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Did he know?

This is a copy of an actual photograph of an American Indian looking at the transcontinental railroad as it neared completion in 1868.

I am intrigued almost to the point of obsession to know what this native American was thinking.

Did he have any sense of what was coming?

Did he know that passengers on the trains that would travel this line would shoot the buffalo for sport that raced along the side of the train and that the buffalo population (estimated at about 50 million in 1830) would be wiped out in less than two decades?

Not likely.

Did he know that Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse would lead the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho in great victory over General George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry at the Little Big Horn 8 years hence, but that Custer’s Last Stand would mark a key turning point in U.S. history and American Indians would find themselves relegated to reservations and their culture destroyed?

Not unless he could tell the future.

But even if he could, while he and his fellow Native Americans could have taken steps to mitigate the damage, they would have lacked the resources to halt the American advance.

That’s not true of Blockbuster Video.

On November 6, 2013, Blockbuster announced that it was closing it’s remaining stores. Founded in 1985, the company had boomed during the short lived reign of VHS video rental. At it’s peak the company had nearly 9,000 stores and a market value of $5 billion dollars.

While our Indian friend above might have had some vague premonition of the changes that would be wrought by the relentless Westward march of the American frontier, Blockbuster had every reason to be aware of the light-speed like changes in entertainment being ushered into people’s homes by the digital revolution. Still they stayed with the store rental paradigm until the competition (Netflix) had driven its brand and service into the home movie watching public. And then it was too late.

They were even so arrogant as to blow off the opportunity to buy Netflix for $50 million in 2000. Today Netflix has a market cap of $20 billion.


When the light bulb finally went on, Blockbuster tried to capture market share and rolled out a rent-by-mail program and then a streaming video service. But Netflix already owned this position in the public’s mind. If Blockbuster was going to have any success at this, they should have rolled it out with a new brand. Blockbuster means video…and late fees in the public’s mind, not mail rental or streaming video.

In announcing the closing of the stores, DISH Network CEO, Joseph Clayton (DISH bought Blockbuster out of bankruptcy in 2011) said, “…we continue to see value in the Blockbuster brand, and we expect to leverage that brand as we continue to expand our digital offerings.”

Joe, since your marketing people don’t seem to understand positioning, may I offer an observation? Blockbuster has a position in the mind of the home movie watching public. That position is VHS…and late fees. Do a survey, you’ll find out.

If you are going to roll out a successful digital offering or a rent-by-mail service, do it with a new brand. Use your cash and resources and survey your existing clients, and then survey the Netflix clients; get their “hot buttons”. Using that information come up with some potential names and a sexy new service offering based on what your prospects said they wanted. Then survey those names to find out which would most motivate people to switch from Netflix and or also buy your product.

You may still see equity in the name Blockbuster because you paid $320 million for the brand at a bankruptcy sale. But Blockbuster spent 25 years driving that brand into the mind of the public positioned with in-store rental, you can’t change the public’s perception of the brand by making a decision in the corporate boardroom. It doesn’t work that way. Like it or not, you own a place, a position, in the public’s mind.

Give the Blockbuster brand a gold watch and let it retire to an old brand home and play dominos with E.F. Hutton, Compaq Computer and Pan Am.

And roll out a fresh new brand that resonates with today’s home movie watching public.

This approach is cleaner, faster, and less expensive than trying to reposition a brand from the 90s.

Call me at the number below, Joe, and I’ll be happy to discuss your options.

Of course, whether Joe calls or not, I’d be delighted to hear from any of you to discuss your brand, your position, surveys or any way if we can be of service.


You folks are the scope on the rifle…My only regret was that the survey wasn’t done sooner. It could have saved large sums of money.”
RW President.

Bruce Wiseman
President & CEO
On Target Research