IN tough times, consumers hoping to save money will rummage through cupboards, pantries and closets, looking at what they already own for something they may be able to eat or wear.
Marketers of consumer products go through a similar process during economic downturns, taking stock of brands they already own to see if any can be revived or renewed. It can cost significantly less to bring back a brand — or restore the luster to a faded one — than to develop a new product, because spending huge sums to generate awareness is not necessary.
For instance, in considering a comeback for Eagle snacks, research found that “6 out of 10 adults remember the brand,” said Scott Lazar, chief executive of Reserve Brands in Chicago, which is reintroducing Eagle in stores and vending machines.
“It would take $300 million to $500 million to recreate that brand awareness today,” he said.
As Eagle returns after more than a decade away, also making a reappearance is a brand of chocolate sandwich cookies, Hydrox, that was once a mainstay of Sunshine Biscuits.
Hydrox, long a runner-up to Nabisco’s Oreo, crumbled after Sunshine was sold to Keebler in 1996 and Keebler was acquired by Kellogg in 2001; Kellogg stopped selling Hydrox in 2003.
Kellogg is reintroducing the brand at an event to be held in New York on Thursday. Scheduled to be present are three consumers who won a contest to be declared America’s most ardent Hydrox fans; the winners are featured on a Web site (hydroxcookies.com) along with content like a history of Hydrox, first sold by Sunshine in 1908.
In battling Oreo, Hydrox was “up against very tough competition, and to be honest with you the brand had gotten a little bit old and a little bit tired,” said Brad Davidson, senior vice president of the Kellogg Company in Battle Creek, Mich., and president for North America.
Still, Kellogg had been hearing from the “very loyal consumer base” since Hydrox disappeared, Mr. Davidson said, and so had its sales force, which had been receiving requests for the brand to be brought back.
The brand’s centennial provided a peg to revive Hydrox in what is being called a “100th anniversary limited edition,” he added. This will help Kellogg gauge whether the brand should be brought back permanently.
Although Mr. Davidson declined to be specific about production, he said the number of packages to be shipped for sale later this month had “far exceeded our original forecast.”
Hydrox and Eagle are among scores of products that marketers abandoned because of declining sales, stronger competitors or a desire to focus on newer brands deemed more contemporary.
For example, there was an outcry online last winter when Kraft Foods discontinued Postum, a caffeine-free coffee substitute that was introduced in 1895 as the first product of the Postum Cereal Company, later the General Foods Corporation.
Marketers are also taking another look at products that are still in production but have been forgotten or neglected, known as ghost brands or orphan brands.
Makers of such products usually cut advertising budgets in the face of declining sales. That slows sales further, which leads to more budget cuts — creating a downward spiral, difficult to avoid, that can land a ghost or orphan in the netherworld of once-popular, now-deceased trademarks along with the likes of Postum, Ipana toothpaste, Plymouth cars, Duz detergent and Hit Parade cigarettes.
“Marketing can be a beautiful art form when it’s done well, but it’s not a perfect science,” said Jay Kolpon, vice president for marketing at the Bayer HealthCare division of Bayer in Morristown, N.J.
To keep some of its venerable brands fresh — brands like Aleve, Alka-Seltzer, Bayer, Flintstones and One A Day vitamins, and Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia — Bayer HealthCare is pursuing a strategy that Mr. Kolpon described as focused on “marketing innovation, product innovation and technology innovation.”
For instance, new advertising campaigns for Alka-Seltzer draw on its heritage while at the same time updating brand catch phrases like “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” and “Try it; you’ll like it.”
There are also new products being brought out under the umbrella of the well-known brands, among them Alka-Seltzer Wake-Up Call, a hangover treatment, and Phillips’ Colon Health, a probiotic supplement in caplet form.
Not every familiar brand can “share this kind of success,” Mr. Kolpon acknowledged. For example, while the Flintstones vitamin line is still doing well, vitamins sold under the Bugs Bunny name are lagging.
“At one point, we felt very good about Bugs Bunny,” Mr. Kolpon said, “but in terms of prioritizing our spending and investments, we’ve focused on other brands.”
That risk was underscored on Aug. 5, when Ascendia Brands filed for bankruptcy protection after efforts to revive the Healing Garden brand of toiletries fell short when marketing costs exceeded estimates and sales underperformed expectations.
“You need the marriage of a great brand and product innovation,” said Mr. Lazar of Reserve Brands, adding that his plans to reintroduce Eagle include new snacks under names like Bursts and Poppers, to “modernize the brand and contemporize it.”
“The other thing that’s important is that the category of snacks is different from other categories,” Mr. Lazar said, because snacks are “an expandable consumable.”
“The more snacks you stock up on, the more you eat,” he added. “You can stock up on all the shampoo you want, but you’re only going to wash your hair once a day.”
That may augur well for the potential revival of Hydrox, which could also be fueled by the loyalty of brand advocates like Kim Burton of Wichita, Kan., whose online posts supporting the cookies, dating to 1999, caught the attention of Kellogg executives.
“It speaks volumes about what the Internet can do,” Ms. Burton said in a telephone interview before a trip to New York to join the three winners of the fan contest at the Hydrox event.
“More and more products are going to have these networks of customer bases,” she added. Some of Ms. Burton’s posts can be read at spacefem.com/hydrox.
Mr. Davidson of Kellogg suggested that other older brands may be ripe for revival because “as the population ages, there are certain brands that really resonate with consumers.”
Does that mean a comeback for Sunshine Golden Raisin Biscuits? Sunshine Lemon Coolers cookies? Kellogg’s Pep cereal? Kellogg’s OKs cereal? Only time — and the plaintive requests of determined bloggers — will tell.
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