Brands often meet an untimely fate and die off as quickly as they entered the public eye. Others, however, refuse to die and take on a zombie-like, undead quality as they are kept alive through a dedicated following or sense of nostalgia. Some brands also pop up in other parts of the globe.
These zombie brands remain undead because of very special qualities. Each case is unique and the phenomenon is fascinating. Here are a few examples of zombie brands, and a look into why they’re still alive:
Although its last flight was over 20 years ago, luxury airline Pan American World Airways, or Pan Am, still lives on through nostalgia for the airline famous for polished stewardesses and a high level of customer service. As the principal international air carrier for the U.S. in the 20th century, Pan Am became a cultural icon by transporting the Beatles, kings, presidents, and Vietnamese orphans.
Despite going bankrupt and selling to Delta in 1991, the brand has managed to live on in other ways. On its 20-year anniversary in 2011, the company was resurrected for the TV series “Pan Am” on ABC. The series only lasted a year before being canceled, but it helped rekindle America’s affection for the brand. In 2013, a retail store opened in Miami, FL, called Pan Am & First Flight Out that houses both historical artifacts and new Pan Am branded items like bags, clothing, and collectibles.
There have been multiple attempts to bring back the airline—the most recent in 2014—showing this is a brand that will truly never die.
Midwesterners likely remember the popular Mexican chain Chi-Chi’s—especially for its killer salsa and fried ice cream. Founded in 1975 in Minneapolis by restaurateur Marno McDermott and former Green Bay Packer Max McGee, the chain exploded across the Midwest—mostly due to a lack of competition.
As the brand transitioned in the 1990s, Chi-Chi’s ran into some hurdles. Expansion into markets in New York City, New England, and southern states were less than successful. Locations fell from 237 stores at its peak in 1986 to 144 by 2002. In 2003, the chain filed for bankruptcy and then was handed the kiss of death by experiencing the largest recorded outbreak of Hepatitis A in U.S. history. The virus, traced back to green onions from a Chi-Chi’s in the Pittsburgh area, killed four people and made 660 others sick.
The chain couldn’t recover as a restaurant within the U.S., but it still thrives overseas. There are Chi-Chi's locations still operating in Belgium, Luxembourg, and the United Arab Emirates. Although the chain is gone from U.S. soil, Chi-Chi’s continues to live on in a branded line of Mexican food products from Hormel—in particular the beloved salsa that was at least partially responsible for the chain’s initial success.
Digital file sharing service Napster was born in the glory days of the Internet in 1999—before the dot-com bubble burst. The peer-to-peer platform allowed for a free-flowing exchange of digital media—mostly music—between users that changed the course of how people consume media forever. Napster experienced explosive success until 2000, when it ran into legal trouble over users sharing copyrighted material for free. A lawsuit led by Lars Ulrich of popular metal band Metallica and hip hop artist and producer Dr. Dre eventually led to the shutdown of Napster in 2001.
Napster may have closed, but its impact on digital music couldn’t be squelched. People were used to consuming music in easy-to-access MP3s. Rather than let Napster rest in peace as a ruined brand, there were several attempts to resurrect the once-beloved company. German media giant Bertelsmann purchased Napster in 2002 for $8 million in the hopes that it could turn the file-sharing platform into a completely legal venture. Unfortunately, illegal shares continued on Napster, and Bertelsmann was slapped with a lawsuit of its own in 2004.
After that, Napster had several more companies attempt a revival of the brand. In 2008, Napster and its logos were acquired by Roxio, who then morphed its Pressplay into Napster 2.0. Napster was purchased by Best Buy in 2010 and then again by Rhapsody in 2011.
Despite playing an acquisition game of hot potato, Napster most recently was launched again in 2013 in Europe as a legitimate music subscription service that rivals the services it paved the way for: Spotify, iTunes, and Rdio. Napster resembles zombies not only in its refusal to die, but also in the way it has been a pop culture phenomenon.