Brim coffee, Salon Solutions hair products, Eagle snack foods, Nuprin pain reliever: they're gone but not forgotten, writes Rob Walker in "Can a Dead Brand Live Again?" in the May 18 New York Times Sunday magazine. Dropped by their parent companies, some of these "ghost brands" have been acquired by River West Brands, a small Chicago company specializing in "brand reanimation." River West's approach is interesting for two reasons, Walker writes:
One is that for the most part the equity — the idea — is the only thing the company is interested in owning. River West acquires brands when the products themselves are dead, not merely ailing. Aside from Brim, the brands it acquired in the last few years include Underalls, Salon Selectives, Nuprin and the game maker Coleco, among others. “In most cases we’re dealing with a brand that only exists as intellectual property,” says Paul Earle, River West’s founder. “There’s no retail presence, no product, no distribution, no trucks, no plants. Nothing. All that exists is memory. We’re taking consumers’ memories and starting entire businesses.”
The other interesting thing is that when Earle talks about consumer memory, he is factoring in something curious: the faultiness of consumer memory. There is opportunity, he says, not just in what we remember but also in what we misremember.
The best example of a reanimated brand is probably the Volkswagen Beetle, which maintains the name but not the form of the original. (The contemporary design suggests the old version without slavishly imitating it.) "The reintroduced Beetle layered 'nostalgic reassurance' over modern functionality," writes Walker. The nostalgia is front and center in the current ad campaign, which pairs a talking "classic" Beetle (with a comic German accent) with its sleeker, silent update or with contemporary celebrities. (Watch a spot with Herr Beetle and Napster's Sean Fanning here.)
You may be familiar with Walker's writing from the Consumed column in the Times magazine and from his blog, Murketing, which examines brands and anti-brands. I'm looking forward to reading his new book, Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are, which will be released June 3.