Even the most iconic brand can plunge into extinction, and when it does, it can be years before the buying public realizes that it's gone.
"In many of these cases the customer changed but the brand refused to change," said Don Schultz, a professor of integrated marketing communications at Northwestern University.
Many people are still not aware that they can no longer fill it to the rim with Brim, or that the streets are no longer paved with bargains at Circuit City. And don’t even think about saying that Chewels offers sugarless fun, unless you’re looking to solicit confused stares from your pre-teen.
"Some brands have become so much a part of American culture that we almost seem entitled to live with that brand," said Robert Thompson, a professor of media studies at Syracuse University. "People felt a real sense of loss when Twinkies went off the market."
Read ahead to see some iconic brands that have disappeared since their glory days.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Updated June 25, 2014
Pan American World Airways, or Pan Am as it was more commonly known, was founded in 1927. It was originally intended to carry mail between the U.S. and Cuba, but it expanded its international operations and updated its fleet with the newest and most sophisticated planes. This positioned it to take advantage of the tourism boom after World War II, and eventually Pan Am became the dominant international carrier.
Pan Am peaked during the 1960s and1970s, and its blue globe logo became an iconic symbol of its superiority. However, the 1988 terrorist bombing of Flight 103 and the jump in fuel prices caused by the Gulf War was a financial double-whammy from which the airline couldn’t recover. It filed for bankruptcy in 1991. In 2011 the airline became the subject of a television series, “Pan Am,” which depicted the lives of its pilots and stewardesses during its heyday.
General Motors’ Hummer was an SUV based on the design of the military vehicle known as the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or “Humvee.” During the early 2000s, the Hummer was a popular vehicle, as well as a frequent target of criticism.
People in smaller vehicles that shared the road with the metallic behemoths felt menaced by their enormous size, a fear that was justified when a study from the Quality Planning statistical information firm in San Francisco showed that Hummer drivers got five times as many tickets as drivers of other kinds of cars. When asked why this was, Quality Planning President Raj Bhat said that “perhaps Hummer drivers, by virtue of their driving position, are less likely to notice road hazards, signs, pedestrians and other drivers.”
Ultimately what did the Hummer in was the recession. In 2008, the commercial viability of such a masterpiece of conspicuous consumption was in doubt, particularly one that got famously substandard gas mileage. GM tried to sell the brand, but there were no takers, and in 2010 it was discontinued.
The Chipwich was a favorite treat of summertime snackers. It was an ice cream sandwich that junked the rectangular chocolate layers on the outside in favor of two chocolate chip cookies, and it was sold on the streets of New York by pushcart vendors during its 1981 debut. It was as an inexpensive marketing strategy, and it worked: The Chipwich quickly became a popular item.
CoolBrands bought Chipwich in 2002 and then sold it to Dreyer’s in 2007. This turned out to be the death knell for the ice cream treat. Dreyer’s is a subsidiary of Nestle, which sold its own similar treat, the Nestle Ice Cream Toll House Cookie Sandwich. Not wanting to compete with its own product, Nestle discontinued the Chipwich.
E. F. Hutton & Co. was one of the largest and most respected brokerage firms in the U.S., but what most people remember about it was its popular television commercials from the 1970s, in which someone would disclose that his broker was E.F. Hutton. Upon this disclosure, the formerly loud restaurant or party would come to an abrupt silence. An off-screen voice would then say: "When E. F. Hutton talks, people listen."
E.F. Hutton merged with Shearson Lehman/American Express in 1988, resulting in a firm called Shearson Lehman Hutton. After a series of other mergers, it became part of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. So while E.F. Hutton still technically exists, its days as an iconic brand are long gone.
The Oldsmobile was a true American icon. The brand was founded in 1897 and its history spanned over 100 years. Thirty-five million units were sold before the car was discontinued.
