Zombie Brands That Deserve Second Life

In Hollywood, the revival works — sometimes. The off-Broadway revival of Brady Bunch Live, done live, was a wacky hit, but the numerous follow up series, specials and movies, have been (mostly) flops. Movie versions of Aaron Spelling’s Starsky & Hutch and Charlie’s Angels scored, but a Love Boat TV redux sank. Desi-less Lucy was a hit with The Lucy Show, but not with the ill-fated 1980s series Life With Lucy. The point?

A franchise can live again, but only if done well, with respect for the original, but enough new twists to make it fresh.

Zombie brands happen the same way. In recent years, brands like Mini, Lilly Pulitzer and Bell & Howell have been reinvented, with varying levels of success. For instance, BMW’s Mini is completely new, inside a car body reminiscent of swinging London. And they don’t have to be products? The Olympics, dead for centuries, of course were brought back to life by an enterprising Frenchman; even Virginia’s College of William & Mary, founded in 1693, went dead for a number of years in the 19th century and came back.

There is a feeling of equity lost when a brand is killed off. Like New York’s demolition of Penn Station or MGM’s destruction of its iconic Wizard of Oz sets, not only has a piece of history disappeared, but so has a priceless asset that can draw in customers. Mostly, what is needed is a new mission for that brand awareness. While First Data’s Western Union Western Union subsidiary hardly advertised its historic telegram service before it recently killed it off, it does a booming business in money orders and wire transfers with that brand legacy in the background.

Today, there are hundreds of brands that died while they still had customers and fans. Not enough customers for the un-clever exec, but a market and a brand nonetheless. Here are a few still intriguing:

Once Burger Chef was a well-known hamburger brand. Today, Hardee’s Food Systems apparently claims the trademark, at this time still registered as “live” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. I can understand why Hardee’s wants to keep Burger Chef’s cartoon character “Jeff” from other companies. This strategy may or may not work in a legal sense; companies have to actually use a trademark in good faith to keep it alive, and I have never seen anything related to Burger Chef at my corner Hardee’s.

In the ’80s, Lisa Birnbach’s The Preppy Handbook listed four “prep” retailers as R.I.P. On the list already revived are Best & Co. (revived by Susie Hilfiger) and Abercrombie and Fitch. What’s missing from the list? Peck & Peck, the New York department store for “sensible people.” Peck & Peck brought a sense of sophistication and glamour to classic clothes, and there is always a market for that. Retailers like Talbots and Ann Taylor serve that market; there is always room for a reinterpretation. Bring it back now, and it will be ready for the next prep revival. (Apparently, Peck & Peck still exists as a store brand at Stein Mart.)

Plymouth, you ask? Chrysler execs killed the brand of the powerful Fury and ever so practical Valiant and then in 2001, merged its product line with Chrysler’s. The PT Cruiser fan website puts it perfectly – Chrysler is stuck with a dual personality, “the guppy-nose look (Chrysler) and the hot-rod look (Dodge), and Plymouth is gone forever.” With the death of Plymouth, Chrysler is left without a middle-class “starter” brand for families who think Dodge too sporty, and Chrysler too expensive. Bring it back as a single product brand; how about Chrysler dealers selling a limited edition “Plymouth” branded PT Cruiser with all the Plymouth regalia but otherwise a Chrysler.

In the 1980s, Larry King made a national career on Mutual Radio with his overnight radio show, but the name merged into Westwood One in 1999, and is now part of CBS Radio. Mutual Radio’s history includes FDR, Orson Welles and The Shadow. Dozens of new radio networks pop up year after year; the addition of the Mutual name could pop one out of the clutter.

The old S.S. Norway of Norwegian Cruise Line had a tragic engine accident and is now stuck on some beach ready for the scrap heap. It was the former S.S. France, the pride of the French Line. Why not recreate the luxury line that could one-up Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. Or how about a twin ship to the Dubai hotel that will be the QE2? Frankly, who’s better at food, the British or French? Even better than Cunard, the S.S. France of the reinvented French Line would be real, not a recreation.

When American Airlines purchased TWA, it killed the brand and shut down its beautiful JFK terminal. It was a great loss. TWA connotes a sort of luxury and exoticism never known by American Airlines, a fact further accentuated by American’s closing it down. Certainly, TWA was having difficulty, but people pay extra for Ritz-Carlton over Marriott; why wouldn’t they for air travel? And the airline industry continually needs new brands — when Delta needed a discount brand, it created the oddly named Song; when it needed an executive jet brand, it coined Air Elite. Good news; at least jetBlue is renovating their JFK building, the TWA Flight Center.

