Ever wonder what happens to brands that lie dormant for years?
Michael Reich, owner of Brands USA Holdings, just auctioned 170 product and corporate names and found out firsthand. It was a fascinating exercise.
Familiar name brands like Meister Brau, Braniff and Old Nick candy bars all sold, as bidders gathered at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York for the auction.
Collier's, the once-venerable weekly magazine that published the works of Hemingway, Cather, Lewis, Salinger and Vonnegut, shut down in 1957, sold as a trademark for $2,000 to John Elduff, a 20-year-old student (!) from Philadelphia.
Asked why he made the purchase, Elduff told The New York Times he was drawn to the history of the name, but as for future purpose, “You’ll have to ask my father,” who shares the same name and “owns a publishing firm in Philadelphia.”
Gregg Hamerschlag, CEO of Primary Wave Media, purchased Computer City and Financial Corporation of America for $1,000. “I own a lot of I.P.,” he told the Times. “I see a lot of opportunities.”
The format was Dutch auction, starting with a high opening bid of $100,000, which was met with silence. It was lowered it to $75,000, then $50,000 before getting a first bid of $ 25,000. That bid turned into a $45,000 sale of Shearson, a brand dormant since 1994.
The auctioneers roamed the crowd in dark suits, red ties and a single carnation, trying to goose the bidding action. Meister Brau, among the very first light beers, went for $32,500 and Handi-Wrap for $30,000. A subsequent dip took bids down for brands like Shower Mate, Sun and Surf, Continental Illinois — all going for less than $10,000 each.
Post-auction, the auctioneer voiced surprise at attendees' timidity, telling Ad Age, "I wondered what they were waiting for."
The challenge to reinvent or re-introduce an old brand remains somewhat daunting. “The reason old brands are relevant is that they provide some level of authenticity and trust,” according to Landor's Allen Adamson in the Times.
But, he adds, “The people delivering on the promise would not be the same” as the original brand- stewards. “Can you imbue the name with meaning that is relevant for today? Can you deliver an offer that people will now want?”
While not everybody takes as good care of a brand as the original owner, it will be fascinating to see if these new owners — including that 20-year-old new owner of Collier’s and his dad — can teach some old brands new tricks.
As Interbrand's blog post points out,
A name, as crucial as it is to the perception of a brand, is not the brand itself. It seems that the new owners of these old assets can pursue one of two courses of action: Rebuild the business that once lived under the name, or create a new business with a coveted label that would be unusable without its trademark privileges. Of course, both present an interesting dilemma. When the brand (re)launches, will memory of its historic predecessor help or hurt the new company?
What do you think?