An Extension Too Far?

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

One epistle in the branding canon concerns the extension of brand names to products and activities that may not be so obviously connected to the origins of said notoriety.

And the gurus said let there be a Mr. Clean Car Wash.

It seems that Procter & Gamble is searching for ways to make money beyond the branded products it has ably sold on grocery store shelves for the last umpteen years. It has been reported previously that branded packaged goods sales have declined during our recent economic troubles, as consumers opt for necessities that accomplish necessary tasks — washing dishes, cleaning spills, or whatever — without the benefits of doing so with brilliantly-branded products.

So now P&G is gambling that the lure of its Mr. Clean brand will entice drivers to choose  Mr. Clean car-washes over generically-labeled competitors.

It’s not a dumb idea, per se. There’s no reason why brand names can’t get stuck on a variety of things. The liturgy that guides such sticking is overly complicated, and mostly irrelevant to the interests and purchase motivators of actual consumers. 

I’ve never understood why, say, Coke couldn’t choose to brand better escalators in shopping malls, or Verizon could choose to bring smarter cups and containers to concession stands at baseball stadiums.

The qualities of better are far more important than any nuanced attributes of brand.

Brands that make our lives easier, faster, less costly, or more durable are probably better marketing assets than those that rely simply on whatever thoughts or emotions the branding gurus have decided consumers should think about them.

In this sense, Mr. Clean car-washes might be a giant success, but not because of Mr. Clean’s involvement; rather, they need to be better car washes, and find ways to communicate that difference in obvious, compelling, and unique ways. From what I’ve read, P&G has partnered with a third-party that actually specializes in really good car-washing, so there’s hope. 

I wonder if Mr. Clean will add anything to the mix past great name recognition, and mybe some fond, nostalgic feelings. Branding gurus help us if the test succeeds, as we’ll then get subjected to more extensions, like Gillette steak knives, or Crest sports mouthguards.

But the real test will have nothing to do with the P&G brand. If it fails, it won’t be due to the failure of a brand extension, but rather the shortcomings of the car-wash as a business. 

What strange, interesting times we live in, eh?

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