Photo by: Paul Watabe (Fuji Rock ‘06)

Brands: followers, tribes and re-branding failures

Branding Essentials: Lesson 1 @ Red Academy, Vancouver BC

Brand followers and tribes

When branding goes right, you have followers of a brand, someone who is a fan or devotee of a brand. When brand loyalty sets in, brand communities are formed. And when additional passion is thrown in, loyal followers who begin to take initiatives, connect with each other, have a leader then a tribe is formed.

Harley Davidson

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A great example of brand tribe is Harley Davidson. Tribe members don’t just ride Harley Davidson motorcycles, they wear jackets, shirts, hats, and patches of the logo, any many also proudly sport tattoos of the brand a well.

The Harley Davidson brand represents a lifestyle, and by following this brand, becoming a tribe member, you join a community, a family where like-minded people can bond and share experiences.

The Harley Davidson brand is seen as an American icon, a symbol of American freedom, the spirit of individualism, excitement and rebelling against the mainstream.

Followers and tribe members of this brand in the past have been viewed as outlaw rebel bikers, and more recently Caucasian baby-boomers who are looking to be a bit rebellious, if some-what reliving a younger past. But today, numbers are changing, as followers and tribe members encompasses a wider net, where young adults (18–34), Women, Hispanics and African-Americans now are growing and may soon outnumber the so-called core 35+ Caucasian men followers.

Star Wars

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With the recent release of “The Force Awakens” the Star Wars brand has once again shown to people around the world, how the force is strong with this brand, and how it can spread its wings and increase their number of followers and tribe members. With the additional forces of influencers and tribal leaders, the Star Wars brand has become something very unique as followers or superfans encompass all ages and sexes.

The core followers of the Star Wars brand includes people who share the same creative imaginary world and story which the brand represents. And from parent to child, the brand inspires fans to become superfans.


The Vancouver company Lululemon which designs and retails yoga-centric fitness apparel has a tribe of followers who are mainly women and yoga enthusiasts. This brand speaks to people who embrace a healthy lifestyle, have athletic pursuits and who may follow holistic practices. Similar to Harley Davidson, Lululemon represents a lifestyle of people who want to look and feel good, and have a solid sense of balance in work and in life.

Re-branding failures

When a business plans to expand their operation with their popular brand, one strategy they might utilize is brand extension. Without careful research, and planning, there are plenty of opportunities for failure with re-branding attempts.


In 1974, the baby food company which is known as the producer of easy to consume single serving portions attempted to extend their brand. An attempt at rebranding their product as a ready to eat single serving meal for college students and young adults who are living on their own for the first time was made, but failed terribly.

A number of factors may have led to the failure with this rebranding. Consuming a mush of meat from a glass jar isn’t what one might call, a delightful meal. Gerber has a strong brand image which is tied to infants and a somewhat grown man eating with a spoon from such a brand probably won’t present the image of being hip and cool. And finally, the targeted consumer must be fairly confident about himself to purchase such a product in public. A liquid dinner in a glass jar surely can’t present an image of cool, but instead a image of sad, single and lonely.

What could have Gerber done? Surely there must have been another method of presenting liquid meat dinner than a baby jar. Today, protein shakes, energy gels and meal replacement gels can be found as disposable items in the sporting athletic or outdoor industry. Repacking the product away from glass jars and moving away from liquid meat might have been a step in the right direction.

Another Gerber branding failure doesn’t have to do with rebranding, but not understanding local cultures. When Gerber attempted to increase market share of their baby food product in a number of African countries, Gerber failed to understand that local marketing methods. In African countries, to make it easier for illiterate consumers to find what product is canned or in a jar, images of the said product is placed on the label. Alas, one can only imagine what many locals believed this new company, Gerber was trying to market to them.

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