When I talked about zombie brands

Zombie Brands. It’s a term I made up for those names like Emerson, Zenith and others that live on after the original company is long gone. The name is designed to appeal to older buyers who are looking for a brand to trust. Unfortunately, zombie brands are usually attached to low-priced tech from generic overseas factories.

I talked about zombie brands in 2013 and again a year later.

Zombie brand or just new owner?

But Stuart, you’re asking, isn’t DIRECTV a zombie brand? No it isn’t. I’d define a zombie brand as a name that has no connection to the original company. There’s no honor for the original brand, just an attempt to make money from using a trusted name.

DIRECTV became a part of AT&T after being a separate company back in 2015. A lot of the staff stayed, and a lot of the original DIRECTV folks are still with the company. The same products (and some new, exciting ones) are still being offered. It’s certainly not a zombie brand.

Someone tried to argue that Volvo is a zombie brand because since 2010, the company has been owned by Chinese car company Geely. Volvos for other parts of the world are even made in China. However, I’d argue that it’s still not a zombie brand. The company still maintains offices and manufacturing facilities in Sweden, and the car lines are the same.

On the other hand, it’s hard to make a case that Philips, once a respected maker of high tech, is really occupying the same market space since it became part of Funai. In fact, Philips’ name actually got sold to multiple companies. The Philips that makes headphones, the one that makes light bulbs, and the one that makes TVs are not the same. That’s another way you can tell a zombie brand.

Will we see new zombie brands?

Oh, almost definitely. You’ll see brands that you trust today become less and less important. You could argue that Yahoo is almost a zombie brand. Although Yahoo was bought by Oath (the parent of AOL and others) it still kept some of the same workforce. But, it’s nothing like it was in its heyday. Today, we’re accustomed to one tech brand growing and one fading, but there are still a few brands that have cachet beyond a few years.

Atari and Commodore, names from the early days of computing are already established zombie brands. I think it would be interested if Apple joined them one day. The company is very strong today — almost surprisingly strong after so many near-failures — but it’s possible to imagine a future where they aren’t. I expect Dyson, the vacuum cleaner maker, to become a zombie brand at some point. They didn’t protect their patents and so they lost out on a lock on their technology. Now they’re just an expensive, well-built vacuum among less expensive competitors. That usually doesn’t last long.


About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.