A Branding Agency on Debranding

It’s kind of a branding oxymoron.  Brands spend billions of dollars trying to capture consumer attention and mind share, only, at the peak of their life cycle, to do an about face and abandon their brand names.  Cue confused face.

It’s a delicate balance.  Small brands, though often modest in revenue, are celebrated for their coolness and newness.  Large brands, though strong in revenue, are pervasive and too easy to come across.  When there is a starbucks on every corner, and everyone is toting a logo-emblazoned Gucci bag, it no longer feels special.  Enter debranding.

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Seen as a marketing method for reigning in a behemoth brand and altering its appeal back to the exclusive, debranding is most often used when a brand name has become too pervasive, and runs the risk of becoming over-exposed, and thus unloved by consumers. This dissolution of brand equity is an extremely delicate theme with luxury brands.   Affluent consumers are always looking for cutting-edge products.  They want to be the first to discover things, and though a product may appeal to them, if it is overly branded, they may not want to buy into the associations.  On the other hand we have “new luxury consumers” who are buying into luxury brands for the connotations and are looking for these overly-logoed products.  We are seeing a lot of brands pulling away from logoed patterns that have been so popular in years gone by, and a movement toward branded assets where brand names are palpably absent, even at the risk of losing these new luxury consumers.

Starbucks, for example, has lost its brand name on packaging, and instead boasts its siren emblem.  The move, they say, is toward making each Starbucks a unique, local experience, rather than a chain-like generic one.

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The same goes for Gucci.  Their over-exposed logo which was previously a symbol of luxury, seems to have lost some of its clout, as mother brand PPR reworks their strategy and attempts to find a balance between chicness and brand awareness to preserve its prestige positioning.

Debranding is not for everyone.  Often, it’s undertaken when a brand is repositioning towards exclusivity and reinforcing credibility.   However, it is a tactic that encourages engaging content over pushy advertising, and is more of a story of building brand equity than tactlessly pushing product.   Whether it’s successful for Starbucks and Gucci remains to be seen, however it is demonstrating a apparent shift in marketing strategies, reinforcing the fact that there is more to a brand than just its name.

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