Breaking point: when brand extensions succeed and fail

Posted on by Guy Cookson

Bic – masters of brand extension

The idea behind brand extensions is simple enough. You take the name of a successful existing product and attach it to a new one.

It is not hard to see how tempting this must be for companies.

After spending vast amounts of time and money building up a brand that people recognise, value and buy into, why not leverage it too? It is certainly much easier than starting afresh.

And when it works, it can really fly. Virgin is the most obvious example. Branson’s ventures in music, travel, banking and telecoms have worked out pretty well for him.

There are plenty of others. Persil will clean your clothes or your dishes; Disney will entertain you on the screen or in a theme park; Bic will sell you a disposable lighter, pen or razor.

Successful brand extensions can seem perfectly natural even when they are not obvious. Michelin make tyres and produce the world’s best guide to restaurants.

But sometimes brands overreach and fail miserably.

Colgate make popular toothpaste, but when they launched a range of frozen ready meals in the 1980s it was a disaster. Colgate lasagne for dinner? No thanks.

Harley Davidson sell a range of branded products, from t-shirts to sunglasses, to fans who might never be able to buy their iconic motorcycles. When they introduced a range of fragrances, wine coolers and a cake decorating kit in the 1990s, however, their core customers were not impressed.

EasyJet attempted to replicate their success in selling cheap plane tickets by launching a cinema in Milton Keynes in 2003, with tickets available for as little as 20p. But going out for a night at the movies is not a journey – it is the destination. The experience has to be special.

Guinness is probably my favourite example of a company that has succeeded in extending its brand in unexpected places – it does not get more random than an annual Book of Records. However, they can still come unstuck closer to home.

Guinness Black Lager, Golden Ale, Pilsner, Light and Shandy spinoffs have all failed to escape the shadow cast by the original black stuff.

Guinness Golden Ale – one of many Guinness brand extensions yet to set the world alight

Harley Davidson fragrance – unpopular with their core customers

Colgate lasagne disaster, as featured in Dr Samuel West’s Museum of Failure in Stockholm

The Point in Milton Keynes, formerly home to easyCinema, a short-lived brand extension

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