Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Beckham Backlash Shows Pitfalls of Branding

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Beckham Backlash Shows Pitfalls of Branding

Article excerpt

Much has been written about the David Beckham brand. Until recently, most of this coverage had adopted an extremely positive view of branding - Beckham has become a case study in the advantages of building a brand.

But his performances at Euro 2004 and the subsequent public reaction against him now afford us an equally valuable insight into the strategic disadvantages of a powerful brand.

A strong brand is often tempted to extend into new markets and activities.

In Beckham's case, fashion, music and shopping have been added to some of his more mundane duties, such as practice and training.

By drifting from core markets and core competences, brands can get into trouble. Twenty years ago, the strength of the Gucci brand allowed the firm to license its name to more than 12,000 products, but this enormous portfolio threatened Gucci's future. It was only when the Gucci family removed most of these extensions and returned its focus to the world of leather goods and fashion that the brand was revived.

Another danger of extending a strong brand is its relative vulnerability to specialist competitor brands that are not as diversified or diluted.

Wayne Rooney is the footballing equivalent of a specialist brand; all he does is eat, sleep and talk football. His recent displacement of Beckham as England's football idol demonstrates the power of focus over generality.

Similarly, the Land Rover Freelander is a clear market leader in the economy SUV category, ahead of brand extensions from bigger car companies such as Toyota and Honda. Land Rover is a specialist; it only makes SUVs.

This focus and its perceived or actual expertise are the keys to its success.

Strong brands also face a problem meeting customer expectations. We expect a strong brand to be better than its weaker rivals, and as a result our expectations increase. England lost to Portugal because of two missed penalties - one from Beckham and one from Darius Vassell. Vassell received great sympathy after his miss, while Beckham was vilified.

A strong brand is built on exceeding customer expectations, but that track record can be tricky to maintain. When Virgin entered the farrago that is the UK railway market, customers expected Sir Richard Branson to sort things out. The fact that Virgin's west-coast operation is no worse than all the other rail operators is no consolation to customers. …

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