Why Some Brand Extensions Are Brilliant and Others Are Just Awkward

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When done correctly, a brand extension can be a huge hit, with the only complaint among consumers amounting to Why didn’t they do that sooner? Sometimes, though, the launch of a new product featuring a well-known brand is such a mismatch the reaction is more like What were they thinking?

Brand extensions are all around us. Bloomberg News recently highlighted how the fast-casual burrito chain Chipotle—which prides itself on having fresh, sustainable, humane, organic, chemical-free ingredients—has started selling hoodies, T-shirts, and other clothes that are likewise sustainable. “We’re doing the same thing with clothing — it’s all about looking at the supply chain all the way from the beginning,” Scott Mackinlay Hahn, a designer involved in the Chipotle line, said. “We’ve been trying to blend fashion, style, and trend with sustainability.”

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Chipotle is also sponsoring festivals that feature organic local foods and craft brews, and it is looking into the possibility of expanding into a line of sustainable kitchen accessories, such as bowls and cutting boards made from reclaimed wood. Will consumers buy Chipotle-branded cutting boards and $65 organic-cotton hoodies? Maybe not in huge numbers. But at least it seems within the realm of possibility that some people would be into the idea.

Not all brand extensions succeed in that department. AdWeek has published the results of its reader survey evaluating new brand extensions, some of which are largely deemed strange, perhaps even nonsensical and embarrassing. Edward M. Tauber, Ph.D., a research associate for the brand extension agency Parham Santana, provided three rules for successful brand extensions:

“The brand should be a logical fit with the parent brand; the parent should give the extension an edge in the new category; and the extension should have the potential to generate significant sales.”

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Indeed, the winners named by Adweek readers were extensions that seem very natural for the brands invovled. Nestle and Girl Scout Cookies are both known for sweet chocolate treats, so a Nestle Crunch Girl Scout Cookie Candy Bar (the top winner among voters) makes perfect sense. Likewise, consumers are also accustomed to taking NyQuil to help them rest when they’re feeling under the weather, so it’s logical that they’d also be up for using a NyQuil-branded sleep aid.

Let’s be honest, though: It’s more fun to ponder the brand extension train wrecks, which can bring on a “what were they thinking?” case of the giggles. At the top of the list of the worst new brand extensions is a perfume from Zippo, the lighter company. The fragrance is sprayed out of a container that looks like a Zippo lighter, with the problem being that most women probably don’t want to be associated with the smell of smoking or lighter fluid.

A water purifier from Virgin, a company known mainly for airlines, was deemed to be too strange and random an extension. The woman-centered SHe Steakhouse from “Desperate Housewives” actress Eva Longoria also got the thumbs down, as did a lineup of kids furniture from celebrity cook Paula Deen.

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Then there’s the Snooki’s Supre Tan, a self-tanning lotion from the “Jersey Shore” reality TV star. But honestly, doesn’t this seem like a fairly logical brand extension? The show is famous for fake tans and superficiality. The way that “Super” seems to be misspelled in the product also feels like a good match. (Nobody would peg the “Jersey Shore” posse as Spelling Bee champs.) Now, if Snooki was trying to expand her “brand” into financial services or SAT tutoring, or organic clothing for that matter, that’d be something else entirely.