Brand RIP: The Rise and Fall of Memorex



A company that was all about saving things for posterity is now in need of being saved for posterity. Memorex has been liquidated and is no more. A mere glimpse of the fuchsia geometrics of the brand’s 120 high-definition HS videocassette box may set your nostalgia heart aflutter if you happen to be a baby boomer or Generation X.

memorex tape

One peek at a pink, blue, yellow and red transparent cassette tape may make you remember that first kiss. Meanwhile, if you’re Generation Y, you may never have heard of the brand. Such was the brand trajectory of Memorex.

memorex ss

Maybe ironic now, but Memorex was one of the original Silicon Valley tech companies—it even had a successful IPO in 1965. Founded in 1961 as a maker of computer tape, the brand grew into disk drives and then into the spanking new music technology: cassette tapes (“MRX3 oxide makes the difference!”).

memorex pack
In 1972, the company launched into the consumer market with its brand-defining slogan: “Is it live or is it Memorex?” It’s good-as-live messaging in the 1970s was prominent and included as spokesperson none other than Ella Fitzgerald.

memorex ella

This brand promise—that its products were as good as the real thing—put Memorex in a perfect position to take advantage of the explosion of home videotape technology. During its consumer heyday, the brand produced some excellent messaging that aimed to mess with consumer’s heads. (Keep in mind that before the Memorex era, there was no way to see oneself on a TV.) At the exact time Memorex was questioning reality, Hollywood was releasing the ultimate reality-questioning movie, Blade Runner (1982).

Memorex’s combination of the easy-to-understand lingo (“It’s not me. It’s a recording of me!”) and the high-tech jargon (“High Bias II”; “the computer can freeze an instant of the music and mark it”) made it a consumer favorite in a new marketplace full of claims and terminology foreign to many first-time video consumers.

By 1992, near the peak of VHS technology market saturation, the company truly understood what its brand meant, asking in a memorable ad, “Is it love? Or is it Memorex?”

While LaserDisc had always been around it was largely unpopular. But the 1990s saw the double-whammy punch of the CD and the VCD, two formats that directly challenged its VHS tape and cassette markets. Thus ended Memorex’s decades of popularity. In 1996, the then-merged business Memorex-Telex filed for bankruptcy.

Memorex Fitzgerald ad via That Eric Alper.


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