Reviving the Wallenda Brand

It’s tough enough establishing a brand once, but what about resurrecting a brand that had once been synonymous with the term “dare devil”?

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For Nik Wallenda, it was a walk on the beach, or really 100 feet above it on a sunny August day in Atlantic City. It’s no secret that AC has been going through a bit of a trough of late, so Wallenda’s high wire walk on the beach drew 100,000 onlookers who either had little else to do, or were perhaps in search of a little inspiration in a town that doubled down on gambling.

Dare devils play their own part in American folklore. We root for and grow to admire people who climb up the side of a building, or fly motorcycles between casinos in Las Vegas. When Wallenda completed his walk “downashore,” a Fox anchor almost choked up declaring, “He‘s the closest thing we have to Evil Knievel now.”

Nik Wallenda is a seventh generation member of the “Flying Wallendas” family. Patriarch Karl Wallenda started the family tradition of working without a net in the 1920s, and is acknowledged to be the driving force behind the Wallenda brand. Karl Wallenda died in 1978, after falling from a tightrope while high walking between hotels in Puerto Rico at age 73.

The fluctuations in the Wallenda brand reflect changes in society. Americans are much more concerned now with safety and security and are more inward-looking. We no longer have a functioning manned space program; bicyclists wear helmets. We have become a more litigious society; the first question about dare devil stunts is no longer “can he do it?” but “what can go wrong?”

Even Nik Wallenda was forced to wear a harness on his recent jaunt across Niagara Falls.

Like the high wire itself, building a brand on stunts is a flighty venture. Circuses aren’t the draw they once were; Wallenda’s walk on the beach was a promotion for a series of arial act performances at a local casino. As in other brand building maneuvers, you have to give a little bit away; Wallenda’s walk was completely free on cable news. It may be that seeing Wallenda navigate the high wire in Atlantic City satisfied the curiosity of many a vicarious thrill seeker. It will be interesting to see if Wallenda can cash in on his fame with a reality show or perhaps a high wire appearance on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Wallenda’s reinvention shows that brands damaged or fallen into disrepair can be revived. Everyone laughs at the world’s greatest marketing blunder, the invention of New Coke, but what often goes unremarked is that millions of people are drinking some form of Coke today. We don’t really expect much from comebacks; consumers will brave Indian casinos to see a 30-year-old band with one original member play their only hit.

But, every rebranding faces a roadblock–times change. People who hung in there for Cher’s first five comebacks might have moved on to Lady Gaga.

Richard Larson is Brand Manager for GoPromotional, the UK’s leading supplier of promotional gifts.

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