From Retired Brands, Dollars and Memories

I found this article in the New York Times written by STUART ELLIOTT
Published: December 8, 2010

THERE are auctions of old paintings, old books and even old bottles of wine. Now, old brand names can be added to the list.

At the Waldorf-Astoria on Wednesday morning, Michael Reich, who owns a company called Brands USA Holdings, put up for auction 170 product and corporate names that are no longer being used.

About two dozen were claimed at the auction, which lasted an hour and attracted 50 or so people to a room off the Park Avenue entrance of the hotel. (Additional bidders took part online.)

The auction was conducted by Racebrook Marketing Concepts, known for real estate auctions. It featured names in categories like beverages (Meister Brau beer, Snow Crop frozen orange juice) financial services (the Kuhn Loeb and Shearson brokerage firms), packaged foods (Allsweet margarine, Lucky Whip dessert topping), personal care (Mum and Stopette deodorants), publishing (Collier’s, Saturday Review) and retail (Computer City, Phar-Mor).

The total of the winning bids was estimated at $132,000. The highest bid, $45,000, was submitted for Shearson, followed by $32,500, for Meister Brau; and $30,000, for Handi-Wrap plastic wrap. Several names, including General Cinema, Homestake Mining and Victrola,

went for $1,000 apiece, and some, like Allied Signal and American Petrofina, were sold at two for $1,000.

John Elduff, a 20-year-old student from Philadelphia, submitted a winning bid of $2,000 for Collier’s — the name of a magazine that stopped publishing more than 30 years before he was born.

In an interview, Mr. Elduff said he was attracted to the history of the name. When asked what purpose he had for it, he replied, “You’ll have to ask my father,” who, he said, is also named John Elduff and “owns a publishing firm in Philadelphia.”

For a bid of $1,000, Gregg Hamerschlag, chief executive at Primary Wave Media in New York, claimed two names, Computer City and Financial Corporation of America. “I own a lot of I.P.,” he said, using the abbreviation for intellectual property, and “I see a lot of opportunities” for those names.

There were about a dozen winning bidders, meaning many attendees left without anything or made no bids. “The auction was disappointing,” said Michael Duda, a former executive at Deutsch who is now a managing partner at Consigliere, a marketing consultancy in New York, but “it was still fun to go and learn from.”

Mr. Reich does not own the names that were auctioned. Rather, he filed trademark applications for them with the federal Patent and Trademark Office on what is known as an intent-to-use basis — that is, declaring an intention to use the trademarks to sell goods and services in interstate commerce. The auction was selling his rights in those applications. “You’re paying for a license for an interim period till the trademark issues” from the trademark office, said Gabe Fried, founding principal at Streambank in Needham, Mass., which handled the sale of intellectual property for brands like Circuit City, Duck Head apparel and KB Toys. Asked about the efficacy of Mr. Reich’s approach, Mr. Fried said, “I wish him luck.”

Employees of Racebrook said Mr. Reich was at the auction but did not want to speak to reporters. Allen P. Adamson, managing director of the New York office of Landor Associates — a corporate identity consulting group that is part of the Young & Rubicam Brands unit of WPP — said, “There might have been a few needles in the haystack” at the auction, but he was skeptical over all. “The reason old brands are relevant is that they provide some level of authenticity and trust,” Mr. Adamson said, but if any auctioned brands return to the marketplace, “the people delivering on the promise would not be the same” as those who produced and sold them originally.

Reviving old brands “is just Step 1,” he added. “Can you imbue the name with meaning that is relevant for today? Can you deliver an offer that people will now want?” And many of the names that were auctioned represent products and companies that no longer exist for a reason, Mr. Adamson said.

(New Old Nick didn't make sale .lv.)

For instance, one name, Infoseek, a once-popular search engine introduced in the 1990s, “was out-Googled by Google,” he added. (Infoseek sold as part of a package that went for $2,000 and also included Big Yank, a clothing brand, and the Linen Closet, a retail brand.) Mr. Duda alluded to that aspect of the auction. When asked why he attended, he replied, “I wanted to see the land of broken toys.”

Racebrook employees at the auction wore red carnations on their lapels. So did the fast-talking auctioneer, Bruce Sayre, who deftly wielded a gavel while trying to cajol attendees into bidding and bidders into raising their bids. The tone was set from the outset when Mr. Sayre asked for an initial bid of $100,000, which was met with silence. After lowering his request to $75,000, then $50,000, he finally received an opening bid of $25,000. That ended with the highest bid of the morning, the $45,000 bid for Shearson.

• In keeping with the vintage of many of the brands, the music that played over the sound system in the room included golden oldies like “Copacabana,” by Barry Manilow; “The Third Man Theme”; “Tuxedo Junction,” by Glenn Miller; “Patricia,” by Perez Prado; and “Yakety Sax,” also known as the theme from the “Benny Hill” television series.

A link to this article has also been placed on the LostBrands Linkedin Group.

A version of this article appeared in print on December 9, 2010, on page B3 of the New York edition

The original article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/09/business/media/09adco.html

 

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