Boomer Brands Get A Second Life

When executives at Akeena Solarwanted to give their solar panels some mainstream appeal, they looked for a way to bring brand name recognition to their little-known Andalay solar panels.

Westinghouse solar panels being installed on a roof.
Akeena Solar
Westinghouse solar panels being installed on a roof.

Enter Westinghouse.

The once powerful conglomerate—whose appliances could be found in many American kitchens during its prime—is now a trademark owned by CBS. Westinghouse approached Akeena Solar about a licensing deal that would put the famous “W” logo on the solar panels. After market research, Akeena Solar agreed to the deal.

"All you have to do now is slap that name on it and you get all the benefits of the years and money spent on building that brand,” says Rob Frankel, a branding expert and author of "The Revenge of Brand X." "It immediately leverages generations of messaging that was consistent and that spoke to quality."

The deal between Akeena Solar and Westinghouse, announced last week, is only one example of the revival of once-mighty brands that disappeared from commerce but still hold valuable name recognition and are now being revived by other companies. Two other examples are RCA, which is licensed similarly to Westinghouse, and PF Flyers, a nearly gone brand revived by a new company.

Frankel says such brands get a second chance because they resonate well with a big generation of consumers: the Baby Boomers.

"Westinghouse is a famous brand name with a significant historical position in the power and energy business. We have had an active and successful licensing program for over 10 years," says a CBS spokesperson.

Barry Cinnamon, CEO of Akeena Solar, said that marketing research found that the Westinghouse brand had high recognition among homeowners and older Americans, most likely because they grew up with Westinghouse products. Recognition of the Westinghouse brand was highest between those aged 55 to 64 years old, according to the market research.

But besides boosting Akeena Solar's profile, the deal may also help put a new spin on the Westinghouse brand, which is also used by Westinghouse Lighting, a manufacturer of products ranging from ceiling fans to Christmas lights.

Peter Madden, founder and president of marketing firm AgileCat, says that solar panels are seen as "cutting edge" and "progressive,” a welcomed image for a brand founded in 1886.

And those traits can help carry the Westinghouse brand into the future.

RCA's story mirrors that of Westinghouse. RCA was once a company that manufactured its own televisions and other appliances, but it changed hands several times before its trademark was acquired by media services and technology group company Technicolor SA .

Technicolor licenses the RCA brand to a number of different companies that produce products ranging from telephones to microwaves. The audio/video and accessories company that produces RCA-branded iPod speakers, camcorders and radios was sold to Audiovox spacer in 2007, according to a spokesperson at Technicolor. Those devices are a sharp contrast from its trademark image of a dog listening to a phonograph.

Technicolor is active in building RCA’s brand value, the company spokesperson said, and it ensures that products manufactured with its brand are consistent and are of equal quality.

Another boomer brand, PF Flyers, has a slightly different story. The shoe brand was first introduced in 1937 by tire company B.F. Goodrich. The brand was massively popular in the 1950s and 1960s, but was sold off to Eltra, the parent company of Converse shoes, in 1972. Eltra eventually sold off both shoe brands. Converse was scooped up byNikeand New Balance picked up the PF Flyers trademark in 2001, but didn't relaunch the brand until 2003.

Although these companies don't disclose the cost, experts say reviving or licensing an older brand can be more cost effective than building one from scratch.

Akeena Solar's Cinnamon said the Westinghouse name cost less than it would to "dump an enormous amount of money" on marketing and building a solar brand on their own.

“You can make a cheap tasty soda,” said Cinnamon, “but unless its Pepsi or Coke, it's hard to get it on the store shelves.”

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