Brand stretch or brand fit?
Every once in a while a company decides to diversify its offerings and leverage its brand name in a different product category. In marketing speak, it’s often called a brand extension or spinoff.
These extensions can be tricky to navigate, though. On the one hand, a business can start seeking new vessels to host its brand promise; but on the other, an unsuccessful extension can ring hollow and damage your image. How far can you stretch a brand, then? Whether it’s a full-fledged brand extension or a promotional item that helps consumers experience the brand in new ways, it’s important for the new product to be seen as a strategic fit. When the product bears little relationship to the original brand it risks being perceived as a non-strategic stretch.
Here are some brand fits and brand stretches we’ve witnessed in recent months.
Kentucky Flying Object
Ever thought you’d see interactive, imaginative, forward-looking, state-of-the-art innovations by…a fast food chain? Apparently, Kentucky Fried Chicken is good at making more than just fried chicken. The brand claims that there are two kinds of wings: “The finger lickin’ good ones and ones that can fly.” Its India-only packaging for the newly announced Smoky Grilled Wings brings this to life. Each meal box doubles as a DIY drone, with detachable parts that can be assembled into a Bluetooth-enabled quadcopter and controlled with a smartphone app.
Nor is this a one-off for KFC. It has a history of extending its brand into completely unrelated categories. To celebrate 30 years of operating in the Chinese market, KFC partnered with Huawei to slap Colonel Sanders’ face onto the back of limited edition smartphones. They come in KFC Red and are pre-installed with a KFC-branded music app. The fast food chain also has dared to take on beauty and skincare — first with edible, finger lickin’ good nail polish; then with an SPF 30 sunscreen that makes you smell like fried chicken. Another high-tech advertising campaign in Germany involved the KFC Tray Typer, an ultra-thin flexible keyboard that replaces the paper inserts in fast-food trays to help greasy hands use smartphones remotely.
At this point, it would be surprising for KFC not to push its brand name into unexpected categories. Its marketing and promotional strategy is to be pointedly non-strategic. Hopefully a museum displaying these promotional products as collector’s items is in the making. Add that to your bucket list.
Scent by Downy
P&G’s fabric softener brand Downy helped create a flower-shaped, Bluetooth-enabled promotional device that releases one of Downy Unstoppables’ three branded scents whenever a related keyword is typed into a text message. Relying on the insight that our sense of smell is responsible for triggering emotions, Downy helped reinvigorate mobile messaging, an activity that can often feel devoid of emotion. For a brand that has built an enduring strategy over the decades around the power of fragrance, a scent device with a unique sensory experience makes a lot of scents.
Nando’s Restaurant Recording Studio
Nando’s Music Exchange initiative to support emerging South African musicians is another example of a marriage of seemingly disparate elements: chicken and music. To celebrate the Music Exchange’s fourth year, the Johannesburg-based restaurant took things a step further, opening a free-to-book music studio at its Soho restaurant in London. We have to yet to see if the “hot tunes” concept strikes a chord and generates brand awareness for the restaurant chain, or hits a flat note.
Why Drink and Drive When You Can Drink and Lyft
Lyft’s newest marketing tactic involves selling promotional beers printed with codes for discounted rides. “Five Star Lager,” inspired by the ride-sharing app’s rating system, is a rebranded version of one of the beers from Chicago microbrewery Baderbräu. While the logic might be sound, the jury is out on the ethics of a taxi company encouraging the consumption of the very alcohol that impairs your ability to drive.
Adidas Dips Its Toes in Trains
Adidas just created sneakers that double as Berlin transit tickets. A fabric version of the annual pass is sewn into the shoe tongues. Even though the idea of Adidas and Berlin’s transport authority (BVG) collaborating sounds like a stretch, it’s mutually beneficial. A shoe company has the opportunity to redefine being on the move, and a 90-year old transit network gets to make public transport cool again. Let’s hope these limited-edition kicks don’t become so exclusive that they spur a flurry of knockoffs or sell for thousands of dollars on eBay instead of being worn as actual train passes.
Do marketers extend brands on a whim or is there a method to the madness? No matter how unexpected or unlikely the extension or promotional item, it should strategically fit the brand and align with its core values. A brand would do well to think outside the box and explore new territories, for sometimes the rewards can be exponential. Take the Michelin Guide and Guinness World Records. Each represents the Holy Grail of brand extensions. The annual publications prove that their original brands are in the business of travel and awe, not the tire or beer business.
The success of such an exercise depends on whether it gets a “whoa!” or a “huh?” from the marketplace. The best brand fits make so much sense that they make you wonder why the company didn’t think of it sooner, while brand stretches make you wonder what it really stands for.