The news is full of brands that refuse to just lie down and die. High street entertainment retailer Zavvi, formerly Virgin Megastore, looked for a while like it was going to be entirely picked off by its retail rivals. But we discovered this week that eight stores bought out of administration by a group called Head Entertainment (led by former Zavvi chief executive Simon Douglas) will retain the Zavvi name. A brand few thought they would see again, rescued from the abyss. For how long we’re not sure.
Elsewhere, Northern Rock is in the spotlight with the happy news of a drive to make it a trusted mortgage lender again. In recent times we’ve also seen Woolworths disappear from the high street to much media wailing before announcing to shocked mourners that the brand is, in fact, still alive – albeit online.
Then, last week, we have the ultimate tale of what former Crystal Palace and QPR manager Iain Dowie would call “bouncebackability”. Sunny D is relaunching (again). The amount of criticism that juice drink Sunny D has survived is astonishing; other, less resilient brands may have given up. In its former incarnation of Sunny Delight, the drink famously turned a child yellow after she drank too much of it. In its time it has also been slayed by the health lobby for the level of sugar it contained. Even with seemingly endless new recipes, the battered brand never recovered the immense sales value it enjoyed in its first year.
Several questions arise. Where does a brand’s inherent value start and end? Would it not be cheaper and easier to launch a new brand than rely on a tainted one and, if so, does that mean we simply aren’t being bold enough as marketers?
Perhaps it isn’t about being bold, perhaps it is about being targeted. Maybe dying brands get rescued because they do indeed still have value, albeit to a smaller group of people than before. That is certainly the case for Sunny D which, while many consumers will have a problem with its history, many others will not. As long as it recognises that it has a smaller potential target audience and communicates with them accordingly, it will still justify a place on shelves.
Maybe the reason such brands got into trouble in the first place was about the previous owners’ management, rather than because the brand was irrelevant. Concerned commentators were warning against Northern Rock’s business model long before the walls came tumbling down. In any sector, even the most successful brands, those that create their own awareness and are preferred by a majority, need the right operations behind them to function.
And while a recession can be a great time to launch a new and well positioned brand, it can also be highly dangerous. Yes there is opportunity to create a loyal following and steal market share but equally, we’re seeing the biggest shift in consumer behaviour for decades. Marketers at multinationals are struggling just to follow the new patterns in consumer requirements. If anything, new products are being launched simply to mitigate against a nervy future for their current portfolios.
Against such a stormy backdrop it is perhaps easier to see why older, even slightly contaminated brands, are seen as a good option.