There’s an idea of business that I’ll call the Romantic Ideal; it’s what we Americans are taught in school. Someone has an idea for a new or improved product or service, a “better mouse trap” as we call it in slang. Our hero scares up some money, builds a small business, and through hard work and attention to quality the business grows. Eventually, if the price is right and the quality is good, everyone prospers, the company goes public, and we all benefit.
This has indeed happened many times. However, the current pattern is different. Our hero is now a marketing professional, a “brand manager”. Brought in at the above company 20 years later, he sees that they have become known for their quality product, and that people in many places trust their name. He then proceeds to apply something called “Brand Extension” in which the famous name is attached to hundreds of other items, licensed to other people, and in general spread around as liberally as possible.
This allows our new hero to charge a marginally higher amount for all of these items, because the good name of the original company justifies it. However, there is nothing necessarily good about the stuff they’re now selling. In fact, the cheaper the better, to maximize this new margin.
The result is that the world is loaded up with crap with a good brand name on it. To give a good example: The Land Rover Defender was the vehicle of choice if you needed to drive the length of Africa. Twice. Backwards. It was amazingly tough and resilient. Pricy to be sure, but this little truck over the last few decades became a synonym for “off road vehicle for remote nasty environments”.
The next one will be a rebranded Ford Explorer. This is a car that is fun and ok to go to the market in, if you don’t mind several safety recalls per model year and tacky, downmarket switchgear, and a crap suspension. It’s a box for consumers. But all you have to do is pin that Land Rover badge on it and PROFITS! occur.
I submit that this is bad for business and bad for our culture. Not only will the pyramid collapse at some point (hopefully imprisoning the marketers), but a lot of our ideas about “quality” are tied up in commercial brands, and having them all despoiled for a few bucks can’t be good.
In any case it pisses me off.
List of examples:
- Steinway pianos
- Fender guitars
- Mercedes-Benz cars
- Van De Kamp’s Bakery (here in CA)
- Every chain restaurant, ever
- The Kennedy Family