10 Brands That Came Back From the Dead

Zach Brooke
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways

What? Several discontinued brands have been revived because of the enduring power of their name.

So what? The value of a “good” brand is so great that companies routinely go out of their way to acquire and market intellectual properties rights from companies that, in a practical sense, were business failures.

Now what? Consider the recognition and value of your organization's brand, as well as historical brands in your product/service category.

August 8, 2016

Don’t call it a comeback

What’s in a name? As Shakespeare wrote, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Still, in today’s marketplace, brand recognition and positive association is paramount to getting a leg up on the competition. 

And, given the emotional attachments that consumers can develop for their favorite brands, it’s no surprise that some companies have sought to revive past businesses successes by cashing in on those feelings of affinity and nostalgia.

Here are the stories of 10 brands whose reputation was so strong, marketers felt they deserved a second act.

1. Coca-Cola

Long before people fondly anticipated the return of Crystal Pepsi , there was an unquenchable thirst for the real thing.

In April 1985, the Coca-Cola Company announced it would replace the existing formula of Coca-Cola with a reconfigured recipe intended to taste sweeter and smoother and described by then-CEO Roberto Goizueta as “bolder,” “rounder” and “more harmonious.” 

The decision was a response to the gradual loss of market share to rival Pepsi, which had been positioning itself as the preferred taste of a new generation. But new Coke’s reception was a fiasco of epic proportions. 

A poll at the time found only 13% of soda drinkers liked the taste of new Coke. Coke insisted those numbers were wrong and that people were jumping onto a bandwagon just to bash Coke.

Either way, sales plummeted. 
Pepsi mocked its competitor by releasing an advertisement that called out Coke by name, and asked why it tasted different. Classic Coke lovers banded into advocacy groups to demand the return of their beloved soft drink. 

On July 11, 1985, Coca-Cola executives bowed to public pressure and announced they would reintroduce the original formation of its flagship product, less than three months after discontinuing it.  

2. Surge

Another resurrected Coca-Cola Company product, Surge was a citrus-flavored soft drink first introduced in the late-1990s. Initially referenced as “Mountain Dew Killer” in internal company documents, the drink went after Mountain Dew’s edgy demographic by hopping on the extreme-sports bandwagon popular among youth at the time. Featuring a chemical formulation that provided more stimulation and a bright neon green color, the product release was bolstered by a $50 million nationwide ad campaign that—in a sign of the times—hyped the high carbohydrate content of the product. 

Sadly, it was not to be. Surge sales slumped with the dawn of a new millennium and finally petered out in 2003. However, like Coca-Cola classic a generation earlier, Surge fans organized into lobbying groups. Aided by the power of the internet and social networking, they relentlessly petitioned the Coca-Cola Company to re-release their beloved lemon-lime soft drink. In 2015, Coca-Cola once again responded to the pressure by re-introducing the product on Amazon at first, and then at convenience stores throughout the United States .

3. Bugatti

Luxury brands are uniquely susceptible to changes in style and economic trends. Take Bugatti for example. Now considered some of the finest automobiles to grace the planet, these high-performance vehicles are only obtainable by a handful of individuals on the planet, priced in the $2.5 million range, and requiring $20,000 oil changes.

The brainchild of Italian-born automobile designer Ettore Bugatti (son of noted Art Nouveau industrial designer Carlo Bugatti ), the eponymous auto debuted in 1909 and dominated the European racing circuit for the next several decades. With the destruction of its plant in WWII and the subsequent death of its founder the following decade, auto production was eliminated entirely by the end of the 1950s in favor of aircraft design and manufacturing. The car brand was revived by an Italian entrepreneur in the 1980s and sold to Volkswagen a decade later, which has been producing the iconic cars ever since.

4. The Sharper Image

Image Source: Mike Mozart Flickr, The Sharper Image Covers

This tech retailer has functioned in many different iterations over the years. First begun in 1977 as a catalog business hawking jogging watches, Shaper Image transitioned into a mall-based chain retailer of consumer electronic goods in 1985. By 1987, it was trading publicly on the New York Stock Exchange. In 2002, it agreed to sell its own products at Circuit City and began experimenting with infomercials for air purifiers. 

The air purifiers would prove to be a key piece to Sharper Image’s undoing. An unfavorable review in Consumer Reports led the company to take costly and ultimately unsuccessful legal action against the publisher. The suit, combined with slumping consumer spending, caused the enterprise to go belly-up in February 2008. The brand emerged from bankruptcy under new ownership and has since been used to sell products through third-party retailers such as Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, OfficeMax and Big 5 Sporting Goods.       


5. Hydrox

Image Source: theimpulsivebuy Flickr

These cream-filled cookies pre-dated the massively popular (and derivative) Oreo by four years but eventually became perceived as a knockoff. Guess that’s the way the cookie crumbles. 

Still, Hydrox —named after a water molecule and designed to evoke “purity and goodness”—managed to slog along for 90 years as a stable of Sunshine Biscuits until it was renamed and ultimately discontinued following Sunshine’s sale to Keebler in 1996. 

