Sunday, May 6, 2007

A step too far on the road of brand affiliation

One simple tenet of branding: you are the company you keep. Whether that's the retailers your product or service are sold through, the kind of people that epitomize your brand target, or the other brands that you join in partnership with, this cohort communicates a lot about your brand.

It can be a virtuous arrangement. Take the Tumi-Ducati alliance. The character of both brands is similar. Both are high-end and so premium that each has a luxury halo. Both are extremely well made. But the heart of the union is their performance caliber, both in rugged utility and styling.

But Ferrari's track record in extending it's brand into new territories does not seem so wise. In fact, the effect upon its brand could be detrimental.

The last three years has seen a slew of product partnerships in which the Ferrari logo has adorned sneakers, (Puma) mobile phones (Sharp) laptop computers (Acer) and cameras (Olympus).

The two acid tests of a good brand marriage fail for most of these products. Especially in the case of Acer, Sharp and Olympus, these are not ultra premium brands like Ferrari. The caliber of the two brands are fundamentally at odds. Ferrari's reputation will be tarnished when these products fail, which for some they surely will do.

The second test - similar brand targets - is also at odds. A user of these co-branded products is making a statement of aspiration for what is hopelessly unattainable. The only way they can get into the Ferrari franchise is through the back door, with some low-end product they can afford.

Back to the Tumi example. The reason why its brand partnership works is precicely because the type of consumer for both products is very similar. Anyone with $800 to part with for a single piece of luggage will also have the discretionary income to buy a high-end motorcycle should they wish to.

A world-class brand like Ferrari should know better. In attempting to extending the reaches and visibility of its enviable brand, it is the view of OFD that they are using the wrong strategy. Indeed, better to avoid cheapening the brand through low-end cross marketing and instead choose partners that reinforce the caliber and authenticity of the brand. How about creating a driving school as BMW has done with Skip Barber? Enable people to experience the brand in an affordable way which they can evangelize about...even if they're unlikely to be able to afford one.

In the era of the autonomous consumer, when people are in the driving seat and brands must engage with consumers' on their terms, it is more important than ever that brands do what they can to manage their reputations. Influencing context is key to shaping the understanding people acquire about brands. A product or application - especially that of a marketing partner - is a key context that must be controlled to manage the brand well.

No comments: