Branding. It’s the single most important thing about marketing. A brand communicates how a company wants to be perceived – or how it wants you to think about its products. Branding is a combination of one part image, one part slogan, and 98 parts repitition. Great brands are not created overnight. They are built slowly, one message at a time, until the brand becomes etched in your conciousness. Brands are expensive to build. But their worth their weight in gold. Which makes it all the more interesting – and madning – when I see a company kill a brand that resonates with the public. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at three brands that have been killed-off by their corporate masters, and examine the who, what, and why they died (and perhaps why killing them was a dumb idea).
This rant was inspired by the recent news that the venerable brand of automatic dishwasher detergent, Electrasol, is changing it’s name to “Finish.” Electrasol has been around for about as long as automatic dishwashers. It’s owned by Reckitt Bencisker , a German company, that markets detergent across Europe, as well as the States. Apparently, the name change is to allow them to consolidate names, eventually eliminating the Electrosol name in the USA market. Frankly, brand consolidation can be a reasonable idea, when you have a global product strategy. For instance, if you have a service that is offered worldwide, it makes sense to call it by the same name across the globe. This ‘unified brand theory’ helps globetrotting customers identify the product no matter where they go. As far as Electrasol…uh…Finish…goes, I think that particular argument is pretty weak. I suspect this is more about being able to share advertising across global markets (never a good idea, by the way – think: “Mentos”), than it is to introduce a stronger brand. Reckitt will have to spend millions to transition from one brand to another – all to save a few bucks down the road on ad budgets. Dumb.
Remember Cingular? Of all the nationwide cell phone providers, Cingular was the brand that stood out from the pack. From it’s color scheme (orange) and its logo (kind of a stylized human jack) to their witty TV spots, Cingular was an instantly-identifiable brand. When AT&T bought out/acquired their brand partners, they opted to kill the brand and spend millions telling everybody “Cingular is now AT&T.” Swell. AT&T had a rep for bad service, worse tech support, and an imperious public face. Cingular was fun, friendly, and simple. AT&T would have been better served to simply keep both brands around – AT&T for corporate sales, and Cingular for retail customers. Killing Cingular was a decision based on corporate ego. Nothing less. Dumber.
I used to work for the Ames Division of Miles Labs. You remember Miles Labs? How about One-A-Day Multivitamins? Flinstones Chewables? Speedy Alka-Seltzer ring a bell? Miles Labs was a TV advertising pioneer. While the Alka-Seltzer brand survives, corporate parent Bayer A.G. killed off Miles (and Ames, for that matter) a few years ago. Again, this was a clear case of corporate ego, but the details are kind of intriguing, none the less.
At the end of World War II, the Allies nationalized many German corporations, and sold off their assets as a part of war reparations. Bayer A.G. (pronounced BUYer) was the creator of, you guessed it, aspirin. The formula for asprin was acquired by Sterling Drug of the good ol’ U.S. of A. Without its cash cow, it took Bayer a while to regain its former financial might, but recover it did. When last I worked for them, Bayer bought Miles Labs, Agfa photographic products, Linotype-Heil typographic products, and a slew of other companies. Eventually, they bought the one company that had elluded their grasp – Sterling Drug. Now you’d think, with a powerhouse stable of brands, they’d have left well enough alone. Nope. They’ve renamed practically everything they owned to the “Bayer” name. Miles Labs is no more. While that’s sad (and more than a little dumb), they also renamed their line of pesticides to the Bayer name (and familiar “asprin” logo – the one that looks like a railroad crossing sign). Now don’t get me wrong, I like Bayer Asprin. However, when I see the Bayer logo on a bag of lawn fertilizer and pesticides, it gives me pause. Do I really wanna take a medicine made by the same guys that make stuff to kill bugs? Now realize, there is NO cross-pollenization between divisions. I used to work for ’em. Toured the Elkhart, Indiana facilities. Cool stuff. But when I see the aspirin logo on a bag of pesticide, I gotta wonder about the wisdom of extending a brand to the point of no return. REALLY dumb.
Brands are precious things. They are not invulnerable. They can be destroyed by carelessness, inattention, starvation, neglect – a hundred different ways. But when a company murders it’s own brand to salve it’s own ego, you gotta wonder if the companies in question really appreciate what it takes to create an effective brand.