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The Only One Thing That Works When A Brand Flops

The Only One Thing That Works When A Brand Flops

Donald P. Gonsalves

Look around, and the marketing world is full of epic branding failures. And if you felt you were the only one, don’t lose heart.

I’ve been studying brand successes and failures for years, and I can say there’s a lot to learn from watching products flop. But before we discuss that one last thing to try, first let’s go through top 5 reasons for failure.

Failure #1: Not Having Answers to “What Exactly Is It?” and “Why Should I Want It?”

In the early 80s, shampoo megabrand Clairol introduced two shampoos named, “Look of Buttermilk” and “Touch of Yogurt.” And the products flopped.

For one, you have to wonder… are you washing your hair in actual yogurt? And if you are, why would you want to do that? Wouldn’t it be kind of… sticky?

For two, if you’re naming a product the “Look of Buttermilk,” what exactly does buttermilk look like? Not everyone knows, and prospective customers were confused. Why would you want your hair to look like milk?

In both cases, the products were inexcusably vague. Not only did they fail to communicate the benefit, but they failed to communicate with the product actually was. It’s no wonder they flopped.

Failure #2: Lending Your Brand to Products in an Unrelated Market

Some brands have a name that makes anything popular “by association.”

Apple can release almost any type of electronics product, and people will buy it just because it’s Apple. Stouffer can release almost any type of pre-packaged meal, and people will buy it because they know it’ll taste homemade (or close to it). Both companies regularly test new products, putting their name on them and seeing how they sell, and they often do well, solely on the strength of the brand.

The important point though is that they release products within their niche. Apple isn’t trying to make pre-packaged food, and Stouffer isn’t trying to sell electronics.

It makes sense, but big brands forget all the time.

Harley Davidson fans will buy just about anything emblazoned with the famous logo: t-shirts, lighters, jackets – everything a biker needs. But when they tried to introduce Harley Davidson perfume and aftershave, fans revolted. If you drive a Harley, you don’t want to smell nice. You might want to smell like leather and motor oil, and you don’t need perfume or aftershave to help you do that.

Failure #3: Failing to Evolve with the Market

Have you heard about Ovaltine the malted milk drink. Ask your Parents or grandparents about Ovaltine, and chances are they can hum or whistle the radio jingle that used to accompany it. These days, Ovaltine is promoted as more of a health drink or a breakfast shake, but it still fails to gain much brand recognition among anyone younger than 60.


Because it held too tightly and too long to its previous purpose: a sleep aid before bed. They thought they’d carved out a market niche, but as the market evolved, more and more customers moved to drinks like ‘Ensure’ who marketed their ability to serve as a meal replacement. Ovaltine should’ve evolved with the market, but they didn’t, and now they are suffering for it.

The lesson: nostalgia does not always equal better sales.

Failure #4: Launching When the Market Isn’t Ready

No one but the most mobile of urban professionals carried a smartphone in the early 90s, but that’s precisely when Apple leapt onto the scene with its Newton PDA.

Unlike more modern Apple innovations, such as the iPhone and iPad, the Newton didn’t beget long lines of early adopters. Instead, it got blasted by everything from talk shows to comic strips for its poor handwriting recognition and massive price tag (~$700).

Since no trendsetter wants to align themselves with something unpopular, Newton faded into tech-antiquity while cheaper, smarter devices like the Palm Pilot and Blackberry began to stake their claim in the digital market, which was ready for innovation.

Failure #5: Promising One Thing and Delivering Another

If you say you stand for one thing, and deliver something completely different, you can bet customers won’t fall for it twice.

Case in point: Domino’s Pizza. The long time king of fast delivery, good and cheap pizza was quickly unseated by complaints of cardboard-like crust and sauce that tasted like ketchup. Yes, it was fast, and yes, it was cheap, but it wasn’t good, and by promising customers good pizza, they raised expectations too high, setting themselves up to fail.

These days, Domino’s has finally stepped up to the plate and admitted their faults, promoting an entirely new type of dedication to the art of pizza-making. But is it too little, too late?

So What Is That Last Thing That You Can Do To Help Your Brand? Re-Brand!

To put this simply, rebranding nothing but correcting the mistakes done during the previous effort for branding. Rebranding has a process similar to branding in some ways, but on a different scale, with a different purpose and for different reasons.

Rebranding is conducted with an existing brand. It involves changing the brand name, logo, visuals, packaging, marketing materials and/or any other defining aspect of a brand’s consumer connectivity. It should be remembered that branding is nothing more that creating a sense of goodwill within target audience. Rebranding acts to correct a branding gone wrong.

I will write more about rebranding in my next post as it will be a long article.

If you have anything to share about your experiences, please do share them in the comments. Thanks for reading. 

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