Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Brand Failures

Brand Failures: the Truth about the 100 Greatest Branding Mistakes of All Time
© 2003 Matt Haig
310 pages


        What helps a brand succeed – or makes it fail? Brand Failures attempts to divine out the secrets to success by examining one hundred products or companies which have tanked. Some were new, others ancient, still others new ventures backed by established titans – but failure comes to all.  Each of the book’s one hundred sections features a different American or British brand. The sections vary in length: New Coke, which starts the work off, features a history of Coca-Cola and Pepsi’s competition, setting the stage for why Coca-Cola made the decision it to rework its product, but the book’s midpoint is taken by a series of paragraph-long sections which are more a list of humorous advertising mistranslations than proper chapters. The longer chapters end in list of lessons learned, from the patently obvious (“Advertising is important”) to the more insightful (“Don’t clone your competitors”) .  Some of the lessons conflict: while the author asserts at the start that in the Age of Branding,  actual products matter little compared to the power of the brand, the way it makes people feel.  Hence, while people in blind taste tastes may have preferred New Coke to classic coke and Pepsi,  when the actual product was rolled out, people acted poorly: it wasn’t the coke they had been brought up with. They had been told “Coke is It”, and were now expected to believe that Coke wasn’t It.  

         Despite the author’s deemphasizing the value of a product, numerous examples demonstrate that it can’t be ignored, either.  Haig uses Beta-Max and VCR to back up his belief that quality isn’t particularly important: while he stresses the audio and video quality of the Betamax tapes,  his account also mentions the fact that whole movies could not fit on such tapes.  The quality of the picture doesn’t equal the quality of the product overall.   To whom these lessons are to be imparted is uncertain. While they’re ostensibly aimed at business personalities attempting to launch or expand a brand, would such personalities really be reading a work written for popular audiences?  Wouldn’t marketing executives be paying more attention to marketing journals?  I’m particularly interested in the way marketing works so I can evade its tricks, but I found the work more entertaining as one of business history, for some of the products released were truly weird. In the 1950s, for instance, Dodge produced a car marketed for women: called La Femme and covered in pink inside and out, with floral patterns on the seats, it looked like something even Mattel would  be reluctant to foist on Barbie. (The lesson of this section: don’t patronize customers.)

            This breezy and entertaining book may be of use to budding entrepreneurs, but I suspect most readers who be those wanting to be amused by business misadventures, which it certainly provides.


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