One issue that sparks great debate is brand extensions. While many classically trained product/brand managers argue that extensions dilute brand equity, I believe many companies are just scratching the surface when it comes to how far they can extend the brand names and tradedress of their corporate and product names.
Take the extreme example of Mitsubishi, which means "three diamonds" in Japanese; hence, the red three diamonds trademark. Mitsubishi markets canned mandarin oranges, mushrooms and tuna fish under the "three diamonds" brand symbol. Yet, no one confuses eating Mitsubishi tuna with driving their Mitsubishi Eclipse automobile. Confusion about what a brand stands for is the most frequent objection regarding brand extensions, and it is a valid concern. But perhaps American companies are not defining their brands broadly enough so that they can execute successful brand extension strategies that sustain profitability now and in the future.
It's intriguing to contrast the way Goya brand and Campbell's brand products are presented on shelves in my supermarket. Goya products are located in the "International Foods" aisle and stretch from one end to the other. The bold Goya trademark appears prominently on a diverse array of products whose packaging is also visually related: olives, canned pimientos, pickled peppers, rice, beans, salsa, sardines, spices, coffee, jellies and juices to name a few.
Goya has clearly found an ethnic niche a means to extend its product categories. It uses a consistent tradename, trademark and tradedress. As a result of this broad product positioning within the ethnic niche, the Goya name easily extends from one product type to another.
In the very next aisle marked, "Soups," Campbell's featured about 100 SKUs of soup and broth products. Within that category there were four variations of Campbell's branded chicken soup: a 10 3/4-ounce condensed "Healthy Request" chicken noodle, a 16- ounce "Healthy Request" chicken broth (to which you can add your own noodles or vegetables), a chicken flavor Ramen Noodle Soup in a 3-ounce dried packet, and a chicken flavor Ramen Noodle Soup in a 2.3-ounce instant soup cup. All packaging carried the distinctive Campbell's trademark.
This "theme and variation" on chicken soup under the Campbell's brand also qualifies for brand extension status. Yet why hasn't a company like Campbell's, which has acquired numerous food companies over the years, redefined the Campbell's brand to stand for more than soup in the minds of the American public? If the Goya brand can represent "Hispanic Foods," why couldn't the Campbell's brand stand for "Americana Foods" or "All-American Cuisine" and therefore be extended across many other products besides soup? With this approach, a whole new category of products could bear the Campbell's brand name.
By looking at brand extension as "more pies," rather than more pieces of the same pie, manufacturers and retailers can ultimately "have their cake and eat it, too."
Elinor Selame is president of BrandEquity International, a brand identify and package design consulting firm based in Newton, Mass.