The Graveyard of Failed Brand Extensions and what you can learn from it.

 Welcome to the Museum of Failed Products located in Ann Arbor, MI.

Brand Museum


A past article describes this place as follows:

It appears to be a vast and haphazardly organized supermarket; shelves are crammed with thousands of packages of food and household products. There is something unusually cacophonous about the displays, and soon enough you work out the reason: unlike in a real supermarket, there is only one of each item. And you won’t find many of them in a real supermarket: they are failures, withdrawn from sale after a few weeks or months, because almost nobody wanted to buy them.  

Imagine products like “Fortune Snookies, a short-lived line of fortune cookies for dogs”, “Pepsi AM Breakfast Cola” and, yes, “Colgate Ready Meals.”

So, what can we learn from the brand extension graveyard?


#1- Add real value

Brand teams can get too big for their boots, and fail to give enough respect to the competition in the market they are entering. They think they can win by offering limited added value versus what’s on the market, thanks to the strength of their brand name. For example, Heinz tried to launch into soups, but didn’t really add much value versus the category leader Campbell’s who had great quality, range and in-store presence.

#2- Think business model, not brand equity

Too much time is spent by marketing teams asking “Can the brand stretch into market x?” If you have a strong brand, it is likely to be elastic, in theory. Could Axe stretch from body spray into shaving? Of course it could, on paper. But this was the wrong question. The right question should have been “Can we make ANY MONEY in shaving?” That question assesses your “ability to win”. And here, the answer was a resounding no. Unilever lacked the manufacturing capability in shaving, and sub-contracted to a Chinese company who made a very average product. The brand was up against the marketing might of Gillette. There was no sustainable business model in place, and the launch ended up in the extension graveyard.

#3- Have a memory for mistakes

Again and again I see companies with a limited “corporate memory” who end up repeating the same mistakes. As the article says, “Most surprising of all is that many of the designers who have found their way to the museum have come there to examine – or been surprised to discover – products that their own companies had created, then abandoned. Product developers are so focused on their next hoped-for success – so unwilling to invest time or energy thinking about their industry’s past failures.” Companies should keep their own extension graveyard so the can learn from failure.

How can you learn from past mistakes? Need help? No matter what potential problems face your business, you can be sure that others have faced them before.  And overcome them.  Let’s talk about your business, your goals and your ambitions.  And then let’s build a roadmap of effective marketing to help get you there.

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