks to a crowd-funding initiative.

Clearly Canadian was clearly dead and gone, but is on the shelves again. (clearlycanadian.com)

A company recently bought the defunct Radio Shack brand name for $26 million dollars. The Atari brand name was sold in 2001, and the 156-year old A&P is looking to sell its brand name after the grocer closed its doors in 2015.

One of the rules of zombies is that they come back from the dead looking very different.

Same with Zombie Brands.

Remember Linens 'N Things?

Linens 'N Things once had 571 locations and $2.7 billion in revenues. (loopnet.com)

It was created by a man named Eugene Kalkin in 1975.

Kalkin wanted to create a one-stop shop for high quality household linens and accessories at affordable prices.

Over the next 15 years, Linens 'N Things grew to operate 571 stores in the U.S. and Canada with over 7,000 employees. As time went on, the retailer closed  its smaller locations and opened over 100 superstores.

Then things went bad. As the Great Recession reared its head, superstore expansion debt ran into a weakening economy, shoppers stopped spending, and Linen 'N Things was forced to file for bankruptcy.

Then things got bad for Linens 'N Things. (logodatabase.net)

The store that once boasted $2.7 billion in annual sales was no more.

While every product and office chair was sold to pay off creditors, the Linens 'N Things trademark, website and a database of 5 million customer email addresses was purchased by an investment company.

Then, in February of 2009, the linen zombie rose from the dead.

Linens 'N Things came back to life as an online-only retailer.

The Linens 'N Things zombie now roams the Internet. (lnt.com)

LNT.com, is the reincarnation of the original store. The product line has been greatly expanded, and while it probably won't do $2.7 billion in sales, it doesn't have to because it has no real-estate costs, and a greatly reduced back-end staff.

There's a Facebook page, too, with some… interesting comments on it.

Once alive. Then dead. Then alive again.

Linens 'N Things is a zombie brand that still roams the Internet.

Then there are some brands that came very close to dying, but managed to keep the coffin lid open just a crack.

Take Aqua Velva aftershave.

It's still around.

How about Brylcreem?

Brylcreem was invented in the UK back in 1928. (wikimedia.org)

Invented in 1928, Brylcreem was used for years by men to keep their short hair in place.


By the way, that famous "A Little Dab'll Do Ya" jingle inspired this famous moment:


Brylcreem enjoyed decades of growth, through the 1930s, through the Second World War years, to the greaser hairstyles of the 1950s.

Things were going great, until this happened:

The Fab Four's moptops started a long-lasting Brylcreem-free trend.

The Fab Four didn't Help Brylcreem (see what we did there?) (moptoptours.com)

The brand virtually disappeared from that point on. It tried a comeback by hiring David Beckham to be its spokesperson in the late 90s – then fired him when he shaved his head.

David Beckham wasn't using his head when he was the Brylcreem spokesman. (home.bt.com)

Brylcreem has risen from the dead. The brand is now back in vogue and it has a very active social media presence.

As the new owners of Brylcreem said, it was a product that even neglect couldn't destroy, with brand name awareness remaining steady at around 80% since the 1950s.

Yup, Brylcreem is back. (echobranddesign.co.uk)

Then there's Old Spice. Once the aftershave of choice for my father's generation, it became a punch line, then rose dramatically – and humorously - from the dead to smell like a serious brand again.

Old Spice is new again. (youtube.com)

Recently, a zombie airline has taken flight.

Eastern Airlines, which began in 1930, would grow to become one of the big four airlines. At one point, it was actually owned by General Motors.

Eastern Airlines was once owned by a car company. (learningfrommiami.org)

For decades, it operated successfully. I began my career writing ads for Eastern Airlines, when astronaut Frank Borman was CEO.

Astronaut Frank Borman commanded the Apollo mission to circle the moon. (gottahaveit.com)

But back in the late 1980s, Eastern ran into financial trouble, it clashed with its unions, and was heaving under tremendous debt.

Then, in 1991, Eastern Airlines was forced into bankruptcy.

And that was the end of Eastern Airlines.

But not even gravity can keep a good zombie down…

Nearly a quarter-century after the original Eastern Airlines shut down, a group of airline managers purchased the Eastern trademarks and re-launched the airline.

On May 28th, 2015, Eastern took to the air again, flying from Miami to Havana.

Eastern is earning its wings again after being grounded for 25 years. (travelskills.com)

It currently offers charters only, but expects to have regularly scheduled service within 12 months.

