Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: On Shaky Grounds

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: On Shaky Grounds

Article excerpt

By attempting a line extension into instant coffee, Starbucks risks damaging its crucial brand equity.

Starbucks is trialling a new coffee called Starbucks Via in its London cafes. Unlike the chain's traditional fare, it is an instant coffee that offers consumers the opportunity to enjoy their favourite brew in the comfort of their own homes.

What is driving the product launch is no mystery. Via is an attempt to retain sales, albeit less profitable ones, from recession-hit consumers who are spending less on life's little luxuries, like Grande Caffe Lattes.

Meanwhile, in Zurich, football governing body FIFA has decided to kick off a major product diversification, too. It is to complement its existing business, running some of the world's biggest sporting tournaments, by getting into clothing. In August, FIFA will launch five clothing ranges linked to football and the 2010 World Cup, in South Africa.

Both of these initiatives, like the vast majority of new launches, are likely to fail. Yet, one of them is much more risky. They may appear to be similar attempts at diversification, but one is a line extension, while the other is a brand extension. Although most marketers struggle to differentiate between these two concepts, the distinction has critical implications.

FIFA's clothing is an example of a brand extension. Here, a company leaps from its existing category (running football competitions) and uses its brand awareness to open a bridge into a completely new category (clothing). A great deal of research has been done on brand extensions over the past 20 years and we know a lot about how they work and why they usually fail.

We also know something crucial about the impact FIFA's clothing will have on its reputation as a footballing organisation: none whatsoever When you embark on a brand extension like this, it's unlikely that the new venture will do any damage to the original brand, even if it is executed badly.

Starbucks' Via, however, is an entirely different cup of coffee altogether. It is a line extension, which means a company uses its brand to launch an additional product or service in its existing category. The good news is that line extensions are easier to develop, and often more successful, than fanciful brand extension ventures.

However, the bad news is that when a line extension fails, particularly when it offers a poor experience, the fact that it is in the same category as its parent brand poses a much greater risk of damage to that brand. …

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