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Zombie Brands

Brands never truly die.

Kind of like your great Aunt Myrtle. That freak accident at the zoo may mean that she's now physically absent from this world, but the memories and feelings she left behind in you, your family and that gorilla will live on forever.

Oof… Let me try again.

Brands never truly die. Sure, maybe some don’t tangibly exist anymore, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist somewhere in the ether of consumers’ memories. Somewhere no one can make fun of their old-fashioned values and old-timey sounding names. Like Myrtle.

Not to get too philosophical before I hit 500 words, but if you exist in thought somewhere but not in body, are you dead or alive? Most of us would agree that, if you exist in thought (no matter whose), you exist, even if the tangible manifestation of that existence is 6 feet under. I think that’s how ghosts are made.

But even if Myrtle could come back as a ghost (and you’re fooling yourself if you think that's not a possiblity), brands that have been put out to pasture on that sunny farm in an undisclosed location can do something Myrtle could never do.

Brands can come back to life.

Not just in thought, but in physical form. You know, like zombies.

Spooky.

Obsolescence -- technological, ideological or fashionable --may kill a brand, but breathing new meaning into old ways of doing things can bring a brand back from the grave.

Take Chuck Taylor shoes. Born in the early 20th century, this Converse staple lived a vibrant life, fell into geriatric decline in the 1990s when shoe giants like Nike and Adidas began to proliferate, and eventually flatlined in bankruptcy. The brand was dead. But when artists and rock stars returned to the shoes and breathed new associations of creativity and rebellion into the brand’s ethos, it attracted enough buzz to convince Nike to buy and revive the brand. A decision they likely don’t regret.

Sometimes it takes a new brand coming onto the scene to resuscitate a brand long gone. Interest and excitement garnered around Fujifilm’s modern take on instant cameras (Instax) was enough to convert the seemingly hopeless corpse of the Polaroid company into Polaroid Originals. Making instant cameras vibrant once again.

Even the most reviled of Frankenstein brand experiments can make a comeback under the right circumstance. Reading cultural trends and interests is a must if you wish to perform the unholy work of reanimating the cadaver of a long dead brand. Leveraging society's latest nostalgic pastime of returning to everything 80s, Coca-Cola performed a resurrection most would see as laughably impossible just a decade or two before. It brought New Coke back.

Now just because a brand could come back to life doesn’t mean it should. We’ve all seen enough horror movies to pick up on that well known trope.

Like Enron, the bankrupt energy conglomerate that made itself a household name in the worst way, defrauding an entire sector of our economy and leaving many innocent people reeling it its wake. While not active, it still exists, waiting for someone to pick it up off the dusty shelf of bygone brands to be used once again. There are brands many of us would say should never come back, unless their logos are used as targets on urinal cakes. Yet, the brand lives on in memory, with tarnished reputation slowly eroding as time passes, someday perhaps coming back as a brand with an entirely new purpose.

It doesn’t take necromancy to pull a brand out from under a headstone. It takes patience and carefully paid attention to what’s going on culturally. If brands exist in the memories of consumers, the brand exists. They aren’t dead. They’re just waiting with a hand on the inside of the coffin door. And when consumers demand they return from the dead, it’s hard to say no.

Who knew a story about zombies could be so uplifting?

Thank God it wasn’t werewolves.

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Categories Business & Marketing, Branding

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