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Don't Write Branding's Eulogy Just Yet
By: Jeff Louis
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In the face of a recessionary economy, many "brand experts" have questioned the efficacy of maintaining a brand's image when, according to them, consumers, all things equal, buy on price only. I've countered these "expert assumptions" in other posts because I'm a firm advocate of branding. It is a no-brainer; either you determine your brand and take ownership or others will do it for you. 

The hurdles these anti-brand advocates cite include (but aren't limited to):

  • Technology, like TiVo, caller-ID, and pop-up blockers, keeps consumers "safe" from companies.
  • The fundamental fact many brand efforts are one-way communication models. 
  • Brands that rely on being unique are beset by clones.

All of these points are true to a certain extent. However, branding will never die. Before we were able to mass-communicate, brands existed; as we move from broadcasting communication to narrowcasting, brands will still exist and thrive. 

Why? Even when the economy sucks, consumers realize that "all other things being equal" doesn't exist. We purchase ideas, styles, lifestyles, ideals, and lifestyles. We don't always make rational decisions when purchasing; we base our decisions on emotion.

I suppose I shouldn't complain; branding has been under attack for decades.

In 1998, branding was dead, and PR, the experts predicted, would take over where branding left off. In 2003, technology killed the branding star.

Now, in 2010, brands are dead for several reasons. The reasons are foolish, but the author's point is this: Branding is dead because no matter how much they are worth, it's the failure of a brand's products that led to its downfall. He cites Toyota, President Obama, "The Tonight Show" debacle, and the iPad as examples.

His point is that the products are what determines a brand's fate. In the case of Toyota, it was the recall. For President Obama, it's not delivering on his promises, and for "The Tonight Show," it's the fact that both products sucked in the first place.

While arguing that branding is dead, he hypes the fact that President Obama, Jay Leno, and Conan O'Brien are brands. He claims Toyota was a strong brand, but because of their product's failures, the company is in trouble. I'd argue that brand promises are what got Obama elected, Toyota failed on their high safety standards as a brand (Lexus, too), and "The Tonight Show" was a battle of personality.

Oh, the iPad, he said, proved that the product was stronger than the brand because people talked about the iPad, not Apple. The failures were due to the brand not delivering on its promise to fulfill expectations. As for the iPad, it seems to me Apple and iPad both succeeded.   

Then, there's the question of value, something industry pros have argued about for years. On one side, since brands don't "exist" in a physical manner, they can't hold any value or worth. Since they're ephemeral, determining their value is useless. On the other side of the fence, entire companies are based on  evaluating brand equity, determining the top brands and their monetary value.   

According to BusinessWeek, Iconix Brand Group purchased the rights to "Peanuts." Iconix ispeanuts a brand management company that represents well-known brands like Mudd, Joe Boxer, London Fog, Danskin, Starter, and Cannon (home accessories) and are sold in stores such as Kohl's, Kmart, Sears, Macy's, Target, and JCPenney.

Iconix and the Schulz family are going to shell out $175 million for the rights to the "Peanuts" characters. For not being worth a penny, Snoopy is certainly fetching a nice sum. The acquisition is part of a Iconix's strategy to increase revenues outside the fashion and clothing industries.

The characters are licensed in 40 countries, generating sales in excess of $2 billion dollars. That's right, branded cartoon characters generate more sales and are worth more money than rock-solid, brick-and-mortar businesses. In fact, the cartoon characters are expected to boost stock in Iconix by 15 cents per share.

The majority of revenue from this "worthless" brand will come from branded clothing and branded entertainment like video games and TV specials. 

Per creator Charles Schulz’s request, no new Peanuts strips will be drawn. The Schultz family, who hasn't owned the brand since Charles' death, plans to be involved with the launch, ensuring it stays true to the brand's identity. 

It seems an awful lot of money and time is spent on an advertising component that's been heralded year after year as either dead or dying. 


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About the Author

Jeff Louis: Media Planner, Brand Project Manager, blogger, and aspiring writer. Please leave a comment or get in touch with Jeff on Twitter. As always, thank you for reading!

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