Remember the time that Harley Davidson tried their hand at making bike soap? Yeah, that didn't go over so well.
It is very possible for a brand to do too much. Whether it's a personal brand, a company brand, or any kind of brand, people come to expect a certain image. A brand is meant to encapsulate the ideas, concepts, and values your brand stands for. When you step outside those bounds, your brand can take a serious hit.
Most Missteps Won't Kill Your Brand
While not every misstep will destroy your brand – and most won't – you do have to be careful. Whatever you do with your brand, you have to be consistent. If your brand goes and does something out of character, it's going to have a negative impact across your whole brand.
Yes, you can recover. Harley Davidson did, after making a lot of their hardcore fan base mad. And the product is still out there, but they no longer focus on it. So, you can backtrack and be fine. However, don't be the brand who did too much.
One thing that some brands do is try and take advantage of trends. While it's great if you do it right, plenty of brands make some weird choices. But usually, it's one ad campaign or one bad product launch, and you can go back to your brand's strengths and be fine.
But, then, brands take some really huge risks that don't make a lot of sense.
Taking Risks with Your Brand Purely to Take a Risk is Not So Bright
Take, for example, the "crunchless" Doritos for ladies. I'm not sure where that idea came from, and not only was it strange, but the way that they launched was actually kind of offensive. So what, chips are messy? Frito-Lay took a big hit from that.
They actually had an interesting idea, but they launched it very badly, and it came off all sexist. Also, "crunchless" chips is NOT something you would associate with DORITOS. It was just a really bad misstep. But you know what? They're a huge brand. They took a risk, but they'll bounce back.
Most brands, though, can't bounce back from a PR disaster like that. That sort of mistake can actually ruin a brand.
However, sometimes you still have to take risks with your brand, as long as that risk makes sense.
Do Everything You Can with Your Brand... Within Reason
I'd like to draw on a "brilliant" quote from Ashleigh Brilliant: "Not being able to do everything is no excuse for not doing everything you can "
While Ashleigh was not specifically talking about branding in this case, like people, brands can find themselves not doing as much as they can. As long as you are taking your brand in a positive direction, building on your brand's values, it's OK to take risks here and there. But never assume that you can survive taking massive risks that go against what your brand stands for.
So what if you don't want to ruin your brand? Create another brand. Yes, it's actually OK to create spin-off brands. Companies do it all the time, and sometimes the spin-offs even surpass the mothership brand.
Also, if the brand fails, the backlash is not going to be ANYWHERE near as bad as it could be. Sure, people may know your brand was associated with it. But people tend to forget the missteps by a lesser-established brand.
So what's the major take-away here? Make sure that you allow your brand to grow – and occasionally make mistakes – as long as your brand's mission is always clear in view. Advance the concepts, ideas, and values your brand has established.
When You Should Create a Spin-Off Brand
If you really want to create a new direction, build a new brand. It's more work, but the worst that can happen is that brand fails badly and goes away. More likely, you'll create a new brand that brings in a completely different dimension to your business.
Even though brands can appear completely separate to the general public, many companies own several different brands. Some bigger companies own dozens, or even hundreds, of brands. Why? Because if one brand fails, your business still has all those other brands to fall back on.
What if Harley created a new brand for their bike wash products? They could have saved themselves both PR headaches and lost sales. Yeah, Harley-Davidson would have been in the fine print in the commercials and on the bottles. But very few people actually read that. The PR impact may have been completely different. But the decision to use the brand to sell the product did NOT fit and the public responded by backing away from the brand.
And if Frito-Lay had introduced the "Ladychip" as a separate brand entirely, yeah, it would have been slammed. But the new Doritos Blaze chips, which are actually quite good, saved them this time. The Ladychip ad campaign could have ruined the Doritos brand entirely had they not introduced that other on-brand product (And Tyrion Lannister of Game of Thrones, weird as that Super Bowl ad was, didn't hurt.)
So Frito-Lay even knew they were taking a huge risk and took off some of the heat by releasing a solid product around the same time. PepsiCo also introduced a new Mountain Dew drink at the same time with a partnering ad with Morgan Freeman. Not sure how well that went over – it's not selling at my local supermarket, but the Blaze chips are!
Don't Be the Brand Who Did Too Much
The great news is, like Frito-Lay showed, you can bounce back by having a fallback plan whenever you take a risk. Always seek to build your brand, but don't be the brand who did too much.
Harley took a hit and Doritos took an even bigger one. Doritos just had a better comeback.
Don't make the same mistake. But if you do make a brand mistake, make sure it's a "good" mistake. Make sure it fits your brand's overall plan. Otherwise, you will cause some head-scratching, and potentially, lose business.
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