The Phoenix Project

SAVANNAH – Can old and aging brands really be brought back to life? Or have their times come and gone.

Do we really need Hai Karate and F. W. Woolworth, or is our wish for these old products pure nostalgia?

Again this year, advertising students at The Savannah College of Art and Design will be trying to find out with The Phoenix Project.

Led by Prof. Sean Trapani, the ad class endeavor is to help revive dead or ailing brand names through repositioning. Prof. Trapani contacted BrandlandUSA, and we came up with an initial list of about 25 brand names for the class to consider. Some are familiar, others not. All have enough brand history to have potential.

Some brands, like Sears and A&P, are still around, but could use some ideas. Other brands have completely disappeared, and are remembered only through eBay and old magazines.

Here is a quick list of some of BrandlandUSA’s first round picks for the Phoenix Project. The list will be narrowed, and then each brand selected will have two competing teams trying to come up with campaigns to reposition the brands. Most of the list has a link to other brand histories on the BrandlandUSA site. Just click on the brand name.

We also ask folks interested in the contest to go to the Brands to Bring Back Application on Facebook. It has most of the brands listed below, as well as a few others. Facebook users can send the brands back and forth to friends. In addition, BrandlandUSA’s 100 Brands to Bring Back has a thorough list of brands, as well as suggestions of products from readers.

BrandlandUSA will follow the competition, and post entries in a virtual gallery.

May the best brands win.

