Streaming services are full of stories of the dead coming back to life. They are also chock-full of dead or near-dead brands. Shows like Stranger Things have given new life not only to 1980s pop classics like Kate Bush’s Hill Runner, but to former tech icons like Polaroid.
One of Netflix’s latest shows goes beyond product placement, putting the dead Blockbuster brand at the center of the drama. The story is set in the last Blockbuster retail store in the US and focuses on the employees’ efforts to save the store, ironically, in the face of a Netflix attack.
Nostalgia is nothing new. People often yearn for a past that seemed simpler, more authentic, and sometimes even associate brands with childhood. The blockbuster can be seen as a cultural hub for some millennials, like a music store for many in Generation X (see Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity). Such centers are often associated with memories, such as learning new genres or even interacting with snobbish clerks who denounce lack of taste.
Netflix hopes viewers will be emotionally involved in the story of a global brand in its death throes. But research shows that consumers have a difficult relationship with dead brands. The relaunch of the official Star Wars movie franchise in 1999 and the VW Beetle in 1997 sparked a heated debate among fans about whether the retro-styled new releases were genuine.
Many have claimed that they were motivated by purely commercial decisions that went against the original intentions of their creators. Fans of the discontinued Apple Newton handheld digital device held a religious belief in a possible return (they’re still waiting).
Citizens of the former East Germany celebrated the supremacy of long-dead Ossi spice brands on social media as a way to cope with a sense of loss of collective identity after merging with capitalist West Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall (eventually many brands were relaunched).
Loyalty vs Relevance?
Given that for every Old Spice success story there are at least a couple of Woolworths failures, is it worth trying to revive old brands? In the language of marketing, brand equity (value) is a consequence of consumer loyalty. It is a function of brand image, which consists of the brand’s knowledge and appeal, and the extent to which it is relevant to a significant audience.
This is where things get tricky for dead brands. Their death usually came from a lack of relevance. Blockbuster, which was already in trouble, couldn’t match Netflix’s postal operations because it would undermine its retail commitment.
Unfortunately for Blockbuster, consumers didn’t value the store experience as much as the company thought. As the technology became available, mail-order was replaced by streaming. Nostalgia for the past, with the exception of a few old loyalists, may not necessarily lead to today’s sales.
Brand value is also calculated as a function of future revenue streams, assuming that loyal consumers will continue to buy the brand for the foreseeable future. However, the actual value of loyalty is one of the most contentious disputes in marketing practice. Studies from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute claim that loyalty declines quite quickly, while other marketing experts say otherwise.
Regardless of position, the emphasis on relevance (rather than consistency) has attracted more attention. Brands must constantly renew their relationships with fickle consumers (as Netflix has discovered, while staying true to the spirit of the brand). Studies of retro brands in New Zealand or iconic franchises like James Bond show how marketers are constantly tweaking brand formulas to stay true. authentic and up to date.
This is a challenge to dead brands. They died for a reason. We may still remember them fondly, but they have the same authenticity as museum pieces: a lot of heritage, little relevance. And so they are often enjoyed fleetingly, behind glass.
So is it worth resurrecting Blockbuster? As a brand, no. But as a licensing opportunity, perhaps. Cult bands like the Ramones and Blondie make their money from licensed T-shirts (not to sound like a snobbish clerk, but ironically they are often worn by people who have never even heard the music). Likewise, brands like Kodak, Polaroid and Atari have found fleeting new life in (fast) fashion. However, like the bands of yesteryear, the iconic brands of the past tended to put their best years behind them.
Written Michael Beverland Professor of Brand Management University of Sussex and Pinar Jankurtaran, Associate Professor, Delft University of Technology
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.