Brand Extensions Achieve MAXIMum Failure

On the cover of Maxim magazine the publication promises the same thing every month: ”Hot Women, Wild Parties, Cool Clothes, Trendy Drinks and High Tech Gadgets.” In June 2002 the hip men’s Magazine figuratively added ”Hair Color.” The magazine’s owner, Dennis Publishing, in a collaboration with Combe, maker of Just for Men hair color, extended the Maxim brand to hair care products. The press release stated, “Maxim Magazine Haircare is giving guys the opportunity to have an edgy look that is no longer relegated to just the stage or movie screen.” The Maxim brand really extended itself when it decided to decided to enter the hair care aisle. Youth-oriented, frosted hair dye? They did have cool color name options: Bleach Blond, Sandstorm, Black Jack and Red Rum.

Did Maxim violated marketing strategist Al Ries’s “Law of Extension” – the most violated among all the “immutable laws of marketing?” Michael Wendroff, vice president for hair color marketing at Combe said ”We did a lot of research, young guys are already entering the market, but they didn’t want to enter a salon or use a woman’s hair product. And we thought there would be nothing more comfortable for guys than Maxim. That makes it a guy thing.” ”Maxim is a real cool brand,” Manager for brand development at Dennis Publishing, Barry Pincus, said ”Guys look up to us, and women love us as well. They trust who we are. And this gives them a tangible interface with our brand that they can touch or feel.” Magazine ads showed women who could not resist the Maxim frosted male. ”Most of the people who use our Just for Men product are older, but young people have an awareness of it because of all the advertising we’ve done,” Mr. Wendroff said. ”Now we can use the sex appeal and irreverent humor to reach a new market.”

Since you’ve read the title of this post you probably already know how this story ends. Have you seen Maximum Magazine Harecare in your local CVS lately? Probably not. The product disappeared from shelves not long after it was voted the “second worst brand extension” in the 2005 brand extension winners and losers survey by New York branding consultancy Tipping Sprung and trade publication Brandweek. Then it was quietly swept under the rug.

But what went wrong? The brand managers were so enthusiastic. They had research! They simply stretched their brand too far. Most failed brand extensions don’t jibe with how consumers understand the core brand or just don’t seem to match with the company’s existing product line. “The idea of staying home alone at night and staining your towels as you dye your hair just doesn’t coincide with Maxim’s image of a guy out partying with the beautiful people,” says Martyn Tipping, president and director of brand strategy at Tipping Sprung.

Which Advertising Medium Is best?

Television gives you an opportunity to speak to a captive audience that is more apt to fully tune into an ad. In a similar way radio offers an improvement over print in that the listener is captive to the message unless they switch stations. On the other hand, Newspapers are typically scanned by the reader. If an ad is seen at all, the headline will be glimpsed and the copy largely ignored. Readers tend to peruse magazines more carefully than they do newspapers, but the ads are flipped by.

Maybe we can gain more insight into this issue by looking at people’s views of the different media. A 2005 post-election survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press showed television far outstripped newspapers as a primary source of information. In a Boston Globe article Lance Morrow, a professor of journalism at Boston University, argued that print is a thinking medium and the visual is not. While Thomas Cooper, a professor of media arts at Emerson College said viewers can get more complete news with the explosion of available television channels. Does this mean print or TV is more involving?

A few years ago, the Wharton School of Business at Penn did a study to track the return-on-investment experienced by small businesses as a result of advertising. The businesses were monitored and measured for seven years, but only three conclusions were reached: 1. There is no direct correlation between dollars invested and results gained. 2. Results are inextricably linked to the message. 3. Results increase with repetition. The study found that ads that speak to the heart of the customer and touched a nerve were the ones that turned little companies into big ones. Everything hinged on the message. Is it predictable and boring? Is it believable? Is it relevant? The study also found that once you identify a message that generates a positive response repetition works – with study participants seeing double and triple growth in years two and three (Williams, 2009).

The Wharton study doesn’t tell us which media to use, but it does tells us that success all hinges on your message. And I believe the same applies to new media.