Why brands fail

In an extract from her new book, Creating A Brand Identity, Catharine Slade-Brooking examines the main reasons why brands – big or small, new or old – might fail…

Creating A Brand Identity is focused on how to design successful brands, writes Catharine Slade-Brooking. However, it can be useful to study the history of brand failures too – to gain insights into the factors behind those failures.

Common reasons for brand failures

There are three key points at which brands might fail: they may be a new brand development, an existing brand that has already carved a successful niche in the market, or a brand extension.

New brand failure

An example of a new brand failure is the case of bottled water for pets (image shown below). The 21st century has experienced an explosion in both the bottled water market and new products for pet owners who treat their animals as child substitutes, so the launch of a specialist bottled water for pets does not seem that far fetched – or so the makers of Thirsty Cat! and Thirsty Dog! must have assumed. Despite the fact that the water came in gourmet flavours to appeal to even the most fussy animal, such as Crispy Beef and Tangy Fish, the brand never caught on.

Image © Extra Ordinary Colors, Taschen 2000. Photo by Stefano Beggiato/Colors Magazine
Image © Extra Ordinary Colors, Taschen 2000. Photo by Stefano Beggiato/Colors Magazine

Big brand, big mistake

It is hard to believe that a brand with the research and creative power of Coca-Cola could possibly make a big branding mistake. However, in the 1970s and early 80s, Coke faced stiff competition from a range of other soft drink producers. To retain its number one spot Coca-Cola decided to cease production of their classic cola in favour of a new recipe – New Coke – to update the brand and connect to a new consumer. Unfortunately the public was outraged at the loss of the familiar drink, and Coca-Cola was forced to relaunch its original formula almost immediately.

New Coke ad from 1985

A stretch too far

Extending your brand can not only create a new market for your brand but also capture your existing consumer base. However, great caution needs to be taken in determining this new offering, as can be seen in the case of Clairol’s innovation in hair care products. Launched in 1979 Clairol’s Touch of Yogurt Shampoo was not a hit. The hierarchy of information on the pack placed the word ‘Yogurt’ in the most prominent position, which possibly lead to consumer confusion over whether you eat it or apply it to your hair.

Why do big brands fail?

Brands like McDonald’s, Disney and Heinz have managed to stay at the top across the globe for many generations. But these examples are rare. It seems that most brands that reach this type of mega status stay at the top for around one generation at most.

There are several key reasons why big brands typically fail:

• Brand ego. Brands can overestimate their importance to their consumers and to the market.

• Brand amnesia. Over time, companies can forget who they are and what they stand for.

• Brand megalomania. If a brand overestimates its power it may overstretch its reach across
as many services, products and consumers as possible.

• Brand fatigue. Over time companies may become bored of their brands, or forget that they
need regular attention. Brands then become dated, and lose their edge.

• Brand deception. Via the media and pressure groups customers are now able to subject brands to close scrutiny, and the immediacy of communication offered by the internet gives
them the power to damage or even destroy a brand that does not keep its promises.

• Brand obsolescence. A brand becomes irrelevant by failing to appreciate that new technology or changes in consumer habits can have a huge influence on their market share.

• Brand anxiety. A brand may become so concerned about its design or communication that it undergoes redesign regularly, thereby losing its sense of identity and confusing
its consumers.

Creating a Brand Identity_Front

This is an extract from Creating A Brand Identity: A Guide For Designed, by Catharine Slade-Brooking. It is published by Laurence King, priced £19.95; more info at laurenceking.com

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