Dead Brands Are One Thing, But How Many Are Comatose?

Hydrox cookiesKellogg Company's decision to at least temporarily revive the Hydrox brand--the 100th anniversary, limited-edition cookies started hitting shelves this week--raises a number of oft-analyzed life-or-death brand issues.

For one, how many brands are currently breathing, but on deathwatch, and how did they get there?

The answer to the first question is "a lot," according to John Moore, principal in Dallas-based Brand Autopsy Marketing Practice, whose background includes serving as director of national marketing for Whole Foods Market and retail marketing manager for Starbucks. In fact, Moore--who does brand development/building for clients such as Procter & Gamble, restaurant chains and high-tech firms--says more brands than ever are "comatose or on life support."

The underlying causes of terminal illness are traceable to prevailing industry dynamics, often exacerbated by erratic or misguided strategies for infusing failing brands with new vim and vigor, in Moore's diagnosis.



"Everything is tighter today: budgets, time, resources and share of both consumer attention and brand manager attention," he says. "As a result, companies let brands that are still viable, but not their largest or fastest-growing, languish for years."

The natural human tendency to want to focus on brands with cachet and momentum can also play a role. Hydrox's long death spiral as it struggled to compete against Oreo and other leading, deeper-pocketed brands under various owners has been forensically examined by The Wall Street Journal and others of late. But Moore postulates that a factor that also came into play was that Hydrox was not only strangely named, but viewed as un-hip and "not sexy to work on."

Then there are the brands that get sporadic, half-hearted or off-target resuscitation efforts. Moore cites the beer category, noting that numerous brands within the Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors portfolios go into marketing limbo for long periods of time. "Then, all of a sudden, they'll focus on one of these," he says. "For instance, Miller High Life had great vitality for years, went dormant, was given a shot in the arm a few years back, and is now back in comatose stage."

Reformulations also frequently backfire, of course. "In reintroducing a product, companies often change it to make it more relevant--even when it's actually still relevant, and really needs more and better marketing," notes Moore. "They change it so much that people lose their original emotional attachment to the product."

Kellogg has left open the possibility that Hydrox might get a permanent stay of execution if the limited edition sells well enough, but since it has been stripped of the original's trans fats, might its different "mouth feel" disappoint die-hard fans?, Moore wonders.

Finally, he stresses that brands have life cycles. "Most brands aren't meant to live for eternity, much as we'd like to believe they are," he says. "Some become outmoded, or time and trends pass them by."

"I believe in brand euthanasia," Moore declares. "If you're not going to invest in it sufficiently to make it competitive, kill it and focus on your cash cows. Or sell it to someone with the passion and resources to give it a real chance."

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