Brand extension gone too far?

Brand extension occurs when a company intentionally takes a well known brand and applies it to another product category. Companies extend their brands quite regularly.The objective is to take advantage of the awareness of the brand, reach new audiences, and ultimately make more money.

For example, Arm and Hammer moved from Baking Soda into Dental Hygiene products.  They utilized their association with cleanliness and fighting germs and odor and found a space in a new market (though their competitors are aggressively fighting back).

And the Virgin brand has been successfully extended from records to airlines to mobile phones and even to space travel (Virgin Galactic).

Of course, brand extension doesn’t always work. McDonald’s had a significant failure with their McPizza offering. And does anyone remember LifeSavers soda? Coors Spring Water? Or Colgate Kitchen Entrees? (I kid you not!)

Another form of Brand Extension is when two well known brands, are brought together. One very successful example of this is the Lego Star Wars toys and games.

I believe the reason for this success is that there is overlap in the market segments of people who like Lego and those who like Star Wars.  i.e. mostly male, but with an age range skewed much higher than the typical target audience for Lego.

Those of us who grew up playing with Lego and saw the original Star Wars movies in the theaters can now spend some more money on the combination of those two passions, or introduce our children to them.

But this kind of combination doesn’t always work. Lego recently announced a new game for the Wii, entitled Lego Rock Band.

There is whole family of Rock Band games including:

  • Rock Band (2007)
  • Rock Band 2 (2008)
  • Rock Band Unplugged (2009)
  • The Beatles: Rock Band (2009)
  • Lego Rock Band (2009)

Who is the target audience for Lego Rock Band? And will this game appeal to them?

The songs provided with the game are a curious mix of hits from various decades, with music from:

  • Jimi Hendrix, The Jackson 5
  • The Police, David Bowie
  • Carl Douglas (gotta love “Kung Fu Fighting”)
  • Foo Fighters, Bon Jovi
  • Spinal Tap (set the volume to 11)
  • Queen, Pink
  • Iggy Pop (yeah, this guy ===>)
  • Elton John, Korn
  • Counting Crows
  • and KT Tunstall (Who???)

to name just a few.

Forget about the video game for a second. Who would be the target for  that group of musicians????

Now combine the Rock Band portion, and maybe you’ll get some eclectic rocker/video game enthusiasts.

Now combine in the Lego theme, and who’s left? Young videogame playing, Lego fanboys who like 1970s punk rock?

Perhaps I’m not the target audience for this? I do own a Wii, and I actually do like some of the musicians listed above, and I did like Lego as a kid. But combining them all into a Rock Band game? I don’t think so.

Am I wrong here? Let me know.



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6 responses to “Brand extension gone too far?

  1. It’s really a “Kids Rock Band” game that happens to (confoundingly) use the Lego brand.

    All of the songs in Lego Rock Band have been selected to be appropriate for younger kids. There’s nothing like encouraging your 6-year old to sing the line “nature is a whore” while playing the original rock band.

    In addition to the appropriateness-filter for songs (including downloadable songs and songs imported from other Rock Band games) here’s a few different easy modes (e.g. a no kick-drum mode for kids who can’t reach the pedals)

    • Martin,

      Agreed it is a “Kids Rock Band” game.

      But the Lego tie in makes no sense at all to me.

      Lego has NEVER had any relationship to music. The Lego branded video games (e.g. Lego Star Wars) are a stretch in my opinion but at least tie into the success of the Lego Star Wars toys, but in the games have no relationship to the Lego experience at all. i.e. creating, building etc.

      As for the appropriateness of the songs, most of them are pretty tame, though it’s hard to understand which young kids would be listening to Iggy Pop or Spinal Tap.

      And while it seems they tried to pick safe songs, both Hendrix’s Fire and Spinal Tap’s Short and Sweet have some lyrics with very obvious innuendo, that would be rather inappropriate for kids to sing.

  2. Brand extension is a disease, a seemingly unstoppable force that infects almost every successful business and ultimately drags it down.

    Launching a new brand is quite an expensive undertaking. In the short run, it’s a lot easier to leverage the power of an existing brand. In the long run, it dilutes the brand, in many cases to an extent that outweighs the cost savings.

    Brand extension is evil.

    • I’m not as dogmatic about brand extension, as there are many cases where companies have had very good success when they extended their brands. The Lego Star Wars line was VERY successful for Lego (and I’m assuming Mr. Lucas as well).

      But extension does have limits, and I think in this case, Lego is completely out of tune (sorry, couldn’t resist) with their audience.

  3. Legos went off in the weeds with branded sets. The sets lose their unstructured play enablement once you have branded sets. Technic sets also lost the unstructrured play aspect, because you had to follow instructions.

    Lego discovered that their sets where purchased by parents, rather than kids, aka economic buyer, rather than users.

    I’ve never bought a branded set and never will. I did buy Technics for myself, let my son inherit them, bought him some of his own. I don’t know that I can support buying them for his son, as they are too far removed now from unstructured play.

    • The unstructured play aspect of Lego was what made it great. I can’t count the hours spent as a child playing with Lego, building cars and boats and trains etc.

      My childhood friend Matthias from Germany had the most amazing collection of Lego I’d seen as a kid. Most of the stuff he had was not available in North America at that time.

      I agree about the Technic sets. They are actually VERY complex and require a lot of patience to put together and then what? After all that effort, it’s a shame to take them apart.
      Maybe they have higher appeal in Europe or Asia.

      The Bionicles are similar. Although much simpler than Technic, they are not easy to put together. My son got one a couple of years back at a party and I found it hard to make it exactly as illustrated. Lots of small pieces etc.

      Lego Mindstorms is a different story. My kids are in Lego League at school and that set totally rocks. Too bad it’s soooo expensive.