Today another question from the BSI Emailbag. Martin, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University's Carey Business School writes…
"Dear Mr. VanAuken, before I ask my TWO questions (I hope I’m not being greedy) I’d like to thank you and your co-authors for Branding Strategy Insider – this is what I check first thing in the morning with the coffee (I read my emails on my Blackberry in the car). Here come the questions:"
"Is there a way for a brand such as Marlboro to extend to products that are socially acceptable? A line of outdoor lifestyle products probably? Would that create outrage? What would be the way to go about it?"
This is a very interesting question, Martin. Given its strong image and personality (masculine, rugged individualism, independent spirit, etc.), I suspect the Marlboro brand is capable of being extended into a variety of new product categories. For instance, I could imagine Marlboro jeans and hats and belts could be successful. There are several things I would consider before I pulled the trigger on this, however. First, I would perform typical brand extension research to understand how the brand’s associations transferred to the new product categories and vice versa.
I would also try to understand how current Marlboro consumers, the consumers of the intended new product categories and the general public felt about moving the Marlboro brand into those product categories. It would also be important to determine if extending the brand into new product categories would be perceived to be a move to market Marlboro tobacco products to youth, and if it would actually make the brand more appealing to youth. If so, there would likely be a public backlash, not to mention possible legal actions against such a move. I suspect that these brand extensions would be much more palatable should Phillip Morris decide to discontinue tobacco-related products under the Marlboro brand first. Having said all of this, I think the Marlboro brand is quite strong and could be extended into a variety of product categories for which Marlboro’s distinct brand image and personality would seem to be a draw.
Muji, (translated from Japanese – “no brand”) recently opened a store in NY and plans to open a few more in the US but only in “trendy” cities such as Washington, DC, Miami, LA, Chicago etc. The store in Soho is popular among a segment of cult followers and also has shelf space in the MoMA store. In Japan, Muji is perceived as IKEA is perceived here – contemporary but by no means elite or “chick”. Is Muji :
a) The latest branding fad
b) Cream de la cream of the snobbism
c) Just a company that chose to position itself differently in a different market
d) None of the above
Martin, not having shopped at Muji myself, nor having seen its advertising, I do not think my opinion on this should count. I think Muji’s own consumer research would best provide the answer your question. Absent that information however, I think it is plausible that any one or more of your proposed answers could be correct. By the way, “no brand” is in fact a very interesting brand concept/position that would appeal to some in today’s hyper-branded environment. In fact, “no brand” could be the ultimate self-expressive statement for some.
Perhaps BSI readers will be able to add more.
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