If you’re a Millennial or older, there’s a good chance you’ll remember the brands that dominated the late 90s and early 2000s. Juicy Couture, Nokia, Hollister & Co., Blockbuster, Von Dutch, Limited Too... need we continue?
Whether these brands hold positive or negative memories for you, it can’t be denied — while they absolutely ruled the turn of the century — longevity wasn’t on their side.
However, over the last year or so, younger consumers have actually embraced a number of lucky “retro” brands — which has led to a few making miraculous comebacks.
So, which brands were fortunate enough to be resurrected in 2021? And how did they use brand management strategies to catch the eye of modern consumers? This article will discuss two such brands — and provide tips that other forgotten brands should keep in mind if they, too, want to make a comeback in 2022.
What Does it Mean To “Make a Comeback”?
To be fair, many a “retro” brand has had its 15 minutes of fame over the last year or so. And with Y2K aesthetics being the latest 2021 Gen Z trend, we saw the brief reemergence of the likes of both Von Dutch trucker hats and low-rise jeans. Unfortunate.
However, to make a real, lasting comeback, a brand needs to be in control of the narrative — they must play an active role in their revival, it can’t be happenstance.
The Top 2 “Comeback” Brands of 2021 + Lessons
In 2021, there were two brands that made real comebacks: Polaroid and Crocs.
So, let’s take a look at how they both managed to reemerge from the shadows in their own ways — and identify the lessons other brands can learn from their success.
Let's get into it.
Originally founded in 1937, Polaroid has been a part of the cultural lexicon for over 85 years. Whether or not you’ve ever used one, most everyone knows what a polaroid picture is — and not to shake it, no matter what Outkast tells you.
The brand hit its peak employment in 1978 with 21,000 employees and peak revenue in 1991 at $3 billion. But, the original Polaroid Corporation declared bankruptcy in 2001, with the brand and assets sold off shortly thereafter.
Afterward, “new” Polaroid was formed to focus on digital film, but this didn’t hit the mark the brand ended up filing for bankruptcy again in 2008. Cut to 2017, and both the brand and intellectual property of the Polaroid Corporation was acquired by the Impossible Project, a Dutch photography company that manufactures instant film.
Renamed Polaroid Originals in September 2017 and then just Polaroid in 2020 — with the support of an enterprising start-up — this iconic brand made an impressive comeback in 2020-21.
Having risen from the ashes of not one but two bankruptcies, it took a full rebrand, new management, and the support of the Impossible Project to get Polaroid back on its feet.
But simply injecting money into a floundering brand isn’t enough to save it. So, why is Polaroid back and what can you learn from it?
Brand Comeback Lesson: Be Patient & Find Your Brand Differentiator
Polaroid tried to make a comeback in 2001 by turning its focus to digital film, an area that was already ruled by big-hitters like Kodak and Fujifilm.
It didn’t work for a myriad of reasons, but, most importantly, by trying to break into the digital scene, Polaroid lost its main brand differentiator: instant polaroid film.
It seems Polaroid learned its lesson the hard way, and after its failure to make a comeback in 2008, the brand laid low for a while. That patience was rewarded when the Impossible Project stepped onto the scene.
According to photography expert Lee Bud, when the Impossible Project — “a group of avid Polaroid enthusiasts” — purchased the last Polaroid film factory in 2018, they “upped production to start putting new film on the market.”
He goes on to explain that:
“Under the name Polaroid Originals, a lot of the film can be used in both new and vintage cameras.
“Because of their efforts, Polaroid photos are becoming accessible and relatively inexpensive again. Gone are the days of buying overpriced old-stock film from eBay. Now, Polaroid photographers can get fresh film that helps support the company and keep it going for a new generation.”
By sticking with its roots and returning to the original Polaroid products, the brand was able to once again lean on its brand differentiator to attract new customers. While many brands need to evolve with the times to survive, other must understand the power that their “retro” products hold.
With a distinct style and classic look, revamped Polaroid cameras once again claimed their place in the photography industry in 2021. So, for older brands looking to make a comeback, never underestimate the power of a good brand differentiator.
The world’s most iconically polarizing shoes? This title likely goes to Crocs, whose infamous foam clogs have been around since 2002.
In the early to late 2000s, Crocs were all the rage. Comfortable, ergonomic, and practical — everyone from your baby cousin to your podiatrist had a pair. Sure, they weren’t the most aesthetically pleasing shoes around, but they were functional and pragmatic.
Still, Crocs fell out of favor in the early 2010s and sales declined, and, in the words of L’Officiel writer Greta Jelen, “it seemed for a while that the world was done with them. But alas, the Crocs PR team was not done with the world.”
Brand Comeback Lesson: Change Your Brand Strategy, Not Your Product
In 2018, Crocs crashed back into the scene with — for all intents and purposes — the exact same product that fell out of favor years before. But instead of relying solely on the cyclical nature of fashion trends, the brand took control of its fate and altered its marketing strategy.
With a series of ingenious influencer partnerships with big-names like Post Malone, KFC, Justin Bieber, and Balenciaga, Crocs found a way to reposition itself for the 2018 audience and beyond.
Using humor and the power of its celeb partners, Crocs were embraced by many a Gen Z fashionista — coming back with a vengeance.
Let’s take a look at an influencer partnership that paved the way.
In 2018, Crocs launched a celebrity collab with Post Malone — whose bright yellow clogs sported on-brand barbed wire imagery and “Posty inspired Jibbitz”.
They’re fun, a bit over the top, and — most importantly — they don’t take themselves too seriously. Crocs are in on the joke.
This successful brand positioning is then effectively transferred to Crocs-wearers themselves — allowing them to express their devil-may-care attitude through a pair of customizable foam clogs.
At the end of the day, Crocs are the same as they’ve always been — but the brand’s marketing team took a “go big or go home risk” and spent the big bucks to partner up with big-name celebrities and companies that had clout to share.
Thanks to this bold move, Crocs’ ugly-chic shoes regained popularity in 2018, and will likely continue to remain so in 2022.
Making a true, lasting comeback is an incredibly difficult feat. Both Polaroid and Crocs made some very smart moves — but each brand also experienced years of rejection by consumers.
While the brands both took a different path back to the spotlight, they do have one thing in common: they learned from their mistakes. Polaroid tried to break into an oversaturated industry with no brand differentiator and Crocs leaned too hard into its practicality angle.
But, both brands took their missteps to heart and used them to craft truly impressive comeback stories. So, if you’re looking to breathe some life back into your brand, take a look at what went wrong and see how you can use this information to alter and refine your brand strategy going forward.
And remember, it never hurts to have access to reliable consumer insights, which are most easily acquired with advanced brand monitoring software. With the ability to understand what it is your target audiences like and dislike about your brand, you’ll make more informed, data-driven decisions.