Bringing Old Products Back from the Dead

Image depicting a cartoon tombstone with "French Toast Crunch" inscribed on it along with the product's lifespan listed (1995-2006). The year that it was cancelled though is crossed out in order to communicate that the product is coming back.

Nostalgia can be a very powerful force capable of driving different types of behavior. For marketers, being able to identify what products or elements consumers are nostalgic for (or in some cases consumers never really got over losing) can result in significant benefits to the business, especially in mature markets where competition can be fierce and sales growth difficult to achieve. The good news is that it is not as difficult now with social media and other technologies offering companies more ways of listening and talking to consumers. In addition, thanks to information technology people are now more capable than ever of finding like-minded individuals and organizing crowdsourced efforts to create a unified and magnified voice.

An interesting article in the Boston Herald discusses cereal maker General Mills’ decision to bring back French Toast Crunch in the United States in the hopes that the nostalgia factor will help boost sales. The decision to bring back French Toast Crunch wasn’t just based though on a gut feeling from General Mills that people wanted French Toast Crunch (a cereal popular in the nineties that was discontinued in 2006) back on grocery store shelves. Prior to the announcement consumers had called in everyday to the company requesting that the product be brought back, an online petition requesting its return was created and received thousands of signatures, and a Facebook community page was developed titled “Bring Back French Toast Crunch!!” which as of the time of this post had close to 9,000 likes.

While plenty of products are discontinued never to return again it’s interesting to think about how our increasingly expansive communication technologies have helped some return from the dead. Back in September it was announced that Surge, another product popular in the nineties, would be produced again and offered for sale on Amazon. Pretty soon after Surge was released on the ecommerce giant’s site it sold out. The formula for Surge was left unaltered and the design of its cans was essentially left untouched from its original form in what appears to be a nod to nostalgia.

Coke executives made the decision to bring back Surge thanks to the well-coordinated efforts of the product’s advocates on social media who helped demonstrate that the soda has a viable market. The “Surge Movement” as the community is known was led by three millennials who wanted to bring back their favorite soda. As of the writing of this post their Facebook community page has over 167,000 likes. There’s a lot more to how this group helped bring Surge back which is definitely worth a read if you’re interested in learning more.

It will be interesting to see over a longer period of time whether the product is able to maintain this momentum, but Surge’s incredibly loyal fan base certainly has their skin in the game now and looks to be doing what they can to ensure that the soda’s reintroduction will be a success. There was an article published by CNET around the time the announcement was made that Surge was returning, that noted the “Surge Movement” Facebook page had 131,751 likes on the social media platform. So from the time of Surge being introduced to now the “Surge Movement” has picked up a little over 35,000 more likes suggesting some initial success in both the growth and maintenance of consumer support of Surge.

From a marketing management perspective here are some questions to consider:

  • If you look around there are a good number of examples of products that were brought back after being discontinued. What are some other examples and what were the cues provided that told marketers that it would be worthwhile to reintroduce them?
  • As the marketing manager for French Toast Crunch what strategies and tactics would you use to help build momentum now that the decision has been made to re-launch the product in the United States? How would you measure their impact?
  • In both cases with French Toast Crunch and Surge the organization of a loyal community interested in the reintroduction of these products played a significant role in the decision to bring back both products by the responsible companies. How do you harness the power of those communities to ensure the success of the product once it’s back in the market? Is a hands-on or hands-off role best, or is the best approach something in between the two? Why?