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Zombie brands: Corporate names that refuse to die

Zombie brands: Corporate names that can't be killed

Patrick recently spotted an ad for Bell and Howell, the maker of motion-picture gear dating back to the early 20th century.

"I'm pretty sure Bell and Howell went out of business years ago," he said. "Are people buying the names of 'good' companies to sell their stuff?"

In a word: Yup. Welcome to the world of zombie brands.

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When a company goes out of business, its brand still remains a part of the corporate/cultural zeitgeist. That's a potentially valuable commodity for whoever controls the name.

Numerous brands have risen from the dead: Mister Donut, Pan Am, Woolworth, Napster. In most cases, someone recognized a short cut to consumer awareness by acquiring a well-known name, and the brand was reborn.

Bell and Howell was founded in 1907 as a manufacturer of movie projectors and cameras. The company evolved over the years as technology changed. In 2001, its core info-tech business became ProQuest.

The Bell and Howell name was acquired by Germany's Bowe Systec in 2003, creating Bowe Bell and Howell. A private-equity firm, Versa Capital Management, purchased the company in 2011 and restored the old Bell and Howell name.

Today, Bell and Howell focuses primarily on mail-sorting systems.

What's in a name? Apparently whatever the owner wants to make of it.

If you have a consumer question, email me at or contact me via Twitter @Davidlaz.

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