Steve Gibbons questions whether brand extension has gone too far
Last summer my studio was intrigued by the
launch of Carlsberg Beer Beauty: men’s personal care
products brimming with the brand’s beery, cheery
bolshiness. Did we like it? Would we buy it? More
importantly, did it make sense?
And that got us thinking. From beauty, fashion,
luxury and beyond, why has brand extension
become so ubiquitous and – in some cases – so
utterly outlandish? Witness Dolce & Gabbana’s
artisanal SMEG fridges and KFC chicken-flavoured
nail varnish. Is there a meaningful business case
behind extensions, or are they just attention-grabbers
to keep consumers engaged with brands in an ever
faster, noisier environment?
The answer to the latter is: not always and
absolutely. Extensions are now ‘business as usual’.
According to Nielsen’s New Product Innovation Survey
2015, extensions are around three to four times
more common than ‘new manufacturer’ and ‘new
brand’ products combined, and 59% of global
respondents prefer to buy new products from
familiar brands. Brand recognition was the top reason
for purchasing a new product in Latin America and
equal second in the US. Given this, plus the fact that
40-50% of all new products fail, choosing the path of
least resistance is understandable. It’s quicker and –
critically – cheaper to grow via extension. Existing
distribution channels can be leveraged, there’s less
need to raise consumer awareness and consumer
trust in the original brand reduces risk aversion to
trying something new.
But the path to brand stretch success is by no
means smooth. Market research giant GfK has an
entire Museum of Failed Products in its Michigan
HQ, filled with thousands of failed extensions. The
list is endless and sometimes grotesque: think
Cheetos lip balm, Colgate frozen ready meals and
Harley Davidson fragrance.
Working with brand stretch is essential for
strategic designers, but it’s our job to go beyond gut
instinct (the arty bit) and also investigate the science
behind effective extension. There’s no magic
formula, particularly in a connected, omni-channel
world, but there are key factors for success. We found
three overarching types of brand extension:
migration, marriage and metamorphosis.
Migration builds on legendary marketing professor
Ed Tauber’s 1979 model (covering ingredient,
expertise, companion extension and more) to include
21st century celebrity extension and channel
hopping. This is about knowing what business you’re
in and what your brand is actually known for by
consumers – not what you think it is. Research
helps, but ruthless honesty about your brand
proposition is key to success. Look at Chewits, the
chewy sweets brand. It has associations with flavour
and fragrance… and came out with Chewits liquid
hand soap. Who on earth would want to eat soap?
Brands also need to think about whether
migration offers meaningful benefit to customers.
‘Me-too’ products seldom succeed, even with big
names behind them. Heinz Cleaning Vinegar reeks
of quality, but people simply don’t need an expensive
branded solution when cheap own label vinegar
works perfectly.
Finally, migration’s direction and location of travel
matters. Does the extension offer meaningful
business prospects? Is the market big enough or too
competitive? Does choosing one migration route cut
off more lucrative directions? Will it work in all
geographies or just a few? Dettol’s face and body
wipes do a roaring trade in India, but they’re a
journey too far for other markets.
Marriage has the same strategic considerations as
migration, but pools the resources of two or more
brands to achieve extension.
Ranging from the magical to the mundane are
marriages of convenience, which can include
ingredient co-branding (Bold 2in1 with Lenor) and
expertise co-branding (Spotify and Uber).
Slightly more romantic is celebrity co-branding
(Rihanna and Puma), where the brand equity of
established celebrities is used to further sales on a
culturally relevant basis. Design co-branding
follows in a similar vein, with H&M, Uniqlo and
Topshop partnering with designers such as Karl
Lagerfeld, Alexander McQueen and Missoni,
where success rests on the delicious mismatch
between the partners.
True matches made in heaven do far more. The
brands’ values, aesthetics, cultures, quality and
expertise complement each other on multiple levels
to deliver something far more desirable that provides
real value in the long term. A cosmetic marriage that
truly inspires and delights since 2011 is
Sephora+Pantone Universe, with Sephora as the
home of all colour make-up and Pantone as the
ultimate arbiter of colour.
Metamorphosis goes even further – it’s a brand
change from tangible product to a brand personality.
A unicorn perhaps, but it matters, as brands have to
demonstrate facets of their personality to connect
with consumers’ ever more
fragmented attention, across ever
more channels. It’s quite possible
that only celebrities can truly
metamorphose, but brands need
to try.
Enter Limited Editions –
which usually fill the gap – and
a full circle back to Carlsberg
Beer Beauty. Freed from the
necessity to provide long term
sustainable sources of revenue,
Limited Editions enable brands
to be playful and human, and to
take risks.
Brand extension is a serious
opportunity (and threat) in an
increasingly competitive and
crowded marketplace. While it
may well be cheaper, it takes as much strategic
consideration, if not more. For more examples,
DewGibbons + Partners’ latest edition of Open Eye
shows some of the best and worst extensions in the
beauty, luxury and health sectors.
Steve Gibbons
DewGibbons + Partners
Steve Gibbons is
Managing Director of
DewGibbons + Partners.
The company is a leading
brand design consultancy
specialising in the health
and beauty sector
email [email protected]
Existing distribution
channels can be
leveraged, there’s
less need to raise
consumer awareness
and consumer trust
in the original
brand reduces risk
aversion to trying
something new
Brand extensions, like
Carlsberg Beer Beauty
men’s grooming line,
are an opportunity in a
competitive marketplace
July 2016 SPC 25

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