There are brands. And then there are brands that brand brands. Getting a boost from another brand’s equity is happening all around us. And the techniques range from perfectly symbiotic to just plain cash transactions.
The granddaddy of them all is the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, now over 100 years old and still serving as a positive endorsement/warranty for products that are privileged enough to carry the seal. Products that pay the price that it is, since the Good Housekeeping Seal is essentially for sale based on advertising contracts and, of course, passing some private performance and quality tests. Still, more than 5000 products have “earned” the designation, and Good Housekeeping does provide a limited warranty on the products that have not performed to customers’ satisfaction. The name has even become a generic term for endorsements of many kinds, as in putting “the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” on this idea, or that widget.
In recent years, the auto industry has found itself at the mercy of the aptly name J.D. Power and Associates, the market research firm that has become the gold standard for ranking new car models for quality, customer satisfaction, and dependability. The J. D. Power logo and clear glass trophy are invariably incorporated into the communications of car models that earn a good score.
Consumer Reports magazine, also a major arbiter of automobile quality, is the polar opposite of J.D. Power, refusing to allow any of its reviews, rankings or recommendations for any product to be overtly referred to by the manufacturer. Yet, for their subscribers, a positive nod from the magazine is often treated as gospel. Unlike J.D. Power, however, Consumer Reports wields a sharp sword for any manufacturer unlucky enough to receive failing marks for their products. If Consumer Reports says a product is unsafe, the manufacturer is usually forced to respond publicly and in a hasty fashion to the accusations to protect their sales and their brand.
One of the most intriguing brand synergies of the past 19 years has been the long running “Intel Inside” campaign. It’s a classic example of symbiotic branding where each brand becomes stronger from the association with the other. And Intel wisely avoided exclusive ties to one computer maker and became for many years a symbol of quality and performance for any computer that displayed its tiny logo. During much of this time, Advanced Micro Devices, Intel’s largest competitor, was making microprocessors that were the equal of their rival’s and often cost less. But AMD did not have the brand cache that Intel had built with several popular consumer campaigns, including the Blue Man Group series of commercials that did much to build public awareness of their brand. (As well as that of the Blue Man Group.)
The Intel Inside campaign began in 1991 and ran until 2006 when the corporation unwisely stepped away from the concept with the short-lived “Intel: Leap Ahead” campaign. By 2009, Intel Inside was back, though with less power as AMD had begun to match some of Intel’s marketing approaches with a badge brand approach of their own. (The very independent Apple brand has used Intel processors in their computers since 2006, but choses not to take part in the Intel badge program.)
Of course, there is the fickle world of celebrity endorsements in which billions are invested each year for an association and direct or implied endorsement. Most go relatively smoothly, though with difficult to measure results. But since the endorsing brands are human beings, we see the occasional meltdown that leaves company execs scrambling for their PR director’s cell phone number. Tiger Woods-like debacles aside, some marketing studies have shown that consumers are impressed by celebrity endorsements just because they know they are expensive. The reasoning appears to be that it must be a good brand because it costs so much to get this player, or that movie star, to represent it.
This is not to imply that every marriage of brands is a productive one. Baskin Robbins combined in the same store with Dunkin Donuts did little to help either brand, other than reduce overhead. The Eddie Bauer version of the Ford Explorer didn’t set any sales records. NutraSweet successfully hooked up with an entire roster of brands until its patents expired and low cost generics came onto the market.
In the vast world of brands, there are some that can boost another or each other in the eyes of consumers. Intel masterfully made its unseen products suddenly more relevant. J.D. Power sends customers flocking to showrooms. Uber-celebrity brand Oprah can make or break a product with the briefest of blessings or off hand remarks. It is a brand strategy that can work wonders, but the real secret for a successful brand marriage is when two sides bring value to the table and share both the risks and rewards.