5 Bombastic Brands That Defined the 1990s

The 1990s gave us a lot of amazing things. From Grunge, Tarantino and Seinfeld to The Matrix, the Dream Team, and Nintendo 64. Situated snugly between the end of the Cold War and 9/11, the 90s were a beautiful moment when Americans really started digging deep into pop culture.

The decade was also a peak moment for marketing. Traditional advertising mediums like print and TV were still going strong, and the new marketing canvas of the internet was just beginning to emerge (and give life to inventive viral campaigns like this one). So there was a lot going on for brands.

Much like many of the musical acts of the time, the 90s was a decade that saw a lot of brands rise to great heights only to fade into obscurity as the 20th century came to an end. Today, for one brief moment, we’re going to bring some of those brands back from the dead to relive their former glory…

Do You Remember These Awesome 90s Brands?

On a recent episode of our podcast, we shared our list of 10 forgotten 90s brands that were essential to the decade. To get the full list, you’ll have to listen to the podcast. But here are 50% of the brands we talked about, sure to jog some great memories of the best decade ever.

Planet Hollywood

Launched in 1991, Planet Hollywood was a chain of restaurants modeled after another popular 90s restaurant brand: the Hard Rock Café. But instead of music, Planet Hollywood featured a movie theme. Of course, what really fueled Planet Hollywood’s popularity was the muscle behind it.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Demi Moore—four of the biggest stars in Hollywood at the time—were initial investors and promoters of the chain. As a result, Planet Hollywood did big business in the 1990s. But that success didn’t extend beyond the decade. The chain has gone bankrupt twice, lost its star power, and all but a few of the restaurants are gone.

No Fear/Big Johnson

These are two apparel lines that inexplicably became popular in the 1990s. No Fear were t-shirts with an extreme sports angle, which was a thing that started in the 90s (see Dan Cortese on MTV Sports from 1992-97). Some examples of messages you might see on No Fear shirts include: “Limits were made to be broken”, “Life’s not too short. It’s just that you’re dead for so long”, and “Precious few are born with it, even fewer know what to do with it”.

Meanwhile, Big Johnson was a series of shirts featuring the voice of a sleazy character named E. Normus Johnson. There were sexual innuendos and double entendres galore. Examples of Big Johnson messages include: “Big Johnson Fishing Gear: She’ll be ready to bite as soon as your fly drops”, “Big Johnson Bar and Casino: Liquor up front. Poker in the rear”, and “Big Johnson Tattoo Parlor: You’re going to feel more than a little prick”.

After being banned in some schools, businesses, and federal buildings, Big Johnson actually became part of a First Amendment case. Though within a couple of years, Big Johnson—much like No Fear—was relegated to the old t-shirt drawer.

No Fear Big Johnson

Hypercolor

If you were an adolescent in the early 90s, you might remember looking across the classroom and seeing people putting their hands all over or even blowing on someone’s shirt. Unless you went to a pretty strange school, chances are that scene was the result of a Hypercolor shirt.

These shirts featured an innovative dye that would change color based on heat. So the warmth of a hand or mouth would cause a blue shirt to turn pink in that spot. This amazing novelty came and went pretty fast. The brand rocketed to popularity in 1991. By 1992, the Seattle company behind the product declared bankruptcy. But for one fleeting moment Hypercolor was the coolest thing around.

Hypercolor

Snapple

While the brand was around since the 70s, the 1990s were the moment when Snapple found its niche and reached its peak. This happened for a few reasons. One was the different fruit flavors (like Kiwi Strawberry and Mango Madness) that became a popular trend in the 1990s. Another was the appearances and mentions of the brand on Seinfeld, the most popular TV show of the decade.

Finally, there was the marketing—with a popular ad series featuring Wendy the Snapple Lady and the tagline “Made from the best stuff on earth”. Snapple became so popular in the early 90s that it was purchased by Quaker Oats in 1994. The big brand quickly destroyed all that was fun and interesting about Snapple. Now all we’re left with is a few standard flavors of iced tea and nostalgia for a time when Snapple was the best drink on earth.

Snapple

America Online

American Online may be the most definitive brand of the 1990s. In a decade where the internet began permeating into the mainstream, American Online led the charge. Through an aggressive marketing campaign that involved mailing millions of installation CDs, America Online became the go to dial-up internet service provider of the time period. If you used American Online in the 90s, you undoubtedly remember this excruciating sound.

By the late 90s, American Online was the internet. It was also one of the biggest brands around. But the ride wouldn’t last. American Online merged with Time Warner in 2001 (in one of the largest mergers in American business history) and officially changed its name to AOL in 2006. The brand declined throughout the decade as web users fled to other providers and better options.

America Online

Hear us talk about five other awesome 90s brand. Listen to the podcast now…