The highs and lows of stretching a brand in search of growth in 2023 - Coley Porter Bell

The highs and lows of stretching a brand in search of growth in 2023

Written by: John Malozzi, Group Creative Director

Market conditions are tough. In fact, 2023 will boast some of the most turbulent conditions that this generation of marketers have witnessed in their careers. Which means in the year ahead, innovation is – and will be – imperative for survival.

Businesses are looking for opportunities to push the boundaries of their brand’s design equity and identity, while remaining relevant in their consumers’ eyes. But as demonstrated by the recent Nike and Tiffany & Co.’s collab announcement, creating partnerships with other brands can carry significant risk if not executed properly.

An image of a Nike shoe box with the statement “Nike x Tiffany & Co, a legendary pair” circulated online to tease this surprising relationship – which will see the tick on the iconic Air Force 1 re-coated in the classic Tiffany blue.

On the surface, the collaboration makes sense and is a prime example of a brand stretch strategy. Tiffany is a heritage brand with an older audience, and this collaboration is an attempt to reach a younger audience through Nike. However, the advantages of this partnership for Nike aren’t as obvious.

Implementing a brand stretch strategy will see a brand extend beyond its current product offering, and into a new sector or category. Depending on how extreme this move is, the stretch risks alienating the consumers it intended to target – or operating in an unknown territory with more experienced competitors. But risk also lies in not stretching far enough.

Nike is revered for its domination of the global sportswear market, something it appears to have held onto a little too tightly in this partnership. This collaboration seems to shed some light on their collaborative creative process though. The product feels overly cautious – as if Tiffany and Nike were already nervous and pre-empting reactions – with possibly too many execs involved in the design phase.

Brand stretch can be a lucrative method of protecting brand health while also increasing loyalty among an existing customer base. And it can be done in isolation or in partnership with other brands. Consumers would much rather deal with a brand they trust, than build a relationship with a new brand. From the business perspective, it requires less investment, is often managed by the same brand team internally, and can leverage existing relationships for distribution.

With these obvious benefits, it’s unsurprising that 80% of new product launches use an existing brand name – but with mixed results.

Budweiser’s Black Crown beer comes to mind. Launched in 2013, Budweiser wanted to venture into the more sophisticated beer category, following the millennial craft beer craze. It wanted to reach this younger audience, so it launched Black Crown. Partnering with 12 brew-masters from across the country, Budweiser launched a more premium product; the problem was, it forgot its brand and customer base.

The packaging design solution strayed away from its renowned Budweiser brand, using ‘premium’ design elements like silver metallic inks, condensed typography and die-cuts that were inspired by points in the crown. The contrast with its red packaging was too great, introducing too much brand uncertainty in the minds of drinkers.

Despite staying within its category, Budweiser stretched too far, leaving its loyal customers confused. Black Crown was an effort to ditch its ‘old man beer’ image, but in doing so, it created something that its loyal drinker just couldn’t identify with.

Understanding your brand and consumers, as well as their motivations for choosing your brand, is crucial to a successful brand stretch.

Much like Tiffany & Co., when beloved heritage brand Ralph Lauren opened its Fifth Avenue coffee shop Ralph’s Coffee in 2014, it was a big move from the multi-billion dollar king of American luxury. Initially exclusive to New York, it has since expanded across North America, into Europe and Asia.

The designer brand relied on its brand experience and made its coffee shops an extension of its stores – classic and elegant. It chose a script for its logo to emit a welcoming and nostalgic feel, and conjured the same detailing used for its clothes in the presentation of the brand. Most importantly, it serves great coffee.

Ralph’s Coffee turns the trivial act of buying a coffee into an experience, not making it a to-go spot like Starbucks, but somewhere its consumers want to sit in their best clothes and savour every drop.

Brand stretch cannot be done half-heartedly. For Nike and Tiffany & Co’s luxury crossover, it appears they have played it too conservatively. Stirring up discussion on social media, but not enough to create the frenzy they were hoping for – raising doubts about the ultimate gain of the stretch and straying from Nike’s commanding ‘Just Do It’ tagline.

As Ralph Lauren has demonstrated, brands need to protect their core brand truths and understand their own identities while extending into new territories. Time will tell if Nike and Tiffany will achieve this.