How far can you STRETCH your brand?

Once your brand has built a great reputation, it might seem attractive to use it use it to enter a whole new product category. Taking consumers with you into unknown territories can be quite hard however. Frankly, would you buy Maggi milk? Heineken wine?

A brand is like a paper clip … if you overstretch it, it becomes useless.

  • Nivea (‘trusted skincare’) once launched a make-up line, which turned out to be a failure. For consumers, make-up and skin-care were incompatible.
  • EasyJet airlines (essence = ‘no frills, cheapest price’) failed when it tried to move from its low-cost airline brand to internet cafes, cinemas, cruises and finance.
  • McPizza might have sounded logical to McDonald’s marketeers (“Hey, why don’t we expand our boundaries; we’re not in hamburgers, we’re in fast food!”), but consumers preferred to stick with established, trusted, specialised pizza chains.
  • It’s not for nothing that Toyota (essence = ‘cheap and reliable cars’) launched its luxury cars range under a new brand: Lexus, with great success.
  • Harley-Davidson motorcycles (essence = ‘rebellious lifestyle’) went completely beside the mark when they introduced a line of wine coolers in the mid-1980’s. Sorry but tough guys, leather jackets, tattoos, booze …and wine coolers? A perfume failed to wow any customers as well…
  • Pepsi once launched a caffeine-free soft drink named Crystal Pepsi in the United States. Customers found it difficult to digest a cola as a clear liquid.
  • Bic has built its brand on disposable products like razors, pens, lighters. Disposable underwear was a bridge to far for consumers however. They could not find a link between the underwear and Bic’s other products. In addition, the idea of buying intimate attire from a company that also produces pens apparently does not appeal to most women.
  • After their hugely successful albums ‘the Joshua Tree’ and ‘Achtung baby’, the band U2 started experimenting mixing the traditional U2 sound with alternative electronic elements, resulting in the album Zooropa. Thought the album was received quite well by critics, the fans felt alienated. This album wasn’t in line with what they expected. As result the album didn’t sell well. The band choose wisely: they continued to make alternative music, but not under the umbrella of the U2 brand.

For a band as well as a brand, the challenge is to live up to the expectations of your fans. No matter how big the business opportunity seems: the way your customer perceives your brand’s essence ultimately determines what makes sense, and if he does accept a brand extension or not.

Never alienate your central target market!                                                                                     These examples show that the stretch of your brand all depends on what your customers are willing to accept. The lesson here is simple: never alienate your central target market!

Think a lot before you venture into unfamiliar territory. Focus on what you’re good at and what customers think you’re good at. Resist the temptation to expand into all kinds of categories.If your new product doesn’t match how customers define your brand, it might be smarter to launch the new product under a different brand name.

Yes, there are always exceptions to the rule. Trusted Indian family brands like TATA and Godrej can cover a huge scope. But never forget they have a long history in which they managed to build up a huge trust with Indian consumers. But if a new, unknown brand from abroad would enter the market with such a broad range of products, it’s the question if consumers would accept such a broad scope and get what the brand’s about.


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