June 26, 2004
The return of the roach

I may be a staunch defender of Houston as a place to live, but even I will never claim that it's one of the more scenic places in the world. This is not to say that there aren't interesting things to see as one travels along Houston's roads, and it appears that one of the more distinctive sights is about to return.

The giant neon cockroach glowed for 42 years and was a beacon for Southwest Freeway drivers. He glows no more.

Bubba, the 8-foot-tall, 16-foot-wide Holder's Pest Control roach, was taken down in April, but the sign could make a comeback.

You can't keep a big roach down, not when he's worth more than his weight in gold as a branding tool.

In 1998, Holder's moved to a southwest Houston shopping center that would not allow the display of a mammoth insect, so Bubba stayed behind. He was eventually taken down, because of an ordinance that forbids a commercial sign when the company has left the premises. Bubba now spends his days in a Holder's warehouse.

But Holder's wants Bubba back in the spotlight, said Jen Boedecker, marketing coordinator at Copesan Services, a national alliance of pest control companies that includes Holder's.

A number of businesses, mostly restaurants, have tried to buy Bubba, but Copesan is interested only in leasing the sign as a form of advertising.

"We'd consider putting him at someone else's site, as long as we maintained ownership," she said. "He's been like a mascot and is so highly recognized."

In terms of branding, Bubba is invaluable, said Kevin Keller, professor of marketing at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College: "It's iconic and part of their equity."

Bubba is "heritage," and "when positioning a brand, it's very hard to compete against heritage," said Keller, who noted: "Anything that gets on consumers' radar matters. It's so hard to break through these days."

Bubba does have a way with people. When they took him down, Holder's received a number of e-mails, including this one:

"I've been watching for that roach as a landmark for most of my life, and I'll miss the old boy."

Here's a picture, which unfortunately doesn't give you the full giant-glowing-roach-in-the-sky experience. Trust me on this, you have to see it to understand.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 26, 2004 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack