Academic journal article IUP Journal of Brand Management

Positioning in the Mind versus Brand Extension: The Revision of Ries and Trout

Academic journal article IUP Journal of Brand Management

Positioning in the Mind versus Brand Extension: The Revision of Ries and Trout

Article excerpt


According to Doyle (1975 and 1990), marketers own the concept of brands in much the same way that economists own the concept of neoclassic micro-economy or the field of postmodern philosophy owns the concept of discourse. Very closely linked to the concept of brands is the concept of positioning (Trout and Rivkin, 1999). Positioning appears both on a tactic level within the marketing mix framework, besides, price, place and promotion, and the product to be positioned (Kotler and Keller, 2013). Simultaneously, positioning is considered as a strategic concept within marketing, over and above the marketing mix in relation to segmenting and targeting, a concept that adds consistency and coherence to the marketing mix elements.

For example, given a premium positioning, a brand like Audi may charge a higher price for their cars (Kotler, 1980) Consequently, positioning constantly reiterates between strategic and tactic level in the marketing mix; in addition, positioning iterates between positioning of the physical product and positioning in the mind of the consumer (Ries and Trout, 1980). A consequence of the positioning as mind-battle is that brands cannot be leveraged, not even through line extensions. In fact, Ries and Trout (1980) raise a warning against all forms of line and category extensions:

After its initial success, Volkswagen however fell into the line-extension trap. In addition to the original Beetle, it began to promote the station wagon, the larger sedan (the 412), the sporty car (the Dasher) and the jeep-style vehicle (the Thing).

In positioning, according to Ries and Trout, it is continuously argued that line - extensions and brand-extensions are impossible strategies and a sure road to ruin. According to Urde and Koch (2014), positioning can be viewed either as an outside-in or ban inside-out process within strategic brand management, from the market to the firm or from the firm to the market. More recently, positioning has come to include more complex strategies such as ingredient branding positioning (Desai and Keller, 2002), positioning strategies for leader, follower and niche brands and positioning within brand portfolios (Chailan, 2009).


The objective of the paper is to discuss and balance the critique of the positioning theories developed by Ries and Trout (1980) from the scholary oriented perspective of brand theory and brand leverage theory.

Critique on the Positioning in Relation to Brand Extension

Critiques from the American School of Thought

One of the strongest critical voices on the brand positioning concept as formulated by Al Ries and Jack Trout was raised by Aaker (2012) in his classic HBR-blog He starts by recapturing the very essence of their work and how they perceive that brand positioning inhibits brand extensions:

Their argument is that brand positioning strength is context sensitive, and if the brand is exported to another product area, its image-particularly its connection with a product class and any related benefit-will be weakened and confused often causing lasting damage. Thus, any gain in marketing efficiencies is just not worth the risk (Aaker, 2012).

After signaling their line of argument, the weaknesses in the book by Ries and Trout are developed in quite strong terms:

However, their judgment that practically all extensions are strategic mistakes is just wrong. In a subsequent 1993 book, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, they doubled down on their anti- extension advice saying "a line extension ultimate leads to oblivion" and warning that to be successful you have to narrow a brand's focus (Aaker, 2012).

Aaker (2012) then argues that brand extensions can enhance the brands association, rather than detract from it, provide meaning and momentum to the brand, broaden the meaning of the brand, and that brand relevance in the core-category should be relatively little affected by the extensions. …

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