Masterclass: Brand extensions

What are they? Could we interest you in an MT hip-flask? No? Fair enough. It could be a brand extension too far. (And MT readers are, of course, sober observers of the business scene.) But you get the idea: you stretch or extend a brand when you take the initial product or identity and try and bolt something new onto it. You can't blame business people for trying. We all know how important, and valuable, brands are. How rewarding if you can make a brand work a bit harder for you and extract more value from it...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Where did they come from? Brands have been stretched for decades. Thomas Edison's General Electric company made light bulbs before it made jet engines. Sir Richard Branson has built a business empire with the technique. But there have been notable brand extension failures: Harley Davidson wine-coolers and after-shave, for example. The lesson seems to be: draw on the recognised qualities of your brand, and move carefully into genuinely adjacent markets. Innocent smoothies for kids make sense, as do Gillette's shaving gel and Napolina's pasta. But you wouldn't go to Woolworth's for some high-end confectionery, would you?

Where are they going? John Williamson, the former Wolff Olins director, says successful brands are big, simple, unique and true. The danger with stretching or extending is that you dilute those qualities. On the other hand, a well-established, well-managed brand might retain its bigness, simplicity, uniqueness and truth even after a bit of stretching. It all depends on the strength and depth of the brand. The more Google does, the bigger its brand gets. In fact, at this rate, we'll all end up working for it. But even the loudest advocates of brand extension might agree that this would be ridiculous.

FAD QUOTIENT (out of 10): Steady at seven.

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