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10 notable zombie brands

Remember those nostalgic brands like Sears and Toys R Us? They might not be officially dead as they try to come back to life and become a zombie brand.

Innovation and technological progress precede success in today's dynamic global business environment, and several brands have secured a deep connection with and allegiance from consumers worldwide. Nonetheless, not every brand's trajectory is uninterrupted, some face periods of decline or fade from the marketplace.

These instances give rise to zombie brands, brands that, after a period of obscurity or near-extinction, make a surprising comeback, either in their original form or through acquisition by new owners. This phenomenon is prevalent in the unpredictable technology sector, where companies sometimes experience swift changes in fortune. However, from retailers to subscription service businesses, intriguing companies across diverse sectors have experienced a revival after their presumed demise.

This post explores zombie brands -- 10 in particular -- and explains how and why certain brands rise again.

What are zombie brands?

Zombie brands, accounting for roughly 10% of U.S. businesses, are distinguished by their remarkable ability to rebound after decline, dormancy or perceived extinction, according to a report from the Federal Reserve. The resurgence itself often captivates the public's imagination, underscoring the business sector's resilience and potential for transformation. These resurrected brands become a databank of corporate case studies that shed light on business adaptability, brand nostalgia, consumer sentiment and the powerful bonds formed between individuals and their favored brands.

Brand resurrection occurs through various means. Sometimes, the original company restructures its operations, perhaps narrowing its focus, adjusting its target market or innovating its product line. In other instances, a larger, stable entity acquires a failing brand, seeing potential in rejuvenating the brand's image, offerings and market position. Indeed, successful brand revival often hinges on recognizing residual value in a brand's identity, leveraging nostalgia while simultaneously reinventing the brand to align with current market trends and consumer behaviors.

The difference between a brand that revives itself and one that fails is often its ability to engage and reconnect with both existing and new audiences. In essence, zombie brands underscore the importance of adaptability, innovation and strategic foresight in a constantly evolving, cutthroat business world.

10 examples of zombie brands

Zombie brands pop up across industries -- technology, food and beverage, retail and others. Yet it's important to recognize that most declining brands do not survive, much less get revived. The following 10 zombie brands, though, showcase the diversity in this unique category of comeback story:

1. Bed Bath & Beyond

A home goods heavyweight that provided everything from bedding to kitchen appliances, Bed Bath & Beyond expanded too quickly. Declining sales and competition from e-commerce giants caused its near demise. However, its new owners,, are revamping Bed Bath & Beyond's online presence in hopes of a turnaround.

2. BlackBerry

Dominating the early smartphone market, BlackBerry struggled to compete with iOS and Android operating systems, leading to its decline. The company has shifted from smartphone manufacturing to cybersecurity and software solutions, aiming to leverage its reputation for security in a new technological era.

3. Blue Apron

Pioneering the meal-kit subscription service, Blue Apron became synonymous with convenient home cooking solutions. Despite its initial success, the influx of competitors and operational challenges led to declining subscriber numbers and financial losses. Blue Apron is attempting to rejuvenate its brand with menu diversifications and marketing strategies focused on food sustainability and convenience.

4. Circuit City

Once a leading electronics retailer, Circuit City filed for bankruptcy in 2008 due to poor management and the inability to compete with emerging online rivals. Attempts at a comeback have included exploring e-commerce and smaller store formats to recapture some of its former consumer base.

5. Gateway Computers

Recognizable by its cow-spotted boxes, Gateway was once a major player in the PC market. Its decline was due to various missteps and the intense competition in the tech industry. Acquired by Acer in 2007, Gateway is coming back with new products, signaling a renewed attempt to capture consumer interest.

6. Kodak

A titan in the photography industry and once synonymous with snapping photos, Kodak was slow to adapt to digital photography and filed for bankruptcy in 2012. The company has since pivoted toward digital imaging and printing technologies, striving to regain relevance in a vastly changed marketplace.

7. Napster

Initially famous in the late 1990s as a pioneering peer-to-peer, file-sharing platform, Napster became synonymous with digital music piracy, leading to legal battles and its eventual shutdown. However, the brand found a second life when it transitioned to a legitimate, subscription-based music streaming service, aiming to leverage nostalgia and brand recognition in its resurgence.

8. RadioShack

Once the go-to place for electronics and components, RadioShack struggled to keep pace with the digital age and the shift to online shopping, leading to its bankruptcy in 2015. Efforts to revitalize the brand include focusing on online sales and exploring smaller, niche market stores targeting hobbyists and the DIY community.

9. Sears

A historic retail giant faced a mix of outdated stores, poor management and competition from e-commerce platforms and discount retailers. After declaring bankruptcy in 2018, Sears is attempting a slow resurgence, focusing on smaller, more efficient locations and improving its online sales strategy.

10. Toys R Us

The iconic toy retailer fell victim to massive debt and stiff competition from online and physical big-box retailers. Despite declaring bankruptcy in 2017, Toys R Us is opening new stores and enhancing its online shopping experience, betting on the enduring emotional connection generations of consumers have with the brand.

In an era where technological advancements and consumer preferences evolve rapidly, these zombie brands explored new niches, adopted modern technologies and recalibrated their strategies, rediscovering relevance and appeal to loyal customers and new audiences.

Griffin LaFleur is a MarketingOps and RevOps professional working for Swing Education. Throughout his career, Griffin has also worked at agencies and independently as a B2B sales and marketing consultant.

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