Brand extension is the way to get the best financial return out of a strong brand. By extending a known and much loved brand into new countries and categories, the brand owner reduces risk and maximizes the return on their investment. But extension is not without risks of its own. These days I can’t help wondering if many brands are extended too far, too fast.
Extension into new product categories poses an interesting challenge for a strong brand. There needs to be a good fit between what the brand stands for and what people look for from the new product category. But the fit between the brand and the category does not need to be based on a direct application of the brand’s functional credentials. The fit can be more conceptual. Sometimes this makes for giant leaps into categories not remotely connected to the brand’s origins.
A recent example that comes to mind is the Dirty Jobs heavy duty cleaning products spawned by the “Dirty Jobs” show on the Discovery Channel cable network. In each program, the show’s host, Mike Rowe, explores a dirty job, and attempts to complete the same task as the people whose job it really is. The fit between the well-known TV show and a line of cleaning products makes good sense. After all, Mike doesn’t just get dirty he has to clean up somehow.
A similar “leap of faith” extension would be Wolverine World Wide’s Cat Footwear, the global footwear licensee of Caterpillar® Inc. There is no real functional connection between giant, yellow, earthmoving equipment and footwear, but the connection is there. From durability to traction the benefits of machines and boots have a lot in common. The conceptual linkage has allowed a small collection of work boots to grow into a wide range of casual footwear selling in more than 150 countries worldwide.
And, perhaps not surprisingly, I note that Mike Rowe has also got in on the Cat act. On the Cat Web site is a page dedicated to Mike Rowe Works, which announces that if Mike ever writes a book on lessons learned from people with dirty jobs, chapter one will be “Don’t skimp on your boots.”
The fit between these brands seems to make good sense to me, but all too often I can’t help wondering if some brands do not extend too far, too fast. Take for example, Ugg Boots. For a while these fur lined boots from Australia seemed to be the “must have” women’s accessory, but now you can buy pretty much anything from sandals to men’s shoes. Many of the new items seem light years removed from the brand’s origins as a boot made with sheepskin. Nor do they have any apparent connection with surfing – the boots were often worn by surfers to keep their feet warm – and yet it was this sport that helped propel the brand to international fame.
Maybe the connection to celebrities that boosted the brand’s visibility in the early 2000s will be enough to sustain the brand’s standing, but I doubt it. While I may be proved wrong (since fashion is not my forte), Ugg seems destined to go from iconic to diluted in the space of a decade.
So what are your thoughts on brand extension? Do you have any great examples to share? And which brands do you believe have been extended too far? Please share your thoughts.
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