Brand Failures | Matt Haig

Summary of: Brand Failures: The Truth about the 100 Biggest Branding Mistakes of All Time
By: Matt Haig


Prepare to embark on an insightful journey through the book ‘Brand Failures: The Truth about the 100 Biggest Branding Mistakes of All Time’ by Matt Haig. This summary will delve into the critical role of branding in today’s market and the detrimental consequences when brands falter. Along the way, uncover the reasons behind brand failures, such as brand amnesia, brand fatigue, and broken customer trust, accompanied by real-life examples. Moreover, the influence of cultural differences, public opinion, and the Internet’s role in branding will be explored, unmasking various myths and misconceptions about branding strategy.

Brands Beyond Marketing

Brands are more than faceless products, they are built through advertising, sales, and company values. But marketing hubris can lead to false assumptions about brand attributes, which can ultimately lead to brand failures. Consumers blame the brand, not the product, due to emotional responses influenced by branding. Brands fail due to amnesia, ego, and fatigue, and myths including the beliefs that good products always succeed and advertising can build a brand.

Branding is often associated with putting a human face on products and corporations, creating a market identity that is easily recognizable by consumers. Brands are built through strategic advertising and sales efforts, which have the power to propel company values and increase market share and margins. This, in turn, creates barriers to competition, making branding a central marketing goal for many corporations.

However, behind branding lies marketing hubris, which can lead to false assumptions and myths about brand attributes. Too often, an examination of brand failures reveals that products died at the hands of their own marketing departments. Consumers now blame the brand instead of the product, reflecting a significant change in consumer behavior. Brands pre-sell products by invoking emotions in consumers, making negative or positive experiences generate disproportionate emotional responses. This emotion-based impact explains why branding is such a powerful tool.

Understanding brand failures is critical in building a successful brand. Brands can fail due to brand amnesia, where a brand forgets its original identity, brand ego, where a successful product may not benefit from brand association, and brand fatigue, where brands may not be renewed. Additionally, myths about branding attributes often lead to its downfall, including the belief that good products always succeed and advertising can build a brand. In reality, some of the most notable brand name failures are linked to false assumptions made by corporations about their brand attributes.

In conclusion, while brands are essential marketing goals, they go beyond putting a face on products. Understanding the factors that contribute to brand failures and the myths surrounding branding attributes is critical in the success of any branding effort. The company may own the brand, but it doesn’t own the feelings that the brand generates.

Brand Extensions and the Power of Perception

The article discusses brand extensions, their benefits, and their potential drawbacks. While successful brand extensions, like Diet Coke, can contribute to a brand’s success, extensions can also weaken a brand’s quality and increase competition. Brand extensions that veer too far from their product class often fail because they lose the perceived quality benefits of the core brand. Too many variations of a product can also confuse consumers and lead to loss of focus. In the end, successful branding is not about products but rather about perception.

Brand extensions are a double-edged sword in marketing. While they can contribute to a brand’s success, they can also weaken a brand’s quality and increase competition. This is especially true when a brand extension veers too far from its product class. Successful brand extensions, like Diet Coke, can leverage an established brand’s success to launch a new product. However, extensions must still maintain a high level of quality to preserve the brand’s reputation.

The downside of brand extensions is best illustrated in the beer category, where more than 30 brands are now available compared to only three major brews just 25 years ago. This increase in variety has not significantly expanded the number of beer drinkers. This happens when too many varieties produce mass consumer confusion, and they lose focus. When that happens, consumers turn to other beer brands.

Indeed, brand extensions that veer too far from their product class often fail because they lose the perceived quality benefits of the core brand. Gerber’s offering of baby food for older adults, Colgate’s prepared food, Cosmopolitan magazine’s yogurt, Unilever’s video arcade-barbershops, LifeSavers’ soft drinks, Bic pen’s disposable women’s underwear, and Heinz’s cleaning fluid all fell short because they left consumers confused and disconnected.

Successful branding is not about products but rather about perception. The article ends in stating that branding aims to help products stand out while reassuring the public about factory-produced goods. A brand’s identity highlights a product and should maintain a public’s trust in the product’s quality, which can be exploited to make brand extensions. However, it is critical not to push too far from the product’s core and confuse the target consumers. In the end, too many options can lead to less focus, and a quality extension should retain the perceived quality benefits of the core brand for success.

Brand Failures and Trust

Brands can fail when there is a break in trust between customers and corporations. This can happen due to poor customer or media relations, but it is most common during crises when media attention is focused on a specific corporate problem or accident. Examples include Exxon’s mishandling of the Exxon Valdez spill and McDonald’s “McLibel” case. In both cases, the companies’ responses eroded trust and damaged their reputation. The power of the internet in shaping public opinion has made it even more critical for brands to maintain transparency and good communication during a crisis. As the saying goes, “If you spot a hole in the market, it does not mean that you should fill it.” Brands need to prioritize maintaining trust with their customers to avoid damaging consequences.

Cultural Considerations

Global corporations often face cultural barriers when marketing their products due to differences in language, customs, and consumer perceptions. This can lead to setbacks, such as Kellogg’s failed launch of Corn Flakes in India, where hot breakfasts are the norm. Brands must adapt to local cultures and consider factors such as taste, religion, and literacy levels to be successful. Even within a company, cultural misunderstandings can occur, as seen with Fender guitars when it was sold to CBS. A lack of empathy and understanding caused declining sales until new owners refocused on Fender’s unique craftsmanship and relationships with musicians. Brands must remain aware of the importance of cultural considerations to maintain success in a global market.

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