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Brand Architecture

The Brand Architecture No One Talks About


The Brand Architecture No-One Talks About

Brand architecture is the structure given to the brands which are owned by one organization or business. We often use the terminology of human relationships by which to understand how the relationships between brands are defined, so we might say it is a ‘family tree’ of brands, or the master brand is the ‘parent’ brand. The topic of brand architecture has already been excellently explained in a previous Branding Strategy Insider post ‘Brand Architecture Strategy Guide’, so I won’t go into any further detail here aside from introducing the three commonly referred to architectures:

  • Monolithic or Branded House is an architecture in which the sub-brands use the name, and more often the identity, of the parent brand, eg FedEx, Virgin.
  • Endorsed or House of Brands is an architecture in which sub-brands are independently named and have their own identity, but which at some level bear the endorsement of their parent brand, eg P&G, Unilever.
  • Hybrid architecture is, as it’s name suggests, a mixture of the two approaches, and is very often the architecture of choice as it offers the greatest flexibility and options for those creating the brand architecture, eg Coca Cola, Google.

These three brand architecture models serve us well, but I don’t believe they are really a full reflection of the types of relationships some brands have with the parent brand of their organization.

I would like to suggest there is actually a fourth type of brand architecture – the Disowned brand architecture.

Like brands in the Endorsed model, brands are separated from the parent brand, but in the Disowned model there is no link communicated at all between the brand and the parent brand. There is no endorsement here, in fact there is considerable effort put in to intentionally disowning the parent brand. This model would very rarely be used in isolation, but in reality would make up a part of the Hybrid model (as in fact is often the case with Monolithic and Endorsed).

Completely separating a brand from its parent brand might be considered a business decision rather than a brand architecture decision. Of course, many business and brand strategy decisions are inextricably linked. However, if the decision to entirely disown the parent brand is due to the potential negative effect one brand might have on the others brand equity, then this is a brand decision and therefore can be considered a brand architecture choice.

As with seemingly every brand topic, Mark Ritson has already written on this at some length and with great knowledge and expertise. In his Branding Strategy Insider article ‘Brand Architecture And The Parent Brand Threat‘ his primary example is that of AB InBev purchasing a number of previously independent craft breweries, and adding them to their brand portfolio. In being a huge, corporate brewery AB InBev knew that endorsing these ‘craft’ breweries with their parent brand would be tantamount to killing the brands. This would make their purchases of these brands pretty pointless, so they use what I term the Disowned brand architecture. Yes, they are still in a house of brands but they are certainly not endorsed by the parent brand.

In another example, take a look at the interesting small startups such as snack brand Off The Eaten Path and drinks brand Drinkfinity, who apparently ‘work disruptively, as any startup company would.’ Two young brands which look pretty ‘authentic’ right? Wrong. Both are PepsiCo ventures, which you can find out through a little digging around in places like privacy policies and PepsiCo press releases. Both of these brands give the impression of dynamic, ‘disruptive’ startups, while actually being owned and run by a huge company.

There are dangers in having brands whose values and approaches run counter to each other in your brand portfolio, but businesses take this risk as they know that if it works they can have the best of both worlds, having brands which appeal to polar opposite audiences under the same roof (and financial balance sheet). One issue inherent in this approach is the (pretty fair) accusation of a lack of transparency and the potential for losing trust from your audience. A good example of this was ‘independent’ coffee shop Harris & Hoole, when people discovered it was actually owned in part by Tesco.

However, as leaders of a brand it is incumbent of your role that you make the best decision for the brand, weighing up the pros and cons of architecture options. Is the potential damage to the brand equity more or less if the link to the parent brand is endorsed (such as Unilever products) or disowned entirely, but with the risk of a negative backlash if people discover the link.

The Disowned brand architecture is a valid architecture, and one which has always been used by businesses and brand leaders when deciding the strategy for how brands within a business relate to each other. So let’s not pretend that the choice is a binary as Monolithic or Endorsed. Let’s be honest about the practice and add the Disowned option to our lexicon.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Paul Bailey, Strategy Director at We Launch

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