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Brand Extensions Gone Wrong
By: Don McLean
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Brand extensions can make sense. In many cases, brands emerge stronger because of it. When Tide laundry detergent developed the Tide To Go instant stain remover pen, it was a great move. According to Nielsen, brand extensions are five times more successful than new launches in some countries. This is true with one caveat — when done right.
 
"Done right" sounds like an easy statement but it is far from the truth. Some brands fail miserably when it comes to extensions because the extension simply does not make sense. It leaves consumers asking "Why?" Here are two examples describing poor brand extensions that left consumers confused:
 
Failure Numero Uno: Bic Underwear
Bic is known for its disposable pens, its disposable razors, and its disposable cigarette lighters. The Bic brand thought they were large enough to go into other categories as well, so why not Bic underwear? That’s right. They created a line of women's disposable pantyhose. They did not even want to change the brand name. Consumers did not understand, production and entrance to market costs were high, and in the end it flopped. Other than disposability there was no link between the products. Brand extensions should make sense and be a logical step from the flagship product. This made absolutely no sense, leaving consumers asking, "What were they thinking?"

Failure Numero Dos: Zippo’s Women’s Perfume
The scent is called fruity, but it sprays directly out of a bottle with a flip top that very closely resembles a Zippo lighter. In the market it brings up thoughts of smelling like a smoker or lighter fluid. It could be a decent-smelling perfume, but perception is everything. The key here again is that it is not a logical extension, bringing us to our favorite question — what were they thinking?

So now you may want to know what makes a great brand extension. Here are a few simple key things to keep in mind:
  1. Know your market. It sounds simple but it is not. No company can be all things to all people. Look at what markets you are currently reaching and what their buying habits are. Once you review this it will help steer you in the right direction for a brand extension.
  2. Make it logical. Just because something sounds like a foolproof plan does not mean it fits your brand. Knowing your market will allow you to see which directions are logical for your brand and which are not. It may be determined that there are a number of areas for growth. So how do you determine which area to tackle first? This brings us to part three.   
  3. Do your homework. Extending your brand into other categories requires research to do it right. It may seem logical to you from the start, but it pays to make sure your customers think so. Focus groups and the like can be used at this stage. Spending a little extra on research and time at the beginning can save your brand a lot of headaches in the future. You also want to make sure the brand is not simply going into the market because the new director wanted to put his or her own mark on the industry. The data returned at this stage will not lie.
Brand extensions must be planned carefully with proper knowledge of the market and research behind it. Focusing on an extension or change to a popular brand can, at times, bring on devastation and leave consumers disillusioned. After all, you wouldn’t want to pull a New Coke, would you?


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About the Author
Don McLean, MBA is an account supervisor at Airfoil Group, an independent marketing and public relations firm serving tech companies and innovation-centric brands with offices in Detroit, New York and Silicon Valley. Follow Don on twitter at@mclean_don.  
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