Tuesday, May 09, 2006

You Cannot Just Decide a Brand

Two stories in Ad Age this week have drawn my ire. Both stories illustrate how corporate America just does not understand human cognition.

In the first story, Ad Age blasts AT&T for plans to trash the Cingular brand name. As part of the recent AT&T/SBC/Exxon/Mobile/Bank One/Chase merger, (grand)Ma Bell got back its wireless division.

The facts suggest that this is a bonehead move. Cingular is the largest wireless company in America. Ad Age says that $4 billion has been spent establishing the brand. It is hip and young. AT&T is old and stodgy. But in a move of perhaps unprecedented arrogance, AT&T will throw Cingular under the bus and rename it AT&T Wireless. Nevermind the consequences. Ad Age estimates that it may take another $2 billion to cement the brand change in customers' minds. $2 billion with a B.

Here's the kicker. In the merger orgy that now defines corporate America, Cingular's former parent company already bought AT&T Wireless and folded into Cingular. Now it is being folded back. This means that within a couple of years, customers will have unwillingly gone from AT&T to Cingular back to AT&T. Idiots, I tell you.

The second story is equally puzzling to me, although I admit that I might be wrong. Ad Age reports that Yum! Brands received nearly $2.7 million in exposure from its sponsorship of the Kentucky Derby. Good for it.

However, I am willing to bet that Joe Sports Fan has no idea what Yum! Brands is. Even if many people know what it is, there surely were millions of viewers who were clueless. In case you are one of them, Yum! Brands owns A&W, KFC, Long John Silver's, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.

In the world of the sane, a KFC sponsorship would make sense because it's the Kentucky Derby. But they got greedy. They wanted to promote all the brands. The problem is that Yum! Brands is not a brand ... it's a corporation. And no matter how much the corporate leaders like their company, it does not have name recognition. It's just not a brand, and all the wanting in the world cannot make it one.

At this very moment, I am trying to decide where to take my kids to dinner, and Yum! is just not part of the equation. I did not think, "Which Yum! Brand shall we eat tonight?"

Thus, that $2.7 million in exposure is -- I would bet -- wasted. You see, consumers decide what brands are. We can help them along the way. We can set up a brand to succeed. But we cannot just make some heavy handed brand because we want to. Brute force advertising is doomed to fail.

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Anonymous SDB II said...

In 1986, Bob Hogan, editor of a magazine called "Inside Print" wrote: "The more successful an organization becomes, the greater the chances are that its communication with the outside world will become based less on what the outside world needs to know and more on what the inside wants to hear." Nothng has changed.

8:45 AM  

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