Brand Marketing Search Engine

Monday, March 26, 2007

Brand Extension: Pond’s toothpaste

Pond’s, the popular brand of face cream, didn’t prove to be quite so popular when it applied its name to toothpaste. In a blind test environment, people were not able to differentiate Pond’s toothpaste from that of Colgate.

However, when the Pond’s name and imagery were attached to the toothpaste, no-one was interested. Although Pond’s had successfully extended its brand before (into soap products, for instance), these extensions had all been linked by a similar fragrance. ‘The main attribute of a toothpaste is taste, this mismatch between taste and fragrance created a dissonance in the minds of consumers,’ says Dr M J Xavier, professor of marketing at the Indian Institute of Marketing. ‘To most people Ponds was something to do with fragrance and freshness and used for external application only.’

Brand Idea Failures: Thirsty Cat! and Thirsty Dog!

Bottled water for pets

The worst of all bad ideas must surely be the Thirsty Cat! and Thirsty Dog! brands of bottled water designed for pampered pets. Although the water came in such ‘thirst-quenching’ flavours as Crispy Beef and Tangy Fish, pets and their owners remained unimpressed.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Brand PR Failures: Firestone tyres

The success of many brands is determined by the right partnership. This is certainly the case where one product is dependent on another. For instance, software developers and computer manufacturers need each other, and can often achieve better results if they join forces. Similarly, if you produce tyres you need to build and sustain good relations with a car company.

Any tyre manufacturer who can boast Ford Motor Company as a customer is therefore at a significant advantage. Equally, to lose such a customer could be viewed as disastrous and something which should be prevented at all costs, especially if you have been working together for almost a century. And yet on 21st May 2001, US tyre company Firestone announced that it would no longer supply Ford with original equipment tyres in either North or South America. Although Firestone was still prepared to work with Ford in Europe and Asia, this accounts for a meagre 25 per cent of its turnover with Ford.

Even though three-quarters of tyres sold are ‘aftermarket sales’, a significant number of Ford customers replace their tyres with the same brand.

To appreciate the true significance of this wilful departure it is necessary to understand the two company’s shared history. The relationship between Ford and Firestone certainly goes back a long way – to 1908 in fact, the year Harvey Firestone first supplied tyres to Henry Ford for the Model T.

Although the two men had their disagreements, the Ford Motor Company used more of Firestone’s tyres than any other brand, and the relationship survived long after the founders’ deaths.

Even when the Japanese tyre company Bridgestone purchased Firestone in 1988, Ford continued to be its number one customer. In the 1990s, Ford was buying about 40 per cent of its tyres from Firestone, far more than from any other manufacturer.

However, Firestone has suffered more than any of its competitors from a number of high profile tyre failures. In 1977, the US government forced a recall of around 14 million tyres after 41 deaths and even more injuries were apparently caused by blowouts of the Firestone ‘500’ tyres. Following all the negative PR this caused, Firestone lost its number one market position, to rival Goodyear.

Despite a decline in sales, the relationship with Ford was maintained intact.

It was only when the quality of Firestone tyres was again placed under the spotlight in the late 1990s that trouble erupted between the two companies. In 1999, Ford received a number of complaints from customers in Thailand and Saudi Arabia, and ordered a recall of its cars in those regions. The company also asked Firestone to investigate these complaints. After taking six months to conduct the investigation, Firestone declared there was no problem with its tyres.

Now, however, the situation had spread to the United States, where a series of traffic accidents had prompted a Texan TV station to carry out an exposé of the problem. At the same time, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched an official enquiry in which both Ford and Firestone had to submit evidence.

While Firestone agreed to co-operate with the NHTSA, at first the company refused to supply any information on faulty tyres to Ford. When it eventually did so, Ford immediately subjected the data to heavy scrutiny and showed its findings to the NHTSA. The findings apparently confirmed that the tread of the tyres separated when the car was driven at high speed. Within four days, the NHTSA issued a mandatory recall notice.

Firestone was still determined to fight its corner. When Ford suggested the company publish all the data on its tyres, Firestone refused, maintaining that the main cause of the accidents was the design and specification of the Ford Explorer. Their argument is explained by the editorial team of the Web site:

In order to give a more comfortable ride, Ford had ignored Firestone’s recommendation of tyre pressures in the 30–36 psi range and had recommended pressures at the bottom end of that range. Any neglect by owners had resulted in under-inflated tyres which ran hotter than they should, especially in desert conditions, and if the treads did strip off, the vehicles were more inclined to roll over because they have a higher centre of gravity.

