Leaving the Vocal Minority Behind

Lecture tonight was about brand extension strategies — the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Somewhere on the latter end of the spectrum, the story of Harley Davidson branded perfume and wedding cake toppers came up.  Someone over at H-D got a little too giddy on the easy-money licensing agreements, and, as the story goes, the hardcore customer base revolted.  Branded leather jackets were fine, even kid clothes were tolerated, but the buck stopped at champagne toasts and spray scents named ‘Destiny’.

(Though apparently they’re still pitching it in places like South Africa)

The surface lesson here is, of course, stick to your core values and don’t over-extend.  If you’ve built one of the best brand cultures in the world on ideas of rebellion and power, don’t go traipsing across cake plates.

But the underlying conundrum is more interesting.  Harley isn’t just the brand of bugs-in-the-beard outlaws anymore; it’s a midlife crisis commodity for the mild mannered middle class.  Brands change.  At some point, promising opportunities to expand risk alienating some loyal, and vocal, old-guard enthusiasts.  When is it worth it?

The meta brand of green is facing the same conundrum right now.  Greenwashing is the cake topper and everything else falls somewhere between it and the leather jacket.  As meta-brand management changes hands to a new generation of eco entrepreneurs and post-partisans, how many of the activists and idealists and alarmists who have spent the last four decades building the brand will get left behind?

© Ryan Cunningham 2008

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thoughts at the collision of business, brand and creativity

I'm Ryan Cunningham. I help companies and culture play nice with each other. At CREATURE we call this Brand Strategy, a term that carries a nice halo of reliability and structure. Here, I'm just another guy who thinks about the world and writes it down from time to time.

The result is a pile of knowledge to be used in, and for, the future. Feel free to sift through the heap for useful connections.

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