The Three Worst Brand Extensions. Ever.

“I’m hungry — I could really go for some Colgate Beef lasagna,” said no one ever.

Yet for some reason, Colgate decided back in the ’80s that there was a void in the frozen dinner market. A gap that could only be filled by a company that is known solely for making dental cleaning products.

This is a great example of when brand extensions — which can often be a great idea, like Apple getting into mobile phones — are just mind-explodingly bad.

You can just imagine that first meeting at Colgate, when someone asked “What else can we make that people can put in their mouths?” The thought of minty hygiene experts cooking up some beef pasta is just “cringey”, as my 12-year-old would say (I would probably have chosen the adjectives “stomach-turning” or “unjustifiable” … is “diabolical” a stretch?). Putting Colgate and food together goes against human nature. Against good marketing. Against eating.

Colgate was already making a product you are supposed to spit out. A product that is actually important not to swallow, according to health professionals. “Spit it out!” they warn. “Make sure your kids don’t swallow it!” And then “Let’s make lasagna!”

Sure, toothpaste tastes fine, but not good. No one wants to put it in their mouth except as a way to get decomposing food out from between their teeth. Or to freshen up a bit before a make-out sesh.

When you look at an image of the lasagna boxes Colgate put in grocery store freezers, even a hamster would know there’s something off. (I actually enjoy the fact that it’s behind glass in this photo, like it might escape. Or the fumes are potentially hazardous.)

Colgate could have at least minimized their well-known logo. Or created a second, more food-friendly version of it. Really, if it wasn’t doomed to failure from the start, then keeping a symbol synonymous with a tube of strong-tasting oral health goop front and centre was a no-fail way to drive any human with at least semi-decent eyesight away.

I give this brand extension effort a solid F.

The lesson? Shoot for the stars. Branch out. But don’t try something that sounds extremely (nay, bizarrely) different from what you’re current known for and good at. Baby steps.

But Colgate, god love the company, was not the only one to give sketchy brand extensions a try.

Zippo lighter fluid perfume

Here’s a hypothetical: Perhaps the marketing experts at Zippo heard that some people were huffing their product. Awful, right? But aside from the horror of feeling tangentially responsible for the death of more than a few million brain cells, is it possible that they were also a tiny bit flattered? Inspired, even? Optimistic enough to wonder if there was a way to be associated with sniffing instead of snorting?

Enter Zippo’s “The Woman”, a scent that promises to “Light your power”. I’m not sure what it smells like (funny, it’s not in my local perfume store), but apparently the scent was floral, green, fruity, woody, and citrus. They forgot to mention butane.

Were I to try out this potentially heady concoction, I would pay attention to see what happens. Specifically, I would watch for: 1) accidentally bursting into flame at the wrists and collarbone when leaning in during romantic candlelight dinners; 2) inadequately wrapping pink ribbons boxing-style around my hands while I sport an alluring “put your dukes up” pose in random public places.

It’s hard to understand the thinking behind this brand extension. Perhaps it’s meant as an expensive air/skin/hair/clothing freshener since things that are associated with the Zippo brand generally smell unattractive.

At best, this would at least partly mask the scent of nicotine. At worst, one risks spraying themselves in the eye with perfume after digging out their “lighter” to have a smoke.

This brand extension gets a D+ from me. Kind of a cute bottle idea. But what woman wants to say “Zippo” when you ask them what scent they’re wearing? Guaranteed confusion.

Harley-Davidson wine coolers

This kind of makes me go “awww,” like when a child hands a stick to you as a present. It’s so naïve, it’s adorable. But at least kids do it in the moment. Harley-Davidson put a lot of money and forethought into this one.

Some of you may already know that Harley-Davidson weren’t successful with their wine coolers. Why? I’ll start with the obvious: DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE. I know Mr. Harley and Mr. Davidson aren’t advocating that we drink and drive, but c’mon now. The optics of associating the two even loosely are not good. People are dead. Mothers are angry. No one needs to call Ford to tell them to hold back on releasing that cab sauv they’ve been working on, because they know better. So should Harley-Davidson.

A close second to this head-smacker is the fact that when one thinks of Harley-Davidson, the image of a massive, tough, bicep-wielding giant version of a human comes to mind. Lots of testosterone. Maybe freshly released on bail. And at least one aggressively folded bandana.

This is definitely not to say this stereotype is true of all Harley riders — absolutely not — but it’s still a pretty common stereotype.

So how did they get from “scary biker guy” to “white wine coolers”? Sure, I know the ladies like their hogs as much as the gentlemen, but they’re not who we think of when we envision the typical rider. It’s just weird to put a potential felon and white wine coolers together.

My third imagined reason why this didn’t work: The Harley guys already put their brand on pretty much everything. A quick scan of eBay showed me a H-D housekey (“WITH SKULL AND WINGS!”), poker chips, and a delicious used (sorry — “vintage”) pillow case.

The company is clearly making a lot of money. Brand extension works well for them. Kudos. But companies would do well to take note and be careful to identify the kinds of swag they might not want to get into. Set a boundary, kids.

On the “don’t drink and drive” argument alone, this one gets an F from me.

Do you have a favourite example of failed brand extension? Send it to us at info@pondstone.ca!