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Brand Zombies – They’re Aliiiiiive!

Posted by on May 31, 2011 in BLOG | 2 Comments

In the post-apocalypse recession landscape, it’s refreshing to be able to note the comeback of some old brands that people didn’t think would ever make it to the top of consumer consciousness again. They may be half-eaten and stinky, with their guts hanging out and dragging on the ground… but like our enduring obsession with the walking undead, sometimes you just can’t keep a good brand down.

Thecommich lists our favorite re-animated brand monsters:

Penn, his Vans, and his bagel

In 1982, a young actor by the name of Sean Penn sported a pair of checkered slip-on “surfer” shoes in the slacker movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Thus began the love affair that every boy with a portable board had with Vans sneakers. The company, begun by Paul Van Doren in 1966, soon began making its signature canvas shoes available in every department store that would sell them – creating a huge demand for trendy, colorful shoes for teens. What followed, of course, was a flood of cheaper copycats that diluted Vans’ consumer base and branding cache. Added to the fact that Vans had way too many fingers in too many pies (they had a line for skaters, surfers, wakeboarders, and motocross; high tops, mid rise and low tops, slip ons and… what were we talking about again?), the company was pushed over the limit and had to file for bankruptcy as early as 1983.

By 1985, although all debts had been repaid, the brand entered a long and painful slump. New sneaker companies like Nike came in to replace canvas with cutting edge technology and space age shapes. Emerging globalization enabled other brands to create shoes cheaply abroad, while Vans struggled to make ends meet at their Orange, CA factory. Eventually the brand sold out to an investment bank and closed the factory.

Vans Aura snowboard boot

Act 2 came as something of a surprise in a new and exciting sport: snowboarding. With the skate market now flooded with shoes, Vans boosted sales almost singlehandedly by creating a boot for  the US, Japan and Europe snowboard market. It also started sponsoring key activities within the skater market again – erecting skater parks, and launching the Vans Off The Wall tour for a 360-degree music and skate experience.

Without losing its original teen lifestyle focus, Vans successfully made itself relevant again – and also kept its cred with the now-older generation that still love the shoes’ look and shape. Today, my 31 year old husband, his younger cousins, his uncle, and his dad all wear Vans, and nobody thinks this is weird.


I love using this brand as an example because a) it’s one of the oldest brands out there, and b) it’s one of the only brand that have successfully gone from luxury to blue collar and back again (Sorry Tommy Hilfiger, not you).

Burberry was founded in 1856, and for decades was THE name in British style and sensibility for the noble class. Their coats were worn by rugged Brit adventurers, government officers and naval commanders. Their signature checker was a mark of style from London to Paris, and all one needed to do was say “Burberrys of London” to connote the kind of easy elegance that everyone aspired for.

You won’t find this in the showroom.

Until the 1970’s, that is, when rising economic tides enabled the middle class to finally afford luxury items. Thus began the long “Proletarian Drift” – with the distinctive checker adorning not just ordinary folk, but lower class kids, football hooligans and criminals as well. As late as 2004, you could actually be arrested for wearing a Burberry hat in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Today, Burberry is sprucing up its image with a younger looking line, fresh image models (Emma Watson, see my earlier post), and hosting a big, splashy comeback fashion show in 2009. Sales have leapt ahead in 2011, thanks to new markets opening in (you guessed it) China.


Gotta give props to the Big G. From its complete humiliation in 2008 (Company on verge of complete meltdown! CEO forced to abandon personal jet and fly coach to Washington!), GM has not only paid back its debts, it’s also posted some non-pathetic profit. Barron’s reports that sales this year were up 25% through April – about 5% ahead of the natural average – and still scheduled to grow with new orders coming in from China and the now-un-recessed US economy.

As this ad by Goodby Silverstein shows, Americans may be as cheesy as the burgers that make them fat, but damn if they don’t know how to get back up when they get knocked down, so that slow, reflective piano music can play in the background and inspire you, yes YOU, to be a better man.


In the spirit of wishing redemption to every brand that wants it, thecommich and her compatriots would like to give a shout out to those struggling brands out there who can’t… seem… to rise again. To everyone in the gallery below, we salute you, and will think of you fondly on Halloween if you haven’t made your comeback yet. (Do you know people or brands who need to be in this article? Comment below!!!)

Lying to his wife gave the best golfer in the world the world’s biggest choking spree.  oh, the Iron-y.
Worst car in brand perception survey, 2011. Wait, they sell cars?
There’s more to the Church than child molesters. But they need to make sure people know that. 
I wouldn’t worry too much… I have a feeling He’ll Be Back
Actually, these guys can stay dead.


  1. Arni
    May 31, 2011

    Love your post.

    Isuzu should find a way to be Kia. For some reason, the Kia Brand has gained some acceptance in the US market.

    Maybe another brand that needs to rise from the grave is the US. With the recession, debt, and education woes, the US needs a new PR and move forward with overhauling the built up complacency and start competing in the global economy.

  2. Michelle Valeriano
    June 1, 2011

    @Arni – Thanks! Isuzu seems to be content advertising its motocross and offroad toys, but has pretty much zero marketing that I've seen geared to it's car business. Kia has been really aggressive with its ad campaigns and probably got a boost from being lower priced than most brands here :)


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