Zombie brands – has it gotten better or worse?

Gotta love those zombie brands. You know all about zombie brands, right? We told you about some of our favorites back in early 2013 and it’s probably time to give you an update. Zombie brands, for the unfamiliar, are those brands from our youth that live on in name only, usually owned by overseas company. Remember Audiovox? What about Jensen, Zenith, Emerson, or Westinghouse? None of these companies are what they once were, and for the most part the products they sell are nothing but pale imitations of their former quality selves.

There have been two notable zombie brand stories since that article was written. The first, as you can guess, is The Sharper Image. There was a day that The Sharper Image stores in large cities sold droolworthy products designed for the super-rich, and their catalogs were the stuff of dreams for aspiring capitalists and geeks alike. The company moved slowly downmarket and by the late 2000s it fell prey to increased competition from the internet. The prestige brand was sold to a group of venture capitalists who incredibly found a way to move it even further downmarket; Sharper Image branded products started to find their way to drugstores and discount stores.

And then a funny thing happened. Sharper Image products actually started to get better. They’re still not top-tier, but they’re beginning to find a place in more respected retail establishments. There could be hope for them yet… Millennials don’t even know the name or the history, and that’s actually a step up from where they were just five years ago when they were known as schlock merchants. We’re still not likely to see a return to $5,000 life-size action figures prominently displayed at a Fifth Avenue halo retail location, but don’t count the company out.

The other big story is that Sony sold its PC business to a group of investors. Sony’s VAIO PCs were among the first “premium” non-Apple PCs and for years the company kept a profit margin that made other manufacturers envious. In truth it wasn’t Sony’s PC business that failed them, it was their mobile business or lack thereof. Sony’s partnership with Ericcson in the 2000s products a string of forgettable dumbphones and several not-quite-there smartphone attempts, none of which stopped the iPhone onslaught. Their laptops were certainly fine, but their tablets were no match for iPads and didn’t even measure up to low-priced Android competitors. Sony finally cut and run earlier this year, selling their entire PC and small device business to an investment group who has yet to do anything with it. The consumer electronics industry has taken note of Sony’s woes in general, too — their TV business is down and so is their accessory business. The mobile music player that once defined the industry is now nothing but a nostalgia piece.

In light of recent events, there’s been some suggestion that DIRECTV will become a zombie brand after its merger with AT&T is completed, but there could be nothing further from the truth. Unlike brands like Westinghouse that sold to overseas concerns without keeping any of the same products or management, DIRECTV’s management team, customer base and technology comes to AT&T at a time that the company has never been more profitable. The DIRECTV name is expected to continue for years, and the technology that’s made it the world’s #1 pay TV service isn’t going away anytime soon.