Motorola bets on recycled Razr brand

Tue Oct 18, 2011 6:42pm EDT

Razr is back. After  being criticized for depending on the four letter brand for too long,  Motorola is hoping to draw some more blood from the stone with the new Droid Razr in the U.S. market. It will be called plain old Razr in the rest of the world.

Analysts are already predicting that the new phones won’t reach the 130 million unit sales that Motorola boasts for Razr over several years. but the jury is still out on whether using the old brand that came to symbolize the company’s downfall will help sales of the latest phone, which it is touting as the world’s thinnest smartphone.

“We tend to see it more in the auto industry where Dodge brought back the Charger and Volkswagen brought back the Beetle. Volkswagen did well,” said NPD analyst Ross Rubin. but the modern Beetle is an updated model that is recognizable as a descendent of an old car that dates back to pre-war Germany. The Droid Razr is a tablet-like device with a 4.3 inch display that looks nothing like the original flip-phone Razr.

“It probably creates a weaker association than if the product had been a flip-phone,” said Rubin, adding that while the retro-branding was “not a bad idea”, it would be unlikely to make a huge difference to Motorola’s sales of the gadget.

Avaian Securities analyst Matthew Thornton was more enthusiastic:  “I like it. If you think about the Motorola brand and what it’s tied to, it is Razr. I think it’s a smart play. The thing the Razr stood for was thinness.”

He pointed to Sony’s success transferring the brand of the Walkman portable cassette player to a cellphone line and its use of the Cybershot camera brand for camera phones.  The Sony phones were popular until consumers’ focus turned to more powerful smartphones such as the iPhone.

“The products themselves were fine. they just missed what was next,” Thornton said, speaking about both Motorola and Sony.

But here’s a trip down memory lane.  Motorola depended on the Razr for its runaway success between late 2004 and late 2006. By early 2007 it was no longer a status symbol to own the thin phone  and some consumers were even coy about admitting that they still had one.  The company was criticized at the time for depending on Razr for too long and sent its then CEO packing as a result.  It did everything it could to prolong the Razr franchise — remember the pink one that was promoted for Valentine’s day? — and then in different shapes and sizes with Razr-inspired four-letter brands like Pebl and KRZR.

Maybe this time it’ll be different. Rubin noted that the new Razr’s fate won’t rest on any consumers dwelling on the history of Motorola, which is being sold to Google.

(Reuters file photo of a model holding an old Razr phone)