Hallicrafters from The Tradition

Hallicrafters was once the WWII ship-to-shore brand, seen on the Navy ships of the World War II generation. It made indestructible radios after the war for the high-end sailing and power boat customer. Why not put it on some AM/FMs for Wal-Mart and make it the Ray-Ban or Jeep of radios. If some are now decorating cell phones with jewels; perhaps a durable Hallicrafters casing might be the Hummer for AT&T or Alltel?

While Cub-Cadet and International Harvester tractors survive as brands, the candy colored International Scout sport utility program died. But more than 20 years after the last International Harvester Scout came off the assembly line, the two-door Scout still has a certain surfer credibility and appeared recently in a Wall Street Journal feature on hot collectible cars. In the fall of 2004, International returned to the consumer car market with a new pickup, the International 7300 CXT, a real live, Tonka-looking pickup for hyper-steroid men. What should be the next step? The sporty Scout.

Lastly, F.W. Woolworth’s still survives around the world, but not in its birthplace of America. The Queen shopped there as a child, as did just about everyone else. It became a part of 1960s U.S. history with civil rights sit-ins. So why wasn’t there a market for it? While some say that the market for Woolworth died, people didn’t stop needing panty hose, playing cards, greeting cards and sewing kits. That market is now Walgreen’s, and it’s doing quite well. What to do with that Woolworth nostalgic brand goodwill? Well, if Walgreen’s has the panty hose and thread sewn up, then it’s the lunch counter that America misses. There’s always a market for grilled cheese.


  • Garland Pollard

    J. Garland Pollard IV is editor/publisher of BrandlandUSA. Since 2006, the website BrandlandUSA.com has chronicled the history and business of America’s great brands.


  1. Grating minds stink alike, found this article mentioning Woolworths after I had posted in the KMart article here: http://www.brandlandusa.com/2016/01/16/kmart-tries-again-with-blue-light/

    Back in the 60’s as a little nose picker (note: I said “little”) the family sailed on the SS France. Sadly after many attempts to save her she finally met her fate with the smoke wrench (torch) several years ago. Which reminds me of what the NY Times said about the demolition of Penn Station, that future generations will judge us not for what we had built but for what we destroyed.

    How about ressurecting the SS United States instead of them there furrin’ ships? For the last 20 years shes been in limbo, docked at a Philadelphia pier with an unknown future. As of Feb of this year Crystal Cruises has supposedly struck a deal to purchase, refit and ultimately sail her.

    Plymouth: they were Chrysler’s price leader in the same way Chevy is to GM. Many fleet buyers (including the NYPD) chose Plymouth over Dodge to save a buck. The Plymouth PT Cruiser, Voyager and Prowler were rebranded as Chryslers and then allowed to fade away.

    Besides a flame about yay high, what really burns my buttocks is after a company becomes diversified and ultimately spins off the original product line because that “division” wasn’t performing as well as the others. DIVISION? The very core of what became a holding company is tossed aside like a used hankerchief instead of recognizing and honoring the fact that the corporate shell wouldn’t exisit if it wasnt for them! American Can and Studebaker are two classic examples of this but the American business landscape is littered with such detritus.

    Interdimensional Cornbinder (actually Navistar International) made a smart move with the 7300 CXT yet it was little too late to ride the wave of Hummers and the era of easy sleazy overextended mortgage money. They also blew it from a marketing aspect by making it too large which mandated air brakes…the problem lay with the fact that most states require a driver’s license endorsement in order to operate a vehicle equipped with same. This oversight locked out a huge market of owner/operators who didn’t want or couldn’t be bothered with the hassle.

    Prior to the CXT I had envisioned a similar machine to be marketed to those with deep pockets but with a hands-on approach to hauling their toys such as oversized RVs, horse or car trailers. By hands-on I mean they’d rather drive than hire a driver.

    Such a vehicle would’ve included a twist…retro styling (another thing that I saw coming which Navistar also did), bespoke super luxury interior appointments and possible use of the Studebaker name. Why them? Because they put America on wheels by building a large number of what can be considered to be the first American truck: the Connestoga wagon!

    Build the cab and then slide a Navistar chassis underneath. In this way all the critical engineering, liability and distribution network issues would be handled in one swell foop, um, fell swoop.

    Brother can you spare a dime? I’ll gladly accept $50 million if you don’t have any change.

  2. Hawes! Come to Europe and yo can fill at Esso. We still have them!

  3. Luckily, Sinclair still exists.

  4. This is my new favorite website! I love old brands. I wish I could get my car fueled at Esso!

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