Brands that are ashamed of their parents

by Alex Benady

Lexus. Not a hint of Toyota.

It emerged this week that JK Rowling chose the nom de plume Robert Galbraith for her new novel The Cuckoo’s Calling. She wanted it to be judged on its own merits rather than be flooded by associations with what you might call the Rowling power brand.

“Being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience,” she told the Sunday Times. “It has been wonderful to publish without hype and expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.”

Like many individuals and brands before her, Rowling has discovered that having a clear identity, especially a powerful identity, is a two- edged sword.

It has helped her to become rich beyond her wildest dreams and sell more books than any other author in history.

Yet her success has also become a straight jacket. Rightly or wrongly Rowling feels that her mid market positioning is so powerful that it has prevented her from branching out into more premium sectors –such as other literary genres and grown up fiction.

But Rowling wouldn’t be the first brand owner to discover that their carefully constructed, assiduously polished brand isn’t simply ‘not useful’ when it comes to branching out into new areas, it is an active hindrance. An embarrassment if you like.

It’s a particular problem for everyday brands that want to enter a premium sector. So in 1989 Toyota chose to give its new luxury offering a completely different brand name. It created the Lexus marque–and didn’t even allow the Toyota name to be used as an endorsement.

Last year Tesco launched a raft of ‘venture brands’ such as Yum and Chocablok.  They were premium brands (Chokablok is more expensive than a number of national brands and more than double the price of the Tesco Finest brand). Would it be able to charge such a premium with ‘Tesco’ plastered all over the packaging?

The absence of parent branding is particularly conspicuous in acquisitions. In decades past acquisitions were made and eventually the acquirer replaced the acquired. Think of the way that Nestle ever so slowly replaced Rowntree branding on products such as Kit Kat.

Today big companies buy small companies and seem to hope that nobody notices. Obviously the aim is to retain the appearance of ‘niche’, while applying managerial economies of scale behind the scenes.

So Green and Black remains Green and Black. Not Cadbury’s Green and Black or even Kraft Green and Black.

Innocent remains Innocent. Not ‘from’ Coca Cola.

And Converse retains its image as a funky reasonably ethical trainer company. Meanwhile Nike which owns Converse has acquired a reputation as a global sweat-shop using behemoth.

Do you know of  any other example of brands that disown their parents? And why? ENDS

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