Line Extension Intervention

October 1, 2008


Line extensions are like drugs. And like drugs which we all know can be deadly, the long term risks are often overlooked for some short term fun.



A nightclub filled with young, beautiful, successful people high on cocaine doesn’t look so dangerous it looks like a rocking party. That first time club user never imagines becoming a junkie living on the street. But it often happens. And what seemed cool initially can take over your life destroying everything you once had.



Line extension works the same way. A little can feel great but soon you are addicted. The addiction takes over and you can’t stop. You end up losing your category, marketshare and meaning. For some it happens quickly for others is can take years but eventually you wake up and you have a brand like Chevrolet that doesn’t stand for anything anymore.



Why don’t people heed the danger of drugs or line extensions? Because drug use and line extension abuse have been romanticized. Line extensions get glorified in the trade press the way drug use gets glamorized in the movies.



You read about all the new and exciting line extension launches but rarely read about the abysmal results. Movies are filled with alcohol, drugs and cigarettes yet rarely address consequences from these vices.



So we the masses are left with a false impression that everybody is doing it, it’s fun and nobody ever gets hurt. Therefore, the few straight-arrows at the party not partaking in the fun feel like losers.



But like the losers in high school that studied and are now successful, rich and powerful; the losers that don’t line extend will be the ultimate winners in the marketplace.



Today, more than ever, the pressure is on to just maintain market share and sales numbers. So the temptation for a quick line-extension bump is hard to resist. But remember, that short term rush isn’t worth it, when you come down from the high in a few months time your branding problems may be far worse that today. It takes guts to just say no. But in the end you’ll be glad you did.



Big food companies in particular are addicted to line extensions. Corporate culture in these company rewards line extension internally. Brand managers spend an average of 16 months on a brand so an easy way to look busy and pad your resume is to launch a line extension. The problems caused by that extension are left to the unlucky guy or gal who gets the brand next.



That’s why new powerful brands are not being launched by big companies, they are being launched by entrepreneurs. VitaminWater would have never been launched by Cola-Cola. A company who had the bright idea to launch Diet Coke Plus with vitamins.





Coca-Cola had to buy VitaminWater for a pretty penny. Why can't the world's best beverage company launch a successful new brand itself? Because they only do line extensions and me-too products. It is a tragedy.



But you can’t blame the addicts, corporate culture pushed the idea on them and now they are hooked. Line extension is a disease. We need treatment for these people. Perhaps they should be locked up and forced to read Ries books.



The really scary thing is that line extension addiction has hit an all time high. Walk down the aisle of any supermarket and you can see the carnage. Almost every grocery brand is a mess. The shelves are crammed with too many varieties, flavors and extensions. The average consumer is overwhelmed, confused and usually disappointed.



How many of you are like me and came home with the wrong product? Bought caffeine-free Coke instead of Diet caffeine-free Coke? I have bought the wrong kind of Cheez-Its, Oreos, Cheerios, Campbell’s soup, Gatorade, Tide, Crest, Kraft cheese, Thomas’ English muffins and Coca-Cola more times than I would like to admit here. I am smart, I am careful, and even I have a hard time shopping.



Then imagine the disaster when I send my darling husband to the store. Even with a list in hand, the poor guy has no idea what to buy. I put Goldfish, English muffins, Oreos, Tide and Dannon on the list and the man is at a total loss and needs several phone calls home to get help. And even with all that he comes home with the wrong stuff and gets yelled at.



I say it is time for an intervention. You think America’s addiction to oil and drugs is bad, just take a look at our addiction to line extension.



Next time your kids rush to the side lines for some Gatorade ask them “Will that be with Tiger or without?”


Tiger gatorade


Tiger is a line extension of Gatorade! It is just about the craziest thing I have ever seen. What executive green lighted this idea?



I think we need an intervention at many corporations, I would start with the executives at Gatorade. Perhaps it could be pitched as the next great reality show: Line Extension Intervention.



I'll lock up executives up in brand rehab and make them follow my 12-step program.


The Twelve Steps of Line Extension Anonymous 


Step 1: Admit our company has become powerless over line extension and that our brands have become meaningless.


Step 2: Believe that a brand guru greater than ourselves can help bring sanity and return brand focus.


Step 3: Make a decision to turn our brand over to the care of the teachings of focus.


Step 4: Make a searching and fearless inventory of what has weakened our brand.


Step 5: Admit to ourselves, our colleges and our shareholders the exact nature of our line extension wrongs.


Step 6: Be ready to remove every ridiculous line extensions from the brand portfolio.


Step 7: Ask distribution to take these line extension disasters off the shelf.


Step 8: Humbly ask consumers to forget our brand sins.


Step 9: Make direct amends to such people who got stuck buying terrible line extensions when possible.


Step 10: Continue to take a brand inventory to maintain focus.


Step 11: Practice daily affirmation of focus and promise to stay true to the mission of having a brand stand for something in the mind.


Step 12: Have a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps and take this message to other line extension addicts.


May the Focus be with You!