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Brands need to know what NOT to do

by Nigel Hollis | March 06, 2013

In this Ad Age article, Sarah Hofstetter asserts that marketers are fascinated with real-time marketing and suggests that it actually may not be right for every brand. I am sure she is right. Just because you can do something, it does not mean you should do it, and that principle encompasses far more than just real-time marketing in social media. 

Hofstetter states:

Even for brands that have the strategy and structures in place to warrant it, not every major cultural moment deserves a real-time response.

She proposes that brands need to invest time and resources ahead of an event in order to take advantage of opportunities and avoid potential missteps. Critically, Hofstetter suggests that brands need to “carefully choose moments that align with your brand and community.” But in the heat of the moment, it is all too easy to ignore what the brand stands for and try to seize the moment irrespective of whether or not it makes sense for the brand and its audience.

Essentially, real-time marketing exacerbates a problem that brands already face. Unless everyone involved – marketing and sales teams, ad, media and PR agencies – really understand what makes the brand meaningfully different, then it is all too easy to go off script. 

Social media missteps are just the tip of the iceberg. What about brand extensions that make little sense in the light of the brand’s history and purpose? Dove for Men? How does that fit with the “Campaign for Real Beauty”? I have little doubt the launch made good financial sense, but does it make good branding sense? I may be wrong, but I suspect that in the long-term, Dove is going to find its male range a step too far in the pursuit of additional revenue.

In the big scheme of things, diluting what a brand stands for might seem a trivial matter in comparison to the upside potential in terms of generating some additional revenue. The problem, however, is that brands cannot simply extend their appeal to a new target audience, and assume that the existing target market will think well of the change. Even if the brand does not change the way it positions itself, the shift in the target audience will not go unnoticed. A few months ago, I was in a meeting when a man announced he used Dove. It was hard to miss the response from the women present: "Huh? But that’s our brand!"

The only way to ensure that a brand stays true to what makes it meaningfully different to its target audience, is to make sure that all the stakeholders know exactly what it stands for. Not with some long-winded explanation or complex diagram, but a short, succinct statement of what makes the brand meaningfully different. That statement then becomes the compass by which a brand can steer its actions - whether they are tweets or line extensions - because knowing what a brand should not do is as important as knowing what it should do.

Is Dove for Men a step too far? Are there other examples of brands that diluted their equity by stretching too far? Please share your thoughts.


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  1. Ligia, March 06, 2013
    Another example of weird stretch is the Brazilian apparel brand "Marisa" that also sells men's clothes. To start with, the brand is named as a woman and to get even worse, its slogan is a very popular jingle: "From woman to woman, Marisa". Ok, it is kind of a department store, thus it can sell products for the whole family. But I imagine a man telling anyone where he bought his underwear: - at Marisa. The most innocent thought that comes to mind would be "his mother bought his underwear." That's not benefic for consumer, less even for the brand.
  2. phil herr, March 06, 2013
    Yes, Dove for men is a betrayal of Dove's core. What is meaningfully different for Dove is -- in my opinion -- a special place where women can feel accepted and "comfortable in their own skin". I believe that introducing DFM is a bit of the wolf pounding on that door. 
  3. Guy Maxwell, March 06, 2013
    The dilema over extending a brand vs. staying true to your core market will always exist in a world where profit is king.

    Virgin Cola is a great example of a brand believing that it could enter a market and stamp its authority all over it.  The brand believed that Virgin cool would provide an enticing proposition for the cola market; it wasn't.  "New" Coke is another example, although conspiracy theorists still insist that it was all a deliberate ruse.

    However, whilst these and other trials can be embarassing, in general they don't seem to affect the brand in any meaningful sense.

    Dove may find a way to execute creative that demonstrates that men have natural beauty too and it may work; they may fail and retreat with us all soon forgetting that they ever tried and women will go on buying "their" brand.

    However, there is one example that causes some concern; the Sinclair C5.  Sinclair was a strong brand up until Sir Clive risked it all on the most ridiculous contraption imagineable and thereafter the brand became a joke and ultimately its name and products were acquired by Amstrad for next to nothing.  Amstrad too, could be an interesting case study, but that's for another day.

  4. Ed, March 06, 2013
    Since we are picking on Unilever- how about Axe's Fragrance launch for women?

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