I’ll say it flat out … this, from the New York Times magazine, is one of the most fascinating marketing articles I’ve ever read.

It’s about a company that buys "dead" brands … the intellectual property left from products no longer made, like Brim coffee, SalonSelectives shampoos, Nuprin, and Underalls … and brings them back to market in new incarnations. As the founder says: “There’s no retail presence, no product, no distribution, no trucks, no plants. Nothing. All that exists is memory. We’re taking consumers’ memories and starting entire businesses.”

Often these are brands that died, not because consumers rejected them, but because they were taken over and retired by even larger brands owned by conglomerates … so Brim is replaced by the new parent’s larger Maxwell House. But the fond consumer memories of Brim survive.

The key point is that such brands are nothing more than memories … and often inaccurate ones at that. Still, their essence lingers in the mind of consumers, and can often be re-attached to more contemporary versions of the original product … or even to completely new products that the "old" brand never encompassed. So, for example, the venerable Stanley tool brand can be attached to ladders, a product Stanley itself has never actually made.

Says the author: "The brand equity has value on its own, but it can be grafted onto something newer and, perhaps, more innovative."

I’ve had a lot of fun thinking about how this might apply to "dormant" nonprofit brands.

Brands like Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the ACLU, the National Organization for Women. Which of these possesses enough remnant equity to be re-invented, resuscitated? To have a second life? How would their original essence — that so many found so compelling — be reintroduced and used to win new advocates?

As one academic cited in the article observed … with "deceased" brands that get a second life, it wasn’t their fault that they died in the first place. His point … the consumer didn’t abandon the brand; the brand abandoned or was withdrawn from its consumers.

What do you think? Can a "dormant" or "deceased" nonprofit brand be resuscitated? Or does it only get one chance?


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