Brand Extension Run Amok: Why I Hate Amazon

jmsb@johnsanfilippo.com

www.johnsanfilippo.com

People often tell me how much they love, love, love Amazon. Frankly, I don't get it.

I find the Amazon ecosystem a little confusing. On amazon.com, you can buy things from Amazon directly and you can buy things from other sellers. And you have to be cognizant of which is which, because the rules are different for each. It's like walking into Macy's and being told that blue-tag items qualify for free gift-wrapping, but green-tag items don't. Heaven forbid you should assemble an outfit for your sister's birthday out of both blue- and green-tag items.

I also had one bad shopping experience on Amazon. I had a confirmed order later canceled due to a "problem" with my credit card. This is a card that I use almost daily, so when the credit card company told me they could see no problem at their end, I could only place the blame on Amazon. This little blunder almost cost my granddaughter a Christmas present. And when it comes to gifts for my grandchildren, I don't give second chances.

All of this is enough to make me, as a consumer, dislike Amazon. However, it's as a marketer that I truly hate this company. Why? Because, IMHO, the Amazon brand is an absolute train wreck.

First, let's look at a couple of the classic brand examples. When I say Coca-Cola, you think of soda pop. When I say Cadillac, you think of American luxury cars. When I say Orville Redenbacher, you think of popcorn. That's how a good brand is supposed to work. But when I say Amazon, what do you think of?

Twenty years ago, this was an easy question to answer. If I said Amazon in the early days of the company, you would have thought of books. Period. Then Amazon started selling CDs ... and toys ... and power tools ... and bedroom linens ... and (insert absolutely any product here). There are also Amazon's e-readers, tablets, set-top boxes and now even cell phones. And let's not forget Amazon's cloud computing business.

So I ask you again: What do you think of when I say Amazon? To me, the Amazon brand says nothing. In fact, it says worse than nothing. To me, the Amazon brand says, "We're greedy sons of guns who want our fingers in every pie in the bakery." That's not a brand that instills any loyalty in me.

Don't get me wrong. Amazon isn't the only company to fall victim to crazy brand extension. Far from it. Just look at the American beer market. In fact, just look at the Budweiser brand. Under the Budweiser banner, Anheuser-Busch markets Budweiser, Bud Light, Bud Light Platinum, Bud (marketed in Europe), Budweiser Select, Budweiser Select 55, Bud Ice, Bud Ice Light, Budweiser Brew Masters' Private Reserve, Bud Dry, Bud Silver, Bud Extra, Budweiser Chelada, Bud Light Chelada, Budweiser American Ale, Budweiser NA, Bud Light Lime, Bud Light Lime Ritas, Bud Light Golden Wheat, and Budweiser 66.

So what do you think of when I say Budweiser? I think I'll have a Dos Equis.

Insane brand extensions like these are oh, so tempting. Marketers justify them by claiming that they're smartly capitalizing on the main brand's existing equity. That's probably true to a point. It may very well be the Budweiser name that gets Brew Master's Private Reserve noticed (assuming it does get noticed now and then). However, each brand extension also diminishes the primary brand. In the case of Budweiser, when you factor in that beer is not a rapidly growing market, it's hard for me to believe that crowding the market with 20+ variations of Budweiser will do Anheuser-Busch any long-term good. In fact, it seems like a very expensive waste of money, and ultimately that cherished brand equity.

If you're only interested in filling the coffers today, go ahead and ignore your brand. Millions have been made doing just that. On the other hand, if you're interested in long-term, sustained success, know your brand and be true to it.

That is all.

#branding #brandextension

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