Are brands dead?


Harley Davidson Eau de Toilette

What does a brand name still stand for these days? I have stopped caring about brand names, because they mean little to me anymore. I would have thought that only consumers who don't get out much would still be swayed by a brand name in their buying decisions, but no, it seems brands are not dead yet. Many deserve to die, though.

Old and legendary brands, like Bugatti, are revived and are branded onto products that lack the historical continuity that would have earned them this brand. New fantasy brands, that mean nothing, are being introduced and "positioned" by the hundreds in the hope of triggering a buying spree among the tragically hip. Who is Hilfiger when he's at home? But the worst thing is: there is massive brand slaughtering going on among the old and well-established brands we all love and trust, ironically by the same people who want to leverage these brands to generate more sales, a fine example of short-term thinking.

Some brands have started extending to items they were never associated with, and the associated companies have nothing to do with, eg. Swarovski watches, BMW SUVs, Porsche bicycles and Harley Davidson perfume. What's next, McDonald's footwear? Brands mean nothing here.

Strange things also happen in the computer hardware industry. Take Plextor, once a manufacturer of top-of-the-line, best-ever DVD recorders. What you have actually been buying based on this brand image could very well have been a TEAC or a BenQ with a Plextor badge slapped on. Not bad drives, but no Plextors. The once legendary name of Cisco now appears on consumer products next to their former brand Linksys. Many different notebook brands are stickered onto identical products. Brands mean nothing here.

Expensive watches are worn with pride, but only a few Swiss watch makers still design and manufacture complete watches, a majority of the great brands, like Omega, use ETA movements. These are very good, but is an Omega with an ETA movement still an Omega watch or is just the case an Omega?

Nikon cameras used to be bomb-proof and flawless, but Nikon has had so many quality issues lately (which they partly denied) that I wouldn't buy any Nikon anymore until at least six months have passed since its introduction, just to see if there are any problems with that specific Nikon. I don't trust that brand name anymore.

A Subaru with a Saab badge; front-wheel drive, overweight, Fiat-based diesel cars being called Alfa Romeos; Daewoos suddenly transforming into Chevrolets; pimped Ford Mondeos called Jaguar; Porsche building diesel-powered garden sheds using Volkswagen parts; Bentley, Jaguar, and Maserati SUVs ... Many cars seem to be an amalgamate of randomly sourced components with a "brand" slapped on, in a feeble attempt to suggest the emotion, continuity, quality, and engineering culture the brand once stood for.

Some people know these things, and knowledge spreads. You can't fool everybody forever. Using a brand as a magical extra, slapped on run-of-the-mill products you didn't even make is a sure way of killing a brand for good, even if you are still making some of the good stuff on the side.

No, brands aren't dead yet, but many brands are starting to smell funny. Once a consumer realises he can't rely on a brand name, and has to research who are actually manufacturing his future purchase, and what the quality is of a specific item, that brand name can't be trusted anymore and will die (as it should).


This page was created by Oscar den Uijl, oscar@den-uijl.nl