Marketers May Find Gold on the Old Brand Junk Heap

James T. Berger headshot

James T. Berger
Senior Marketing Writer

Published October 7, 2009

What do International Harvester, Fisher Body, Howard Johnson’s, E.F. Hutton, Mr. Donut, Statler Hotels, McCall’s and Marshall Field’s have in common?

They are all magical brands of the past that sit on the junk heap of dead brands.

Like products and product categories, brands follow a life cycle and eventually decline into oblivion.  However, in some cases death may not be permanent and resurrection may be possible.

Brand Finance, an international organization with headquarters in London, has had some recent success in breathing new life into tired and nearly extinct brands.  Through Brand Finance’s efforts, a number of brands are again thriving in Great Britain such as: food and drink products including Plymouth Gin, Complan and drug product Lucozade; also fashion brands such as Burberry, Ben Sherman and Lee Cooper and household ;products such as Harmony and Stargene.

American Demographics in “Making Old Brands New,” an article published in 1997 reported that Nabisco at that time had 29 ghost brands, Schering-Plough, `17 and Smith-Kline 14.

“A brand is a reservoir of goodwill and takes a long time to build,” said David Haigh, founder of Brand Finance.  He added that it can take a century to build up not just   awareness but affection and trust.

Alexander Uhelmann, who teacher brand management at England’s Ashridge Business School says “The advantage of reviving a brand is that you leverage the awareness that already exists.  One of the reasons it makes sense to revive is because of how fragmented the media is.  Cutting through the clutter of messages is easier if you have got something to hang the premise on.”

A classic example of brand resurrection is Complan, a Heinz brand acquired in 2004 by Saatchinvest, an arm of M&C Saatchi.  Taking a 51 percent interest, Saatchinvest repackaged the meal supplement, directed it away from the sick and elderly toward a younger market.  It positioned the product as “complete nourishment when you need it” and added a line extension, a Complan breakfast cereal.

Across the Atlantic, Black & Decker needed a brand for a new line of professional quality power tools.  The Black & Decker brand positioned itself as a do-it-yourselfer brand but lacking of the quality and durability of products needed by professional workmen.  Black & Decker went to the junk pile and took one of its old time brands, DeWalt, to carry the banner for its new heavy-duty line.  Adding to the DeWalt penance was its bring yellow, silver and black coloring.  Fleets of vehicles using the yellow/black/silver coloring went out to work sites and the bright colors provided instant visibility in the major Home Depot-type retailers.

However, resurrecting brands can be tricky business as American Demographics wrote: “Not all brands are worthy of new life.  The challenge for brand managers is determining what brands can be revitalized and how best to do it.”

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About The Author

James T. Berger headshot
James T. Berger, Senior Marketing Writer of The Wiglaf Journal, through his Northbrook-based firm, James T. Berger/Market Strategies, offers a broad range of marketing communications, research and strategic planning consulting services. In addition, he provides expert services to intellectual property attorneys in the area of trademark infringement litigation. An adjunct professor of marketing at Roosevelt University, he previously has taught at Northwestern University, DePaul University, University of Illinois at Chicago and The Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan (BA), Northwestern University (MS) and the University of Chicago (MBA). Berger is an often-published free lance business writer who has developed more than 100 published articles in the last eight years. For more information, visit or telephone him at (847) 328-9633.