What’s in a name?

Jennifer Collins Dec 8, 2010

What’s in a name?

Jennifer Collins Dec 8, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: There was an auction of sorts at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City today. Here’s just a brief list of the items up for sale: Bobby Socks, Collier’s Magazine, Lucky Whip topping, Meister Brau beer as well. Not the actual products, mind you. They haven’t been around for decades now. But the names, those might be worth something. A company called Brands USA Holdings is selling off some of the trademarks it owns.

Marketplace’s Jennifer Collins explores the prospect of putting a dollar amount on one of those names.

Jennifer Collins: Sasha Strauss has been in the branding business for 16 years. He didn’t remember half of the 170 trademarks on the block.

Sasha Strauss: So I called my grandmother and mother and father today.

And asked them to list the trademarks they remembered.

Strauss: So I’m rattling off these names and they’ve got their pens and papers out.

Relaxacizor, Handi-Wrap, Braniff Airlines. Maybe you remember Hot Pants?

Strauss: My mother screams into the phone, “Oh my God. I wore those when I graduated from pharmacy school.” And you know, of course, I go to this, “Oh my God, my mother’s walking across the stage in bikini shorts.”

Embarrassing, yes. But Strauss says those OMG moments add value to a trademark. Take Handi-Wrap, the plastic film behind countless memories of left over tuna casserole and day-old meatloaf.

Handi-Wrap ad: You ain’t got a thing, if you ain’t got that cling. Do wrap do wrap do wrap.

Strauss thinks the Handi-Wrap name, and others like it, could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Michael Reich owns Brands USA Holdings, the company selling the trademarks. He says old brand names can be used to sell new products, anchor a website or tap into the growing market for kitsch, you know, T-shirts and tchotchkes with vintage logos.

Michael Reich: These brands not only generate nostalgia, but they have clear consumer value because the consumer remembers them.

Rob Frankel: Unfortunately, that has very little to do with the brand’s value.

Rob Frankel is a branding consultant. He says you can’t bank on recognition alone.

Frankel: People need to remember what the brand was for, why they felt that it was worth paying for, why they did pay for it, how it solved the problems in their life.

He says another way to think of an old brand’s value is to consider what it would cost to launch a new one.

Frankel: It’s much, much easier to attach your product to an established proven brand with a track record and it’s way less expensive than to try to go out and build one like that. Way less expensive.

Take electronics maker Packard Bell — no relation to Bell Labs or Hewlett Packard. The company was founded in the 20s. And one of its radios famously brought hope to a bunch of castaways.

Here on Gilligan’s Isle.

In the 80s, a few investors bought the Packard Bell name for less than $100,000. They put it on a line of home computers that became top sellers as PCs took off in the 90s.

Commercial: Packard Bell. Wouldn’t you rather be at home?

Strauss is hoping for many more Packard Bell style revivals out of today’s auction. He says the sale could be a stimulus package for his industry — from trademark lawyers to graphic designers.

Strauss: Our hands are all clasped and rubbing, you know, cannot wait for this to happen. It’s going to be like a holiday gift.

And, not just for the branding folks. If they do their jobs, you may be in line for a pair of Hot Pants, a workout gadget from Relaxacizor, maybe even a T-shirt with the Handi-Wrap logo.

I’m Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

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