To be or not to be, that, for many brands, is the question!

What connects the following companies: Vine, ToysRUs, Debenhams, The Weinstein Company, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Gawker, American Apparel, Compaq? You’ve nailed it. They no longer exist. As Monty Python might have said. “They are ex-brands. They have ceased to be.

Sometimes killing off a brand is easy because it’s simply a bad idea. Like Dasani, the Coca-Cola water brand that was launched in the UK in 2004. It flopped for one key reason. The water – which is quite important for a water brand – was not a deliciously pure liquid extracted from an Alpine glacier. No, it simply poured out of a pipe near London when you turned on the tap. It was purified a little and then presented in a blue bottle. Half a litre of tap water cost 0.03p at the time; half a litre of Dasani cost 95p… a mark-up of up to 3,166%. Despite a launch budget of millions, Coke pulled the plug five weeks later…

Amazin’ brand judgement

Ditching a brand after all the development and marketing costs sometimes proves a company has a rare ability to see the big picture. It wasn’t a disaster perhaps, but it also wasn’t good enough. It felt wrong. When the Amazon Fire phone was launched in 2018 most presumed it would prove a success. But Bezos pulled the plug. It just wasn’t working. It wasn’t… Amazon.

“Amazon will be experimenting at the right scale for a company of our size if we occasionally have multibillion-dollar failures,” Bezos wrote in the company’s 2019 letter to shareholders. “If the size of your failures isn’t growing, you’re not going to be inventing at a size that can actually move the needle,” he added.

The closure of a brand may also be inevitable – even if the decision is tinged with sadness – because customers change. Imagine watching the final curtain at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus after all those performers – trapeze artists and strong men, big-shoed clowns and clapping sea lions – had entertained families since 1884. Criss-crossing the country is expensive when your audience is turning to the magic of digital TV.

Toys Were Us… fun while it lasted

Sometimes, too, the competitive landscape can suddenly change. Like the sudden arrival of the core Amazon proposition. I remember taking my two wide-eyed children to the cavernous fun-packed halls of Toys R Us where they would run around causing havoc. So many toys and games and kits to inspire colourful passions and hobbies… To just close the doors for a final time without a suitable fanfare seems all wrong. Or even a missed opportunity?

This is a point well made by marketing guru Mark Ritson. “The focus is always on launching, on scaling up and growth hacking”, he writes in Marketing Week. “Nobody in our profession talks about killing products or sending them off into that good night with an appropriate farewell, finishing the brand story with a final moment of consistency and leaving employees and consumers feeling the fulfilling catharsis of a perfect end.”

There’s no doubt that some brands – especially if they are part of a huge conglomerate’s product portfolio – should be allowed to expire with dignity. The likes of Unilever and  P&GT have certainly been consolidating by cutting brands that look past their sell-by date. As part of a long-term strategy, it is also beneficial as reducing one brand from the supermarket shelf leaves space in which to launch a new and more timely product.

Brands – the end is inevitable… almost

In the world of marketing, we ought to be better at dealing with the often terminal nature of brands. After all, according to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, every year more than 30,000 new consumer products are launched and a remarkable 95% of them fail. And of the 40% of products that make it to the market only 60% end up creating any revenue at all.

The flip side to such gloomy numbers is that once a brand is established then it can expect to have an impressive life expectancy. Many of us still enjoy buying brands that we first experienced as children. And many of those brands were already long in the tooth. Classics like Baker’s Chocolate, which was first produced in 1764 and Jim Beam in 1795, making whippersnappers of young pretenders Dr. Pemberton’s Coca-cola (1886) or John Ford’s Model T in 1903.

So it’s no surprise marketers love to talk up their brand. That, after all, is largely the point of the job. Launches and relaunches – and re-relaunches? – are fun. So, too, is a packaging refresh or a price point tweak, a breakthrough ad campaign or a new influencer awareness drive. Brands are fascinating entities. They can be loved and nurtured and grown. And, with some clever handling, they can reach a ripe old age. 

If you need any assistance nurturing your own brand or product, we’d love to help!

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