When Is It Detrimental to your Brand to Branch Out?

On my desk I have several bottles of Bob Marley-branded anti-energy drinks -- an assortment of cans with Tuff Gong's face on it, promising the relief of tension and the reduction of stress in flavors like "citrus," "berry," and "green tea with honey."

Those of us old enough to remember the '60s and '70s -- which does not include me -- will recognize this as a product associated with a legendary musician's catalog of hits like "I Shot The Sheriff," "Jamming," and "No Woman, No Cry." But in 2012, the chances are fairly good there are kids growing up nowadays that can know Bob Marley primarily from these relaxation drinks.

It sounds funny, and that's the main reason they stay on my desk. (No, I've never drank any of them… there's a concerning label on one of them that warns against drinking an entire can in a single sitting. I like jamming in my normal state and don't want to find out what one can can do.)

My point is that as Rick Bayless' debut as an actor in the Lookingglass' Cascabel draws closer next month, I have been wondering if the master Mexican chef has been drifting away from his own audience or message. I understand that are you get more established you need to keep challenging yourself to keep your career interesting. But shouldn't Bayless' challenges come from what goes on in the kitchen, not on the stage?

"You're posing a question that is at the heart of brand marketing," says Will Marlow of Marlow Marketing Strategies. "If you ask most entrepreneurs where they get their competitive advantage from, they will point to their unique product benefits, which is a huge mistake. The brand is where a business's true longterm value rests, and where its true potential for profit margin is."

Marlow points to Apple as an example of "the only entrepreneurial, high tech company that takes branding seriously." He explains that new products like the iPad or Apple TV build on its mission to make computing software "beautiful and enjoyable for customers" but if they started releasing products that exceed the scope of that mission or putting out flimsy or inferior products it would damage its brand.

Samuella Becker, the CEO and founder of TigressPR, has a slightly sunnier take on Bayless' new endeavor. "If you stay true to your brand, your fan base and customers will stay true to you… The Lookinglass alliance is a smart brand extension for him and has the potential for increased sales/marketing tie-ins [for] developing a new cookbook/DVD of recipes served during the play."

Ultimately, what it all comes down to is the perceived elasticity of your brand. Conceivably, since there's a food component to Bayless' show -- it is essentially a fancy and circus-fied version of dinner theater -- it's still within the realm of what he typically does. Bayless has been in TV shows and is a public figure appearing in the media often anyway, so why not let him go on stage since he's essentially already there?

"It becomes detrimental to your brand when you branch out into 'line extension' of the brand," adds Jeffrey Milano, CEO of thepeopleschemist.com. "As a short example, think of Kleenex. It's a tissue, right? Without a doubt the most famous tissue in the marketplace. Now imagine Kleenex brand toilet cleaner, dish soap, shampoo and conditioner, Kleenex brand coffee makers, food processors, ad nauseum. Line extension is the death of a strong brand."

Point taken.

Or as Marlow said, "Decisions in branding won't always be so clear cut, but there is no question that a brand's power is inversely proportional to its
scope, and the minute it lets contradictions appear, it starts killing itself."

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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