Topic: Book Club

Ries: Why Discard A Good Brand Name?

Posted by Anonymous on 500 Points
Al and Laura give examples of companies making the mistake of using an existing brand name for a divergent new product. Is this necessarily a mistake? Why can't marketers trade on the recognition and reputation of an existing brand as they launch something new? Look at AT&T Wireless becoming Cingular, and after millions of dollars of advertising, they're going back to AT&T.

Moderator Note: This discussion refers to the book The Origin of Brands by Al and Laura Ries (topic: branding). Click the title to learn more. Then join the conversation. We'd LOVE for you to participate!
To continue reading this question and the solution, sign up ... it's free!


  • Posted on Accepted
    Cingular, AT&T, Cingular, AT&T...The saga, I'm sure, will go on and on and on like "The English Patient."

    Anyway, with regard to your question... Launching a totally new product under an existing brand name does not and will never work. Take Coca Cola, for instance. Coca Cola is a world-wide brand. Anywhere on the planet you see that white, cursive name emblazened on a bright red background (or black on silver, in case you're a Diet Coke fan like me), you know what you're getting. Now if the Coca Cola Company wanted to launch bottled water using the name Coca Cola or Coke, they would have to spend billions (with a b) to convince people to buy this product. People hear or see Coca Cola, they're not thinking water!

    What's more, no one will ever buy Coca Cola water. Makes no sense. Coca Cola is a brown, sweet, carbonated beverage--PERIOD! The brand Coke is so emblazened in consumers minds that when asking for a cola drink, they will invariably ask for a Coke; they could in actuality get a Pepsi, Royal Crown, Stop & Shop brand, whatever, but when they want cola, they'll ask for a Coke. That's the power of consistent branding (and being first on the market doesn't hurt either). Attaching Coca Cola to a different product only weakens the Coca Cola brand.

    By the way, when the Coca Cola Company decided to get into the bottled water game, they launched it under its own brand name, Dasani.
  • Posted on Accepted
    For more on the AT&T/Cingular branding disaster, check out my blog entry on brand mortality:

    You are correct, Coke could never launch Coke water. Though while that seems so obvious, so many companies have made similar foolish decisions. Coors Water anyone?

    Gatorade (sport drink) and Propel (fitness water) are excellent examples of how a company can expand the market with a new brand in a new category.
  • Posted by Stephen Denny on Accepted
    I'm struggling with this one. Apple reinvented personal audio with the Apple iPod and with iTunes. Microsoft and Google dominate their increasingly similar markets with line extensions. Playstation is clearly a Sony product and marketed as such, to the point of the PS voice over done with a Japanese accent. In retailing, software, telecom and a host of other industries, we're seeing convergence (gasp) and certainly not divergence. The biggest trend in retailing seems to be Palm/Apple/Sony/Nike/Helio, etc stores popping up -- all examples of line extensions and "convergence".

    Are we arguing semantics and defining "name" as "product designation" or are we talking about the identified brand? If it's the latter, who says you can't win with line extensions? It happens every day in technology companies; if it didn't, start ups would line the shelves.
  • Posted on Accepted
    "Why can't marketers trade on the recognition and reputation of an existing brand as they launch something new?"

    David, I think the principle is what the brand stands for. If it stands for too much then it can either become too confusing to get into the prospect's mind or just not hold the credibility for being "both" products.

    Insofar as ATT Wireless I'm amazed they're killing the Cingular brand; it's so much stronger than ATT in that niche. But, then again, Verizon seems to be balancing both its landline and wireless line products well with its name on both (though it's contending with VoIP on the former).
  • Posted on Accepted
    I think it is completely possible to leverage the strength of an existing brand while still taking a new product to market with a divergent brand.

    Apple is the perfect example. They extended their product line with all of the strength of the Apple name behind it and also created an excellent brand with iPod and iTunes.

    Strong brands are in the BEST position to launch new divergent brands.

    Disruptive products should never be saddled with an existing brand. But the existing brand can be leveraged to launch the new brand.

    AT&T made a bad decision.,
  • Posted on Accepted
    I think it can be said that brands that stand for more than a product in the minds of consumers have a better chance of leveraging their brand name on a diverging product.

    Take for example two products that have been discussed, Apple and Coke. In my mind Apple stand for the ideas of “less is more” and “think different” while Coke in my mind stand for the actual Coke product. In other words, when you buy an Apple product you are not really buying the actual product, but rather you are buying the idea for which the Apple product stands for.