Whether Firestone has a point or not, its brand has been considerably damaged by the very public mud-slinging as both it and Ford tried to dodge the blame for the accidents. It all came to a head when Ford announced it would replace up to 13 million Firestone tyres. Ford explained that, ‘tyres not covered in the original recall could experience increased failure rates.’ This decision came a day after Firestone abandoned Ford as a customer. As the investigations of more than 100 deaths in tyre-related crashes of Ford Explorers continued, Firestone was rapidly losing the public’s confidence.

In one Fortune magazine survey, the company dropped to the bottom of a chart of most-admired companies.

‘Looking at the brand today, I would say it’s a highly challenged brand,’ says Gwen Morrison, a branding analyst at Chicago-based marketing agency Frankel. ‘The very core of what tyre brands have stood for is safety. You see ads with a baby sitting in a stack of tyres; there had been a halo over the entire industry.’

The fact that Ford and Firestone failed to provide clear, consistent and comprehensive information to the public, explaining the crashes, was an obvious mistake. Sure, however they would have been handled, the crashes were always going to be bad news. But by sitting on information and failing to co-operate, Firestone has put its own long-term future under greater threat than it would have been otherwise.
Many branding experts now expect parent company Bridgestone to abandon the Firestone brand altogether, and concentrate on its own branded tyres instead.

Lessons from Firestone

  • Be honest with customers. The tyre failures themselves have probably caused less damage than evidence that Firestone held back information about the problems.
  • Act fast. In the event of a brand crisis, such as a product recall, companies need to act fast to re-establish customer confidence. Waiting six months before publishing your findings is only going to fuel negative speculation.
  • Be sensitive. By squabbling with Ford instead of offering sympathy to the car-crash victims, Firestone appeared insensitive.
  • Cover worst-case scenarios with business partners. Partnerships built for the long term must include mutually agreed-upon responsibilities and communication plans, recommends Robert Desisto, brand analyst at Gartner Research. ‘More specifically, these partnerships must include a method of listening to customer complaints through one another’s customer support centres, as well as a method of sharing technical support data earlier to prevent lost sales as well as the loss of the more intangible customer goodwill,’ he says.
  • Be aware that prediction equals protection. Owing to the fact that customers were complaining about the tyre failures years before the accidents made international headlines, Firestone should have been able to predict the problem and resolve it in advance.
  • Remember that perception is everything. Whatever the truth behind why the tyres split, the poor handling of the issue by Firestone meant that the brand came under fire. If you look as though you are hiding relevant information from the public, the perception will be negative, regardless of the truth.
  • Keep hold of your key brand asset. Firestone’s marketing efforts had always been designed to instil the notion of ‘safety’ into the public’s mind. When it lost this key brand asset through all the hostile publicity, Firestone was in big trouble.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Internet and new technology failures: WAP

Why another protocol?

In order to gain public awareness new technologies are now promoted as brands, by technological companies and organizations. However, often those technologies that receive the most hype die an early death while those that are launched with no fanfare gain mass acceptance.

Nowhere has this been more evident than with mobile phone technology. In Europe, the major mobile phone companies were unable to anticipate the success of SMS (short messaging service) text messaging. Indeed, some even failed to mention their phones included an SMS facility. As I explored in my previous book Mobile Marketing, mobile phone users were left to discover SMS for themselves – and discover it they did. In the UK alone, over 1 billion text messages are sent and received every single month.

In Mobile Marketing, I provided an overview of the technology’s popularity:

SMS, or the Short Messaging Service, was the first mainstream technology to enable short text messages to be sent from one mobile device to another. Devoid of colour, graphics, audio, video, and confined to 160 characters per message, SMS hardly seemed the most radical of new media technologies. Furthermore, people wanting to send an SMS text message had to work with small, fiddly mobile keypads and tiny grey screens.

Yet, for all its evident shortcomings, SMS became hugely popular and has inspired a whole generation of ‘textheads’, who have even conjured up their own SMS shorthand to overcome the character limit. Even among older users, SMS text messaging has proved to be a popular, less-intrusive and often cost-effective alternative to voice calls. While the mobile companies initially ignored this unassuming technology, they were very excited indeed about another three letter acronym: WAP.

WAP (wireless application protocol) was heralded as the first major global technology to make the mobile Internet a reality. And it was, although excessively slow download times and frequent connection failure along with many other usability shortcomings started to make people wonder if the wireless Web would be such a great thing anyway.

