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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Brand Extension Failures: Bic underwear

Strange but true

Harley Davidson perfume. Coors spring water. Both of these were doomed to failure because of the brand name’s attachment to an unrelated product. However, the prize for the most bizarre brand extension must go to Bic. The company, best known for producing disposable pens, thought its brand name was strong enough to be applied to other categories. Indeed, it had already achieved success with disposable cigarette lighters and safety razors. The unifying factor here was ‘disposability’. Bic pens, lighters and razors were all throw-away goods. Furthermore, Bic could exploit its well established distribution network and sell the lighters and razors in the same outlets as its pens.

However, when the Bic brand applied its name to women’s underwear, consisting of a line of ‘disposable pantyhose’ they were unable to attract customers. Okay, so the disposability element was still there. But that was about it. Consumers were unable to see any link between Bic’s other products and underwear, because of course there was no link.

The main problem was that the company insisted on using the Bic name. As marketing writer Al Ries has observed, using the same name in unrelated categories can create difficulties. ‘If you have a powerful perception for one class of product, it becomes almost impossible to extend that perception to a different class,’ he argues. ‘Names have power, but only in the camp in which they have credentials and when they get out of their camp, when they lose focus, they also lose their power.’ Although this doesn’t hold true for every brand – Virgin is an obvious exception (and one Ries rarely discusses) – it certainly holds true in this instance.

Furthermore, Bic underwear required a completely new distribution channel and required different production technology. The lighters, razors and pens were all made from injection-moulded plastic, and could therefore share resources. Production and distribution problems, combined with the fact that the product’s function was totally unlike that of the previous products, meant that Bic underwear met an early, and not much-mourned death.

Lessons from Bic underwear

  • Exploit existing resources. The other Bic brand extensions made sense because the company could exploit its existing sales force, distribution channels and production technology. None of which came in handy for the range of underwear.
  • Be flexible. The brand association for Bic in the mind of the consumer simply wasn’t flexible enough for a move into an unrelated product category.

4 comments:

jennifersign said...

Great information! Brand Extension can be tricky for some companies.

Jessica FantasyStockings said...

This was mention in a newspaper in 1976, you can find the scan of the Independent on Google about Bic pantyhose.

I am about to write this too on my blog.

Jessica

My Blog about Pantyhose

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