A Star Trek-like campaign to revive the cookies mounted though, and they were brought back for a limited time in 2008 to celebrate the brand’s 100th anniversary. After being taken off the market yet again, Hydrox was sold to Leaf Brands, which, in 2014, restored the baked good to grocery stores nationwide for the third time.

6. Pan American World Airways


Better known by its abbreviated name, Pan Am, this airline began life in 1927, the same year Charles Lindbergh made his unaided crossing of the Atlantic. Initially a puddle- (er … ocean-) jumper shuttling passengers and mail between Key West, Florida, and Havana, Cuba, the ensuing decades saw the airline aggressively expand throughout Central and South America. As America’s largest international air carrier for more than six decades, the airline hit its peak in the 1960s, advertising under the slogan the “World’s Most Experienced Airline.” One of its jets served as the backdrop to the Beatles’ 1964 press conference in New York after arriving in the Unites States for the first time.

Pan Am’s fortunes changed soon after however, hit hard by the 1970s oil crisis, mixed efforts to build up a domestic flight network, increased competition from other carriers and unhelpful acquisition and merger efforts. It declared bankruptcy in January 1994 and ceased operations later that year.

Since being defunct, the Pan Am brand name has been resurrected no fewer than six times: in 1996, 1998, 2003, 2004, 2010 and 2012. The revivals were all without staying power, however, and none exist at present. A 2011 ABC television series named Pan Am that followed the lives of a fictional flight crew was similarly short-lived.

Pan Am Brands has a Dover, N.H.-based apparel and licensing company that focuses exclusively on marketing the prestige of the Pan Am brand name. The name continues to live on though, in another area of transportation. The railroad company formerly known as Guilford Transportation Industries now operates under the name Pan Am Systems and uses the same original “blue meatball” logo. 

SEE ALSO: The Marketing of the Pan Am Brands Bags

7. Twinkies

The eight-month stretch between November 2012 and July 2013 was a rough one for Twinkie lovers. The iconic snack food disappeared from shelves briefly as a casualty of the bankruptcy of its manufacturer, Hostess Brands.

The brand was then sold to private equity firm Apollo Global Management and billionaire food investor C. Dean Metropoulos (whose son recently purchased the Playboy Mansion ). The new ownership team quickly facilitated a return of cream-filled golden sponge cakes to supermarkets nationwide on July 15, 2013. 

8. Esterbrook

Once the largest pen manufacturer in the United States, this brand of writing implements once produced more than 200 million units per year and counted the illustrators of Donald Duck and Peanuts comics strips among its devotees. Begun in 1858 by British Quaker-turned-New-Jersey-transplant, Richard Esterbrook, the company survived as an independent business for more than a century and was named one of 101 Objects That Made America by Smithsonian Institute. Operations ceased in 1971, however, when the brand was acquired by Berol.

In 2014, Harpen Brand Holdings revived the brand and attempted to position it as a way to combat decline in penmanship and as a fashion piece. 

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9. Moleskine

While these luxury notebooks and other paper products have become so associated with a specific audience they’ve a become a punchline , you can’t deny they have a good origin story. In their present incarnation, the elastic-fastened notebooks claim to be the heir of those used by artistic giants of the last 200 years, including Vincent Van Gough, Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemmingway.

Travel writer Bruce Chatwin recounts that the original manufacturer, a Tours, France-based family, ceased production in 1986 following the death of its patriarch. Eleven years later an Italian publisher, Modo & Modo, copyrighted the Moleskine name and began producing them on a large scale. 

Image Caption: Moleskine shop at Linate Airport, Milan, Italy.

10. Polaroid

There may be no name that better embodies the technological innovations, business practices and brand commodification of the last century that Polaroid Corporation. The original company was founded in Massachusetts in 1937 by Edwin Land, a tech genius who received 533 different U.S. patents in his life, second only to Thomas Edison.

In the first act of Polaroid's history, it released waves of products using “polarizer technology” onto the American public, including sunglasses, goggles, 3-D movie technology and infrared, night-viewing devices. In the 1960s, the company pioneered the development of the instant cameras it is best remembered for today. When rival photography company Kodak brought its own instant camera to market in 1976, Polaroid successfully sued the company for $900 million and an order to stop production. 

Following Land’s death, however, the company floundered, and attempts to shift away from the declining consumer photography market were unsuccessful. The company went bankrupt in 2001, and its name was licensed to other electronics manufacturers. Products bearing the Polaroid names during this time included LCD displays, plasma televisions and DVD players. Remaining company properties were sold to Petters Group Worldwide , a holding company that specialized in licensing defunct-but-popularly-regarded brand names.

Peters broke apart in 2008 after it was revealed to be an enormous Ponzi scheme for its owner, Tom Petters. Polaroid wasn’t dead yet, though. A new holding company for the Polaroid brand name emerged and entered into a five-year agreement in 2009 with Summit Global Group to produce photography products. More recently, the company lent its name to the newly unveiled Polaroid Swing app, which allows users to create interactive GIF-like moving photographs


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Author Bio:

Zach Brooke
Zach Brooke is a staff writer for the American Marketing Association. He can be reached at zbrooke@ama.org
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