    In my mind Coke cannot successful leverage their brand to stand for two products because their brand already brings to my mind a physical product. Instead, if Coke’s brand were to stand for “fun” or some other idea, then they would have had a much better chance.

    Apple on the other hand stands for ideas and not necessarily a product so the mind can have a place for multiple products that fit within these ideas.
  • Posted on Author
    Clearly, there's some divergence (good word, yes?) of opinion here.

    I still think it calls for careful thinking by a marketer. Perhaps the Coke name wouldn't work on bottled water, but maybe it could. I wouldn't recommend Coke simply throw their name onto the label, but as was said up above, if the Coke name is known for things other than their cola products, it might work. Or their ad campaign for the water might play up certain attributes of Coke that translate to their new product.

    Maybe they did think through all of that and felt it wouldn't work. I don't know, since I wasn't in the room. But that type of discussion should take place when a marketer decides to discard a solid brand name.

    I'm sure there are other examples where keeping a brand name has helped establish a new divergent product. I'm having as senior moment, but maybe some Book Club readers can think of them.
  • Posted on Accepted
    I like books that make me think and analyze the subject further and this book certainly did that. Sometimes we need to be hit with an extreme position before we take it seriously and start debating the subject. I don't agree that divergence is always good and has a better chance of succeeding. When a company has good ways to enhance or extend a product based on what customers would like and buy, extension using the brand name makes more sense. When the new product or service fits the brand, again it makes sense. When it is not a fit, a whole new brand is what is needed.

    A place where line extension was the right way to go was in computers. As IBM introduced new 'mainframe' computers they wanted to be sure their customers saw the new models as both a step up and an easy transition without having to write or buy all new software. IBM named those products with their brand and a new number.

    Digital Equipment Corporation, on the other hand, (I worked for Digital at the time) named their lines of computers each time with a new name. These computer lines were often 'divergent.' Our customer often didn't connect the computer name with the company name, and that was a disadvantage.

  • Posted by Mark Goren on Accepted
    Hazel makes the important distinction: will using the brand name be an advantage or a disadvantage? In this case of Apple and Honda, it could be a clear advantage. Apple stands for "thinking different", while I always looked at Honda as selling superior engines with frames built around them, which is why they can sell lawnmowers, ATVs, motorcycles and all that.

    While the authors point out many examples of how following a convergent path is a disadvantage, where do they stand on brands like Apple and Honda?
  • Posted on Accepted
    Hence share of mind of a brand depends on language. What does the brand stand for in the first place? Do they own a category?

    BTW -- Apple evolved to owning the category of "think different" through its products. It was first putting the statement out there = we are not like the PC. Then fulfilling their own promise with products like the iPod, which are more like delivery systems vs. single product.
  • Posted by Mark Goren on Member
    So, Valeria, what do you make of the iPhone? Join us over at Doug's post:
  • Posted on Author
    That's the point I'm trying to make, Mark, Hazel and Valeria -- Where a brand name has strength, it can sometimes (not always) be used to support other products that are divergent. I don't go by the hard & fast rule that divergence must require a new name. Often yes, but sometimes no. That discussion needs to be part of the early planning process.

    Btw, Laura gave an excellent explanation of the Motorola-Nokia brand name situation in a comment she posted at my blog. Interesting background that I didn't know.
  • Posted on Author
    Oops, in my previous comment I forgot to give the link to my blog, so you can see Laura's response re Motorola branding. It's at
  • Posted on Accepted
    Many times the decision as to whether or not you need a new name depends on whether or not there is or might be any focused competition in the future.

    With no competition, using the same name on everything makes a lot of sense. It saves money and let's you leverage off the strength of the main brand.

    Diet Coke and Bud Light are clear examples of this. I would argue they should have had new names, but it doesn't matter. Because Coke and Budweiser are leading brands and they have no focused competition in the Diet and Light markets.

    When it hurts you is when you face a focused competitor and you are line extended all over the place. IBM is an example of this, they failed in personal computers, operating systems and all the categories they expanded into.

