5 brands that are gone but not forgotten
Sound the trumpets: 20th Century Fox is no more. A casualty of Walt Disney Co.’s $71 billion acquisition of many Fox assets last year, the celebrated name has been swept into the big-brand dumpster as Disney rebadges its 20th Century Fox Television studio as 20th Television. This comes months after Disney re-dubbed the movie studio 20th Century Studios.
The Fox name lives on at Fox Corp., which operates the Fox News Channel, Fox Sports, Fox broadcast network and Fox TV stations.
20th Century Fox, with 85 years of brand equity and a rich tradition of unforgettable films like “Miracle on 34th Street,” “The Sound of Music,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Titanic” and more, will not be fully cast away like Tom Hanks and his volleyball (a stroke of product placement genius for Wilson Sporting Goods). For its lasting memory, we can also thank the brand’s instantly recognizable musical fanfare composed in 1933 by Alfred Newman, who ran Fox’s music department in its early years which—if Wookieepedia is to be believed—was resurrected by George Lucas for “Star Wars.”
But the iconic entertainment brand is but one of many once-household names to be retired in recent years. Some were victims of mergers or acquisitions, others were left behind by technology or were felled by their own resistance to adapt. Here we look at five famous brands that shuffled off their mortal coils in the last decade.
Not that many years ago, taking a trip to Blockbuster to pick out a VHS tape was an event in and of itself. In the early 2000s, the chain had 4,855 stores dotted across the country. Now it’s reduced to one, in Bend, Oregon, which is now renting itself out as an Airbnb for sleepovers this coming September. Undone by streaming giant Netflix and services to follow (see Disney+ above) and the even-more-old-school Redbox, Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010. The next year, its assets were auctioned off to Dish Network.
Toys ‘R’ Us
Technically, Toys ‘R’ Us still exists, in the form of two scattered stores, including one housed in the shopping mall capital of the Garden State, Paramus, N.J. But, for practical purposes, Geoffrey the Giraffe breathed his last in June 2018 after the brand was folded into Tru Kids Brands. Once a novel concept, a big-box store devoted to playthings, the chain got squeezed by low-price rivals like Walmart and online behemoth Amazon. But it’s story is hardly unique in the battered retail category. Consider just some other brick-and-mortar stores that recently shut shop: Payless, Dressbarn, Henri Bendel and Sports Authority.
The Volkswagen Beetle
Legendary ads by the late, great Bill Bernbach's DDB, like “Think Small,” “Lemon," “Snowplow,” and “Funeral,” made a car shaped like a bug into a much-loved brand. Born in 1938 in Germany, it overcame a dark past and was later immortalized by movies like 1969's “The Love Bug.” The Beetle hit its sales peak in 1999 with 83,434 vehicles sold. That slumped to 15,166 in 2017, about one-seventh the tally of brand sibling Jetta. The car was given a grand sendoff by Johannes Leonardo in December of last year with “The Last Mile,” starring an iconic animated cast set to the Beatles classic “Let It Be.” But has the bug been forever squashed? Reports surfaced last month that its parent company has trademarked the name E-Beetle, sparking rumors of a revival.
Telecom brand Sprint lost out to the T-Mobile brand name earlier this year following a $30 billion merger with the magenta marvel in April. Sprint actually had its roots in railroads: According to CNN Business, its name was an acronym for Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Networking Telecommunications. It wasn’t until the 1970s that Sprint began offering long-distance calling for private consumers. Its brand was built by commercials like its 1990s “pin drop” ads featuring Candice Bergen. But an ill-advised merger with Nextel and compatibility issues with phones dogged Sprint, which eventually fell to fourth place behind Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. Still, it remained feisty: In 2016 it poached Verizon’s “Can you hear me now?” spokesman Paul Marcarelli, who did commercials claiming he switched brands. Presumably, he now has T-Mobile.
RIP, A&P (1895-2015). Once 13,000 stores strong, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea company was described by Time magazine in 1950 as “selling more goods than any company in the world” except General Motors. At the time, Time said “of every dollar the U.S. spends on food, about 10 cents is passed over A&P counters—a massive yearly total of $2.9 billion.” But the chain was slow to modernize and upgrade its offerings and finally succumbed to bankruptcy—twice—before closing for good. But remnants remain: Look closely and you can still spot its signature steeple atop the odd strip mall dollar store.