  1. F. W. Woolworth This brand is one of the top searches for old brands on Brandland USA, and in a 2007 survey, it was the one department store other than Marshall Field’s that Americans wanted to see again. The chain just shut down after Christmas in the United Kingdom. The brand was apparently purchased for re-use by an online retailer; students could talk about the relaunch of the store in the U.S. or the U.K. It still lives in some other countries. Note: Click on newspaper ad for link to CruiseWarehouse, a travel site that has published Woolworth’s history and timeline.
  2. Hai Karate. This was one of the most famous ads of all time, the ad where a man puts on Hai Karate perfume and has to fight off women. The scent died off, but the ad legend survives. How would current ad students revive this great karate ad tradition?
  3. Marshall Field’s. This venerable department store WAS Chicago to many people, and its conversion into Macy’s in 2006 was hated by many in the Windy City, and seen as the New York domination of Chicago. The question becomes; if Macy’s were to relaunch the old State Street store as Marshall Field’s, what would the relaunch look like? And how would that work with the Macy’s brand?Engelhard
  4. Englehard Metals. This brand is a mostly forgotten industrial brand, but its founder, Charles Englehard, found immortality as the man who Ian Fleming based his wicked spy novel Goldfinger on. Englehard loved playing the role of gold baron, and played in glamorous wealth circles all his life (his step-daughter Jane is married to Oscar de la Renta.) Could Englehard find life as a brand of gold, like Swarovski is for crystals?
  5. Norell. This fashion house was named for Norman Norell, the famous American fashion designer and movie designer most famous for dressing Gloria Swanson. He died in 1972 and his brand lives on in a perfume, Norell, but the fashion brand does not. He was the first American to rival the great French designers. The interpretation for today would be fun challenge.International Harvester scout
  6. International Harvester Scout. The International Harvester company was founded by Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the reaper. It went bankrupt, and with it went its great assets like the International Harvester Scout 4WD sport vehicle. The Scout still has street credibility, and is seen as the perfect surfer four wheel drive car. How would the brand be relaunched today, in the wake of other popular car revivals like Mini? It was sold at tractor dealers, by the way, not car dealers.
  7. Hallicrafters. This brand was the Ray-Ban of radios for the World War II era. A Hallicrafters radio was what Navy ships had in the Pacific; you can see their equipment in old war movies. The brand died unnecessarily, as it never decided whether it was a consumer brand or a brand for Navy ships.
  8. Mr. Donut. This doughnut chain still lives on in Japan, but died in the U.S. Krispy Kreme had a revival, then floundered a bit, and Dunkin Donuts is the brand everyone things about when they think of a chain of donut stores. But in the 1960s, one would have thought of Mr. donut
  9. Look Magazine. This magazine was an icon of America, just as much as Life. If Life was all about photography, Look was about pictures and stories. From time to time, a revival of the magazine has been discussed, but in this age of the internet, it seems like a real challenge. How would a magazine like Look be revived if you were to do it today.
  10. Dorothy Gray. During much of the 20th century, Dorothy Gray was a top brand for perfume and cold crème; it was equal to Oil of Olay. Until recently the Dorothy Gray line of Satura cold crème was still made, but the company that made it, Ascendia, went bankrupt in 2008. Note: If you are interested in their advertising history, Dorothy Gray used a commercial where they made the cosmetics radioactive and tested it with a Geiger counter.
  11. A&P. The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company is about to have its 150th anniversary. It has struggled, and is tiny compared to its heyday, when it had stores across the nation and in Canada. How could this once great grocery chain reposition itself? It was once known for Eight o Clock coffee, and was more associated with coffee than Starbucks ever was. But now it is just a regional grocery chain in the Northeast and some Southern markets. See info about its advertising and brands at our story on Jane Parker, A&P’s bread and fruitcake brand.
  12. Georgette Klinger LogoGeorgette Klinger. This brand died only a few years ago. It was once THE brand for a facial in New York. Georgette Klinger had a non-cosmetic approach to beauty. The family is trying to revive the brand but so far all they have is a website.
  13. Charles of the Ritz. This brand was merged into Revlon, and while some of its perfumes still survive, the Charles of the Ritz brand does not. Charles of the Ritz was as big, or bigger, a brand than Estee Lauder, and much more high end than Cover Girl or Maybelline. It had mixing counters in department stores, and sold an alluring image of Charles of the Ritz, who was a hairstylist in the New York Ritz. Perfumes include Enjoli (that “bring home the bacon” ad) and Jean Nate. The legendary makeup artist Way Bandy worked for the company.
  14. USFL. In the 1980s, this brand was going to rival the NFL with a spring season of football. It was greatly hyped, though a move to the fall killed it off, as who would want to compete with the NFL? The brand relaunch is underway for 2010. How would the redo of the league be positioned, when the first one didn’t succeed.
  15. Cushman Scooters. Cushman was the American Vespa. While Cushman the company is still around, its dashing motorcycles are no longer made, though they are highly sought by collectors. In an era of energy consciousness, how would Cushman be revived?
  16. Guiding Light. This popular soap franchise is the oldest running network television program. It started on radio, then moved to television. Because of costs and declining viewership, CBS announced its cancellation for September. How could marketing and advertising reposition this show so the residents of Springfield could survive another 70 years?
  17. Sears. This is the ultimate icon of America, and they struggle. They purchased bankrupt Kmart a few years ago, and are now known as Sears Holdings. While their brands are still strong (Kenmore, Craftsman, Lands End), they still suffer as a retailer, and some critics have suggested they may not make through the end of the year.
  18. Oldsmobile. It is my contention that the death of Oldsmobile was one of the key factors in the swift decline of General Motors in the last 8 years. When General Motors killed off the brand, it had to shut down hundreds of dealers and ignore a franchise that sold over 200,000 cars a year. While Olds struggled, its buyers were loyal, and they did not go to other GM brands like Buick and Chevrolet. Instead, these buyers were lost. Assuming no one is interested in the old Olds, how would the brand equity be reused for a relaunch with a new kind of Oldsmobile. The Obama administration is apparently asking General Motors to kill off its GMC truck brand. However, GMC truck buyers say they don’t want a Chevrolet. How to reposition a brand to save it.
  19. Morton Frozen Foods. This frozen foods brand is one of the most searched for and commented items on BrandlandUSA. It was once larger than Stouffer’s in frozen foods, and was known for its frozen doughnuts, honey buns and crème pies. It was purchased by ConAgra, and shut down. Fans still dream about the honey buns.
  20. El Marko Indelible Markers. These markers were the 1970s rivals to the Sharpie, and lost. They had clever ads with a sort of Zorro character, but other brands won shelf space and they lost their “mark.” They were maid by Flair, itself a great pen brand.
  21. Lydia Pinkam’s Pills. During the first part of the century, Lydia Pinkham’s pills were sold by a woman, for a woman, for “women’s” issues. They were a sensation, and Lydia Pinkham became a household name because of her advertising. Today, they are still sold, but are mostly forgotten except for in special cases.
  22. Short n Sassy. After the 1976 Winter Olympics, the Dorothy Hamill haircut was all the rage. With her popularity came a Clairol shampoo, Short N Sassy. It died years later, when short and sassy haircuts for women went out of fashion.
  23. Brownie Chocolate Drink. This was a funky Southern drink, made of water, chocolate and sugar. You had to shake it to make it drinkable. It tastes rather like Yoo-Hoo, but it did not survive. On hot summer days, it got really sticky and nasty.What would be the plan to re-release this odd, un-bubbly soft drink?Climax Ginger Ale
  24. Climax Ginger Ale. This brand of ginger ale had nothing to do with anything sexual; instead it was a top regional brand from Richmond, Virginia that was popular in the east. It died years ago, but might be reborn as an edgy soda drink.
  25. Radio Shack and its Realistic Brand. Circuit City died, and Radio Shack struggles. One central part of Radio Shack was their private labels like Realistic, which have disappeared. Right now, the Radio Shack account is under review. This might be a good time to look at how a chain like Radio Shack could be repositioned, so it doesn’t go the way of Circuit City.
  26. McDonnell-Douglas aircraft and spacecraft. This company once owned commercial aviation, with its DC-3 still flying, even after 50 years. After success with the DC-9 it stumbled with the DC-10, and fell behind the leader, Boeing. Boeing eventually bought the company, and dropped the name. Once, McDonnell Douglas was the company that built many of the Apollo vehicles, but it is gone. At right, an ad from the cool website

We invite readers and students to comment on the ideas below.


  1. What about the S. H. Kress and Co. brand, whose Five, Dime and A Quarter chain of 261 stores was the most profitable in the US, besting competitors F. W. Woolworth and S. S. Kresge? They had a store on 120 West Broughton Street in Savannah, which I believe is still standing. Samuel H. Kress and brother Rush H. Kress donated over 3,000 works of art to the National Gallery of Art and over 90 instituions in the US. I just wrote a 300 page book on the family called “Heads of Bronze, Hearts of Gold” that will be published shortly. One painting was donated to the Tellfair Academy of Arts and Sciences in Savannah. Check it out and please put in a word about my book. Cheers!
    Steven A. Worthy

  2. Sounds like a fun exercise. I’m curious to see what they come up with.

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