Oldsmobile reported a shortfall in its sales during the 1990s, which led General Motors to announce in 2000 that the brand would be phased out. The final Oldsmobile, an Alero, rolled off the assembly line on April 29, 2004. The company then closed its doors, taking all of the Auroras, Cutlasses, Silhouettes and 88s with it.
The Bowery Savings Bank was a New York institution in both the literal and figurative sense. The bank was chartered in 1834 and went on to open more than 35 branches in the New York area. The bank was so identified with the city that no less a figure than New York Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio was its spokesman.
The Bowery Savings Bank began its slow decline into history in the early 1980s, and it was sold to the H. F. Ahmanson holding company in 1987. It’s since gone through multiple owners, and what’s left of it is now owned by Capital One Bank.
Wang Laboratories was a computer company headquartered in Massachusetts. It peaked during the 1980s, when it had over 33,000 employees and earned $3 billion annually, according to the March 9, 1998 issue of Network World. In the 1970s, Wang created early word processors including the 1200 and the OIS, and early data processors including the 2200, and it aggressively competed with rival IBM.
The company began its decline when PCs became popular, rendering the standalone word processor obsolete. Wang was simply unable to compete in the rapidly changing world of personal computers, and Wang Laboratories filed for bankruptcy in 1992. It was acquired by Getronics, a Dutch IT company, but the company ended support for Wang products in 2008.
Amoco was originally known as the Standard Oil Company when it was founded in 1889. It acquired the American Oil Company in 1910 and shortened that name to the more user-friendly Amoco. The company was responsible for pioneering both the tanker truck and the drive-through gas station, both of which are such regular fixtures of American life today that one sometimes forgets that they actually had to be invented.
In 1998, Amoco announced that it was merging with British Petroleum. The plan was for all U.S. BP stations to bear the Amoco logo, while overseas Amoco stations got the BP name. However, BP announced that it would simply close all the Amoco stations or rebrand them with the BP logo, and Amoco promptly vanished.
Levitz Furniture was a national U.S. furniture store chain. Its commercials used a catchy jingle that informed you that “You’ll love it at Levitz,” and for a very long time people did or else the store wouldn’t have existed for over 100 years.
Levitz was a warehouse store, which ultimately proved to be its downfall. In the 1990s, U.S. furniture buyers began to prefer to shop in stores that arranged the furniture to look like it was actually in someone’s living room, and Levitz faced huge losses as a result. The store filed for bankruptcy and liquidated its inventory in 2007.
Steve Urkel, a stereotypical nerd, first appeared on the show Family Matters in 1989. He soon took viewers by storm, inspiring merchandise ranging from board games to lunch boxes.
Ralston introduced Urkel-O's cereal in 1991. The red-and-yellow strawberry and banana flavored rings came in a box plastered with pictures of the outlandish character. As Urkel's popularity faltered, so did the cereal's sales. By the turn of the century Urkel-O's was no longer in production.
"The whole point of that brand was for it to come and go," Thompson said.
Meister Brau beer become popular in Chicago at the beginning of the 20th century. Business slowed toward the middle of the century, and by 1972 Miller Brewing Company bought up the struggling brewery.
One of its brands, Meister Brau Lite, would evolve into the wildly popular Miller Lite. Miller continued to brew the full calorie Meister Brau, but it didn't enjoy as much success as the light variety (possibly because of its notorious taste). In 2005, Miller phased out the Meister Brau line due to sagging sales.
"Meister Brau was a regional brand," Schultz said. "They lost their regional base and were never really able to get it back."
Saab cars were originally produced by Swedish aerospace company Saab AB. Known for the crowned griffin logo, the cars enjoyed decades of solid sales.
Saab went through multiple owners, including pre-bankruptcy GM, before it ceased production in April 2011 and filed for bankruptcy that December. National Electric Vehicle Sweden began producing Saabs again in December 2013, but the brand has yet to regain the strength it held before its dissolution.
"Saab may have had its periods of blossoming but it certainly hasn't gone away," Thompson said.