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01:55 PM
Kathy Burger
Kathy Burger
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Survival of The Coolest

Why do some companies and products that once were considered cool, leading-edge and desirable fall from favor, while others retain their eclat year after year? How do you stay ahead of obsolescence? Why do some older brands and products become stylishly "retro" while others are branded stodgy or outdated?

These questions are as critical for insurance executives and technology company leaders as they are for the makers of blue jeans, automobiles and baby strollers (to name just a few product categories in which what's "in" one day can be "out" the next -- and back "in" 10 years later, depending on the whims and demands of the market). If you don't think so, consider some recent corporate ups and downs:

In the "Who knew they still existed?" category: Verizon has asked regulators to allow it to end delivery of White Pages telephone directories to all of its New York and New Jersey customers; AT&T already has gotten approval to stop delivering White Pages to residents in Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio. Verizon says only about one out of every nine households still uses hard-copy listings.

Under the heading "Too little, too late?" was the news that AOL turned 25 years old on May 24. Here's a case of a pioneering, once-hot and growing company that turned out to be in decline at the moment of what appeared to be its biggest success (AOL's merger with Time Warner). The company that had dominated online communications when dial-up was the only option for connecting to the Internet was left behind when broadband, high-speed connections became commonplace. AOL now is reportedly trying to reposition itself as a content company but continues to lose subscribers at a rate of 3 percent a month.

Another anniversary was observed in a less-bemused fashion. May 22 marked the 30th anniversary of the release of the Pac-Man video game in Japan. Yes, Pac-Man's popularity with gamers has long since been displaced by the likes of Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, et al. But rather than being relegated to both the literal and conceptual recycling bins, Pac-Man has retained its cool. In celebration of the anniversary, Google incorporated an interactive Pac-Man game as the Google Doodle atop its search box.

It's easy to understand why the White Pages are going the way of the dodo. But as to why AOL now looks like a wannabe and Pac-Man is still hip -- I guess I'll have to ask a teenage boy.

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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