The dubious practice of double branding.

April 1, 2007

Branding is so popular in boardrooms today that some companies are overdoing it. “If one brand is good,” goes the thinking, “then two must be better.”

Years ago, Taster’s Choice o ]]>

The seldom-told s ]]>

Well, the folks in Vevey finally got their way. Since 2003 Taster’s Choice is now officially “Nescafé Taster’s Choice.”

It’s a trend. Glide is now “Crest Glide.” Cottonelle is now “Kleenex Cottonelle.”

SpinBrush is now “Crest SpinBrush.” And so it goes.

Consumers, however, will usually use one name instead of two. Nobody in their right mind would write Nescafé Taster’s Choice on a shopping list. Or Crest Glide. Or Kleenex Cottonelle. It’s just Taster’s Choice, Glide and Cottonelle.

Furthermore, the most powerful brands are those that stand on their own, without corporate endorsements or master-brand hocus-pocus. If Nestlé bought Red Bull (an acquisition they should definitely consider), should the brand be re-badged as “Nestlé Red Bull?” I think not.

Strong brands are invariably a single word or concept. Absolut, Barbie, BlackBerry, Duracell, Gatorade, Häagen-Daz, Jell-O, Listerine, Mercedes-Benz, Olive Garden, Q-tips, Ritz-Carlton, Rolex, Tylenol, Victoria’s Secret.

Adding a corporate endorsement to these (and many other single-concept brands) would weaken them, not strengthen them. “DaimlerChrysler’s Mercedes-Benz” is not a concept that is going to attract any additional customers to the Mercedes brand.

It’s easy to misread this assertion. “Look at what corporate endorsement has done for the Apple iPod,” you might be thinking.

It’s actually the opposite. Look at what the success of the iPod has done for the reputation of Apple. The iPod is the brand name of Apple’s music player. “Apple” is nothing more than a corporate endorsement which the iPod didn’t need when it was introduced and doesn’t need now.

I have never met a single person who refers to his or her music player as an “Apple.” Everybody calls them “iPods.”

The same thing is true of many, many other double-branded products. Nobody calls their videogame consoles “Sony.” They call them “PlayStations.” The same is true of Microsoft and Xbox. Motorola and Razr.

There are exceptions. Many times a corporate endorsement smothers the brand name making it as useful as an appendix. Sony Bravia television sets and Sony Vaio computers, for example.

How many consumers will say “I bought a Bravia TV?” Almost none. The same is true of Vaio, an acronym for “video audio integrated operation” which also means nothing.

And how about Sharp Aquos television sets? Or Sharp Zaurus smartphones?

One reason new products are often double branded is research. Few mega corporations would consider launching a major new product without extensive consumer research which often involves brand names.

Take Crest Whitestrips, for example. Even though the product has little to do with toothpaste, Procter & Gamble still stuck its toothpaste name on the brand. Why? Research suggested that consumers would have more confidence in the product if it had the Crest name on the package than if it had a totally new name. (To be honest, in Cincinnati Crest is not a toothpaste brand, it’s an oral-care brand.)

Research can lead a company astray because consumers prefer the known to the unknown.

Before Dietrich Mateschitz launched Red Bull, he hired a market research firm to test the concept. “People didn’t believe the taste, the logo, the brand name,” he said. “I’d never before experienced such a disaster.”

But he launched it anyway. And today Red Bull does $3.4 billion in worldwide sales.

You’ll find very few Red Bulls in the portfolios of Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Heinz, Kellogg and General Mills. A shocking name (Red Bull) combined with a totally new category name (energy drink) is just not going to test very well.

Would you use a search site called “Google” or would you prefer to use a search site with the Microsoft name? Before the launch of Google, there’s no question which site consumers would prefer.

“Known” names come with a lot of baggage. A known name already stands for something in the mind. In Microsoft’s case, software. How can Microsoft also stand for search?

Companies often rationalize double branding by insisting that the brand is actually “Whitestrips” and “Crest” is the endorser. In a sense, that’s true.

It’s also the major reason for the recent rash of weak brand names. When you start with a strong brand name (Crest) and then try to combine it with another strong brand name, you have a problem. Two strong brand names will fight each other. The only solution is to combine a strong brand name with a weak “generic-type” name. Crest with Whitestrips, for example.

Take Campbell Soup’s portfolio of double brands.

• Campbell’s with Chunky.
• Campbell’s with Soup at Hand.
• Campbell’s with Select. Chunky, Soup at Hand and Select are all trademarks of the Campbell Soup Company, but hardly powerful brands. They are no better, in my opinion, that descriptive words would have been: chunky, microwavable and restaurant-style.

Nowhere is double branding more rampant than in the automobile industry. Yet some of the most powerful automotive brands don’t use double branding at all. They just use letters and numbers to differentiate their models. Lexus, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti and Volvo, for example. Some of their numbers actually make sense, as in the 3 series, 5 series and 7 series from BMW.

One double brander (Acura) found that its Legend model had higher name recognition than the master brand. So for the 1996 model year, the Legend became the TL. In five years, Acura’s name recognition went up 25 percent. Compared to 1996, Acura sales last year were up 86 percent.

Compare Acura with the double-brander Chevrolet. In the same time period, Chevrolet sales were down 5 percent.

Or rather Astro, Avalanche, Aveo, Blazer, Cavalier, Classic, Cobalt, Colorado, Corvette, Equinox, Express/G, HHR, Impala, Malibu, Monte Carlo, Silverado, SSR, Suburban, Tahoe, TrailBlazer, Uplander & Venture sales were down 5 percent.