Even after all those years of dormancy, the Eastern Airlines name still enjoys over 80% awareness.

A familiar zombie in the sky.

Remember Pan Am Airlines?

Pan Am was once the most glamorous airline in the sky. (planespotters.net)

A railway company in New England purchased all the Pan Am trademarks and naming rights in 1998, and is now called Pan Am Railways.

Believe it or not, Pan Am is now a train. (modeltrainforum)

But when Pan Am was still an airline, it ruled the sky.

Founded around the same time as Eastern Airlines, Pan Am began as an airmail and passenger service operating between Miami, Florida and Havana, Cuba.

But it would grow to become to a major airline that created many of the innovations that shaped modern air travel.

It pioneered the use of jet aircraft, wide jumbo planes, computerized reservation systems and scheduled the first ever round-the-world flights.

But more than that, it brought glamour to air travel.

Pan Am served lobster and roast beef on china, offered over 80 entrees in first class, it was the airline James Bond used, and in February of 1964, it brought four lads over from England.

Pan Am delivered a lot of expensive cargo.

At its height in the late 60s, Pan Am had over $1 billion in the bank.

The airline was headquartered in the Pan Am Building in Manhattan, the largest commercial office building at the time, it owned the Intercontinental Hotel chain, and by 1969, it had over 90,000 names on a waiting list to fly to the moon.

The Pan Am building in Manhattan once symbolized the dominance of the airline. (timmonet.com)

Pan Am symbolized the future of air travel.

Then came trouble. First, the 1973 oil crisis, then airline deregulation, then crushing debt, then the terrorist bombing of the Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, then the Gulf War fuel crisis.

Hobbled by a string of knockout punches, the mighty Pan Am World Airways was forced into bankruptcy in 1991.

In the intervening years, six failed attempts were made to resurrect Pan Am Airways.

But then in 2007, Pan Am rose – slightly – from the dead.

Pan Am Brands, a licensing division of Pan Am Railways, began manufacturing Pan Am-branded accessories, including over 50 travel bags, watches, cufflinks, passport holders and baggage tags – all sporting the famous blue and white Pan Am logo that still, to this day, symbolized glamour.

Pan Am rose from the dead in a travel bag. (panam.org)

Then in 2011, ABC came knocking – and negotiated the rights to produce a new television series called Pan Am, focussing on beautiful stewardesses, handsome pilots - the usual shenanigans - and the allure of the Pan Am jet-set lifestyle.

Suddenly, the brand was hot again.


Pan Am was cancelled after one season, but for a fleeting moment, it was a pretty good-looking zombie.

There are even zombie brands already in the digital world.

Napster disrupted the entire music business back in 1999. The subversive peer-to-peer service allowed music listeners to share MP3s for free, thumbing its nose at music industry copyrights.

One of the founders had nappy hair growing up - hence the name Napster. (napster)

That, of course, rained multiple lawsuits down on Napster from all the major record labels.

At its peak, Napster had over 80 million registered users.

Eventually, in July of 2001, the file sharing service was finally shut down by court order and had to pay millions in restitution.

With that, Napster was dead and gone.

But its brand name and logos were acquired during a bankruptcy auction by a company called Roxio – who sold them to Best Buy - who then merged Napster with Rhapsody - which now uses the Napster name and logo to run a legitimate music subscription service.


Napster once brazenly existed to make music free. Now you have to pay to subscribe to Napster. It's such a strange reversal.

But that's the thing with a Zombie brand.

When it comes back from the dead, it's a whole new beast.

In the marketing industry, it's often said that location is everything.

And the most valuable real estate of all is the corner of your mind.

Where the memory of a brand lives.

Mom & Pop stores, corporations and even charities all try to squeeze their trademarks into your life.

A brand name is a mental shortcut. It allows for a quick decision when shopping. It dictates who gets your donations, and sometimes it can even influence your behaviour.

That's why zombie brands are so attractive. They have already planted their flag in your cerebrum. It might be dusty, it might be in black & white, but that flag still flies.

Marketers know your mind can only hold so many flagpoles, and installing a new one is the most costly marketing of all.

The New York Times wrote that the power of a zombie brand is found in its "nostalgic reassurance" - that your affection for an old brand is coloured by your yearning for the good old days.

It's a seductive strategy.

That's why zombie brands have to feed on your memories…

…when you're under the influence.