    Or it can really hurt you if you are a number two brand and you face the line extension of the leader. Miller Lite and Diet Pepsi are not as successful as the leader's line extension.
  • Posted on Accepted
    I think LG and Samsung are great examples of conglomerate electronics companies with a strong brand name across many different categories. When I bought two air conditioners last week, I knew the brands and their I picked up the Samsung. This btw, is not a usual purchase category. If we as consumers are looking to buy something in a category we aren't familiar with...brand recognition goes a long way. I picked up the Samsung

    Are these two brand examples (LG and Samsung) and their strength reflective of the nature of brand power in the electronics industry? I would think so.

    In contrast, FMCG is a completely different world where fashion and aesthetics take precedence because of the much lower price points and risk involved. Here, the brand->category connection in the consumer's mind is much more important.
  • Posted on Author
    Good examples, Mario. Thanks.

    Rene, I agree with almost all in the book. I just get a little uneasy with hard & fast rules in areas that are not an exact science. I believe there are exceptions -- admitedly few - to the statements Laura and Al are laying out here.

    They've done a lot of research and put a lot of thinking into the book, from which we all can benefit. But there is sometimes room for other thinking when making branding decisions. That's where our own insight and judgement -- and creativity -- comes in.
  • Posted by Stephen Denny on Member
    Brands are hard to come by. Once earned they should not be abandoned without significant analysis.

    Honda makes motors. Thus, anything with a motor is fair game for them.

    Sony makes entertainment electronics. Thus, their brand is powerful in several directions (in the professional space, as well).

    Apple has become synonymous with "divergent" thinking -- the first personal computer aimed at the masses, iTunes/iPod, etc. If they launch a camcorder, it will still make sense. Insurance? Probably not.

    Coke was a one product company for a hundred years. It has an image in all of humanity's collective mind that its products are brown and fizz. Hard to sell water this way. A bit like Dannone trying to sell water here in the States, too -- we all probably thought it would taste like yogurt.

    AT&T is telephone poles and rotary phones for most of us. Cingular was the orange jack logo and mobile phones. Now, as a Cingular customer, I have my father's cell phone. Wierd.

    IBM meant business machines. They didn't lose to Dell because Dell was a one product company -- they lost because Dell had a superior supply chain and cost structure to what IBM was willing to build. Once it was straightened out, IBM realized personal computers weren't as high margin as everything else. So they sold the highest quality PC brand (ask anyone with a ThinkPad) to Lenovo.

    Brands need to be positioned very carefully and nurtured over time. We can't all expect to launch new brands when an interesting idea pops up. If you're about "Connecting People", you can do telephony as well as sync and data transfer software (Nokia).

    Good topic --
  • Posted on Author
    "Brands are hard to come by. Once earned they should not be abandoned without significant analysis."

    Well put, Stephen. That's what I've been saying here -- divergence makes a lot of sense, but don't take it as gospel for every situation.

  • Posted on Member
    Using an existing brand name on a new category or creating a new brand name is one of the most discussed issues in marketing. Which is why this subject has drawn the most response.

    Almost all of our books have covered this subject in great detail and as some of you know, we generally believe a new category needs a new brand name. But not always.

    One observation, however, might be helpful. It doesn't matter what a company calls its product; the only thing that matters is what a consumer calls the product.

    You might think the Apple iPod is a line extension, but I don't. I have never heard a user say, "Look at my Apple." Thay have said, however, "Look at my iPod."

    Consumers consider Apple as the company name and iPod as the brand name. In the same sense that General Motors is the company name and Chevrolet is the brand name.

    No one calls a PlayStation a "Sony" either.

  • Posted on Author
    "...we generally believe a new category needs a new brand name. But not always." -- Al Ries

    But not always is my key point. We agree here.

    I see in another discussion, Laura says Crest made a mistake calling their whitening strips Crest White Strips. In that case, she says because WhiteStrips is too genric. Had they used a different more unique name, shouldn't they still keep the Crest name attached to it? After all, Crest IS toothpaste to most people.

    Al, I enjoyed the book and it definitely made me think. Next on my reading list will be your "Fall of advertising and rise of PR," since PR is my business.
  • Posted by Drew McLellan on Accepted
    David et al,

    What a great post with lots to ponder. All of the discussion and examples have been around consumer products that are tangible.

    How do your/our arguments hold water if we're talking B-to-B or service products?

  • Posted on Author
    Good point, Drew. I would think a solid brand name has value for divergent business products and services. AmEx, for example, keeps its AmEx brand name attached to its small business card called Open.

    I just thought of an example of a company that discarded the brand name for a new product, and they then had trouble selling it into distributors, who in turn sell it to contractors. The plan was not to sell it at retail.

