Questioning Brand Omnipotence

by Brian Haven
@ 7:19 PM





Every good marketing school will teach you to value the brand. But when do you let go of a brand rather than force it into an identity that just isn't true to it's personality? I've seen more and more brands of yesteryear try to reposition themselves -- with little success. Take Oldsmobile for example. The heritage of this brand spans back 111 years. Founded by Ransom E. Olds in 1897, it was acquired by General Motors in 1908 and lived a successful life. In the 1990s, GM tried repositioning the brand as an upscale brand to battle imports, but it never fully escaped it's 'old' image. After several unsuccessful attempts, GM decided to put the brand to rest.

Recently, I've seen the Old Spice brand desperately struggling to maintain it's market share amid several new youthful entrants into the space, namely Axe. Axe has its brand positioning down cold -- edgy, sex-crazed, and in your face -- the perfect fit for frat boys looking to get laid (and for older frat boys to feel young again, and perhaps get laid). Enter Old Spice. The new campaign tries to fend off the Axe brand. But come on, are people really buying this. Now, the 'Olds' in Oldsmobile doesn't come from the word 'old' -- it's actually the name of the founder, Ransome E. Olds. Unfortunate perhaps, considering the evolving edginess of modern culture. The Old Spice brand was initially based on a colonial nautical theme. Again, unfortunate, but clinging to this brand for the youthful products seems questionable (I'm not suggesting they do away with the brand, just consider a different identity for the more youthful products).

My question is this: when should you just let go of the brand? Why doesn't Old Spice take all of it's core competencies, manufacturing resources, distribution capabilities, and retail relationships and create a new brand to fend off Axe? I know the MBA/Brand Management philosophy is basically to go in as a brand manager and just simply try not to fuck it up. But if a company isn't willing to take a risk, how viable is a brand that claims to be something it isn't?

This is yet another example of the marketing discipline falling woefully short of understanding the new dynamics of the marketplace. And it's only a matter of time (hopefully soon) that the marketplace will consistently punish this lack of insight. Either that, or I'll be completely wrong as I fork over $500 for Apple's new iOlds.


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