In 1999, the year WAP was being tweaked for launch in many countries, not a bad word could be found about this technology. Two years later headlines such as ‘The Great WAP flop’ and ‘RIP WAP’ were not uncommon in the European technology press.

One survey conducted in summer 2001 in the UK was especially telling. The BRMB study found that of the two-thirds of the population who owned a mobile phone, 85 per cent believed they had an SMS texting facility, while only 13 per cent said they had a WAP-enabled phone. Of that small number, only 37 per cent had used the WAP facility within the last month. Therefore most of those who were aware they were using a WAP device still didn’t believe the WAP facility was worth using. As Simon Rogers commented in the Guardian at around the same time (July 2001) ‘accessing a breaking news service using WAP just doesn’t replicate the usefulness of the net and is little more than another incremental improvement on your phone.’

WAP’s rough ride has been made even worse by the remarkable, and generally unpredicted, success of SMS. While WAP had been touted as a ‘killer app’ for wireless devices, the considerably less flashy SMS received little attention. When it suddenly emerged that in many parts of the world there were ten SMS users for every one WAP user, and that those SMS users were considerably more devoted than their weary WAP counterparts, it inevitably ruffled a few feathers.

The rumours regarding the death of WAP have been greatly exaggerated though as effective WAP applications have finally emerged. For most marketers however, WAP was something of a no-go area. The Financial Times has dubbed WAP marketing ‘the least interesting type of wireless marketing.’ To be fair, many of the problems with WAP are not really its fault. After all WAP is only a protocol, and not a bad one at that. However, the term WAP has extended to encompass the entire mobile Internet experience via WAP-enabled devices. And, up until now, that experience has been patchy to say the least.

As any brand strategist would agree, the success of a product or service depends not simply on its value, but rather its perceived value. So, whatever WAP will be able to offer mobile users in the future, the negative perception will take a while to erase. Even the WAP evangelists started to realize that it suffers from a certain public image problem. For instance, in 2002 the staunchly pro-WAP Web site WAPInsight ( conceded that ‘the signs are increasing that WAP as a brand name is dying’. The site reported the demise of the UK chain of retail stores run by MPC Telecom, called TheWAPStore, and said the ‘WAP’ element of the name sparked off negative associations among the public.

Whether WAP will disappear for good still remains to be seen and as more powerful mobile phones emerge the mobile Internet seems to have a positive future. However, the negative connotations of the WAP name means that a new acronym may have to be developed.

Lessons from WAP

  • Be useful. WAP has suffered from a distinct lack of content mobile users could find useful on a WAP-based wireless Web. Although many companies have experimented with WAP sites, information underload remained a problem.
  • Be simple. WAP has also suffered from comparisons with the more straightforward SMS. Unfavourable comparisons to Japanese I-mode technology have also added salt to WAP’s wounds.
  • Don’t overstate your case. The initial WAP hype, which reached its hyperbolic peak in 1999–2000, overstated its case. One UK operator’s campaign featuring a WAP-enabled surfboard, and many others like it, gave the impression of a mobile Internet ‘surfer’s paradise’. The protocol clearly couldn’t deliver on this promise.
  • Be user-friendly. Jakob Nielsen, ex-Sun Microsystems engineer and ‘guru of Web usability’ highlighted WAP’s ‘miserable usability’. In 2000, Nielsen advised businesses to ‘skip the current generation of WAP’. Slow connections and downloads for the first wave of WAP meant that mobile users downloading WAP sites (particularly those with graphics) had a lot of spare time on their hands.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Brand Extension Failure: Frito-Lay Lemonade

Frito-Lay is the leading brand of salty snacks in the United States. And what do people want to accompany a salty snack? A soft, thirst-quenching drink.

So what could be a better idea than Frito-Lay Lemonade? Although it may have been seen like a logical brand extension Frito-Lay Lemonade bombed.

After all, Frito-Lay was a brand which made people thirsty, and therefore is the exact opposite of lemonade. From the consumer’s perspective the fruity, sweet drink had little connection to other Frito-lay products.

In the old days, brands knew their place. Harley Davidson stuck to motorcycles, Coca-Cola stuck to soft drinks, and Colgate stuck to cleaning our teeth. Now, of course, everything is all mixed up. If modern life wasn’t already confusing enough, brands are trying to complicate matters further by creating multiple identities. Sometimes this works. For instance, the Caterpillar clothing range has proved a phenomenal success. Usually, however, brands struggle when they move into unrelated categories.

Brand schizophrenia not only aggregates and bewilders consumers, it also devalues the core brand.