    About 2 - 3 years ago, I did the PR for a new decorator line of light switches, outlets, etc. from one of the biggest makers of electrical devices. They came up with a new name for their new line, and kept the parent name virtually hiddden. Electrical distributors, who control the supply channels for this type of product, were reluctant to take on this new unproven line. Might have been a different story if the establish and respected company name had been prominent.

    Generally, I would think the branding issues we've been discussing here would apply to B2B and services. Anyone else want to jump in?
  • Posted on Member
    I would think that in professional services, one needs to have either:

    1) Company Name + (Brand Name OR Description)
    where brand can be either a description of the service or a unique name
    (Ex: UPS Ground, Team Edition, Wells Fargo Business Checking, Amazon Gold Box, AT&T WiMax)

    2) Description alone
    where company name is implied from context or aforementioned.

    3) Brand name alone
    I can't think of many...I would like to think Paypal, but they were purchased by eBay not created (their BillPoint system never materialized). Any good suggestions?
  • Posted on Author
    "So, in summary, I am in agreement that it depends on how consumers view the brand, what it is known for, and what "they" call it. In some cases it works, but in most it won't." -- Jasonp

    That's it. There are no hard & fast rules. It's good tro look at history and consider theory as well, as Al and Laura say. But each situatrion has its own wrinkle, I feel.
  • Posted by SteveByrneMarketing on Accepted
    interesting stuff .....

    As with all marketing strategy - it depends on the situation. There is no rule, only the rule of marketplace acceptance.

    Keeping with the Coca Cola case study, I have thought for some time that cocoa-based beverages will be the next big thing for reasons of health, taste, women segments, etc. So the "Coca" part can also represents the cocoa bean.

    Coca Cola could launch a dark semi-sweet cocoa-based beverage by whatever recipe and still employ "Coca" as an integrated part of a brand name for the new product. No not "Cocoa Cola", but something the high priced Madison Ave guys could come up with. The key would be story and relevancy and not just a lame extension of the brand name - it just depends.

    Bitter is Better,

  • Posted on Author
    Thanks for joining in the discussion, Steve and David.

    Steve, Cocoa Cola doesn't sound crazy at all. I remember seeing, about a year ago, something called Black or Blak (can't recall the exact name) that was coffee-flavored Coke. I don't know how it's doing, but I do remember it tastd really bad. And I'm a big coffee drinker.

    David, Al and Laura will be happy to see your comment. Maybe some of those email newsletter authors will, too.
  • Posted on Member
    Thanks so much to everyone who participated in the Marketing Profs Book Club review of our book The Origin of Brands which I co-wrote with my daughter/partner Laura Ries.

    And an extra special thanks to CK for all her hard work and dedication to the improvement of marketing minds everywhere.

    For more branding information and debates check out

    Laura's blog at:

    and CK's at:

    - Al Ries
  • Posted on Accepted
    Well it's not closed yet so here some things for you to think about.

    Brands that use their brand in on a range of products, without specifying the products... Well you can think on vegetables. For example the company HAK in the Netherlands has glass jars with beans or corn or carrots or peas etc. Because of the glass you see what product it is, but the name is the same on all products.

    I don't know who, but someone once categorized line extensions on two dimensions. Familiarity of the company and familiarity of the existing users. This results in four categories.

    One, the company is familiar with the product and the existing consumer sees a positive link between the product and the brand. For example if HAK would go into another type of vegetable.

    Two, the company is familiar with the product but the existing user doesn't see the link that clearly. Having the same vegetable in the deep fridge could be such an example. So in this case HAK would aim at a different market.

    Third, the company is not used to it but the current user is. For example, the user has quite some experience in shakes, so maybe HAK can go into bottled vegetable shakes. This would mean they can sell to the same market, but they need quite some expertise to make the products quality good enough.

    The fourth example is the easiest to think of, for example HAK goes into any non food business. New product in a new market.

    Although the fourth category may not be advisable the larger companies have made a name for themselves in that way. See General Electric that is in making plastic to hosting a tv channel.

    There isn't a set rule for companies what to do when entering a new market. It is advisable to use a similar positioning for all the different companies though. Look at Mercedes, they introduced a smaller car, they extended their product line downwards, making the car less exclusive, which didn't help their sales at all, regardless of the problems Mercedes had with the quality of the car.

Post a Comment