How strong is your brand? The answer may depend on who you ask.

To a marketer, brand strength might be considered inversely proportional to the number and kinds of products it appears on, with the strongest of brands pointing to a single product.
Dan Kelly previously alluded to the marketing concern of “overbranding” here and here.

Al and Laura Ries raise the same concern; overbranding breaks several of their 22 Immutable Laws of Branding:

No. 1: “The Law of Expansion: The power of a brand is inversely proportional to its scope.”

No. 2: “The Law of Contraction: A brand becomes stronger when you narrow its focus.”

No. 10: “The Law of Extensions: The easiest way to destroy a brand is to put its name on everything.”

No. 22: “The Law of Singularity: The most important aspect of a brand is its single-mindedness.”

So, following this learned marketing guidance, a well-recognized pinnacle of brand strength might be the ROLEX® brand for watches; a world famous brand that appears to have resisted the temptation of straying beyond time-keeping devices.

Perhaps at the other extreme, embracing each and every brand extension temptation, in apparent conflict with those “immutable” laws of branding, is VIRGIN®, the brand conceived by Sir Richard Branson and applied to virtually every product and service known to man, from sound recordings to air transportation services, to comic books, to cell phones, to soft drinks, to banking services, to shampoo, to insurance services, to clothing, to playing cards, and on and on.

What might surprise even experienced marketing gurus is that the ROLEX® and VIRGIN® brands both can enjoy great legal strength, meaning each casts a long and wide shadow that may be useful in enforcement actions against a wide variety of diverse and non-competitive goods and services. The impressive legal strength of each may exist, however, for different reasons.

ROLEX® enjoys great legal strength because it consists of a truly famous coined mark that is not only inherently strong and distinctive, but commercially strong and distinctive too. This well-recognized fame protects ROLEX® from dilution and non-competitive uses, even when there is no likelihood of confusion. While the VIRGIN® brand doesn’t necessarily share the same inherent qualities, it nevertheless enjoys broad and strong legal rights too. Why? Because, contrary to the “immutable” branding “laws” identified above, trademark law actually rewards brand owners with broader and greater exclusive rights when the brand is applied on more and more goods and services, because likelihood of confusion is more easily shown.

Moral of the story: If you have a truly famous brand you can enjoy rights of great magnitude, and even prevent dilution of the distinctiveness of the brand, without regard to how many different goods or services are sold under your brand. Without fame, however, your best bet for broad and strong trademark rights is to use the brand on as many goods and services as possible.

  • Despite what the actual laws are, the immutable laws of branding follow that the more categories/products you put your brand name the weaker it becomes. When a brand is weak it means that it is unprofitable. Weak brands are forced to sell on price.
    Virgin is really an exception to the rule in some ways. Richard Branson is a PR machine. He will do anything to keep his name in the news. Many of the Virgin extensions are crazy (like Virgin wedding dresses) they are also mostly licensed. And I doubt there is much money in any of the businesses. Virgin cola is hardly making Coke sweat.
    Just because it is legal with the lawyers doesn’t mean it is legal with marketing.

  • Good point. Though I believe reading in the Forward of “22 Immutable Laws of Branding” somewhere that the title was intended to be a tongue-in-cheek POP trigger. The fact that the title encourages viewers to believe that somehow there exist “immutable” “laws” concerning branding is meant to be a gross exaggeration, thus humor. This according to an interview on NPR two years ago. I don’t think you’re alone. I had the same reaction prior to reading the passage & listening to the interview conveying this point. That being said, Virgin lives in a lifestyle arena where their products all connect to the same experience perception -within a similar socioeconomic demographic set (read: young people or those who think of themselves as such). Now, if they started manufacturing after-market auto parts, then I would argue there is a vast disconnect. Secondly, I’m not sure bringing ROLEX¬Æ into the equation is a best example, considering the brand’s worth has significantly been diluted thanks to the wide availability of Chinese knock-offs. While amongst existing participants, the brand might hold as an uncompromised icon of personal success, prospective subjects often find the brand equated with something altogether different. Is there a similar brand which better depicts this/your point? I know it’s not a luxury brand, but perhaps Timex? Good topic!