In 1978, KISS was at their commercial peak. Double Platinum had just come out, and the KISS name was on everything including comic books, lunch boxes, Halloween costumes, board games, and pinball machines. They would bank over $100 million in merchandising alone between ’77 and ’79.
And then they decided to release solo albums by all four members of the band, all on one day. On September 18, 1978, the four solo records hit stores accompanied by a massive marketing campaign.
Within a few weeks, it was evident that the experiment was a failure. Quickly the KISS solo albums started appearing in record store bargain bins. The only lasting song from the era is Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove“.
Although they would go on to record one more tremendously successful album in Destroyer in 1979, the decline had begun. It would take nearly 20 years and numerous line-up changes before the original band would reunite and recapture their early magic.
In hindsight, four solo albums probably spread the KISS brand too far.
When you look around, you’ll see brands doing the same thing all the time.
This spring my favorite beer, Canadian beer Alexander Keith’s, released a limited time Ambrosia Blonde brew. It joins their five other offerings: India Pale Ale, Amber Ale, Light Ale, Dark Ale, and Premium White. When I first started enjoying Keith’s beer two decades ago, there was only one type of Keith’s. Now there are six.
One has to wonder… do all of these new twists on the Keith’s name attract new Keith’s drinkers or do they simply split the existing fan base six different ways?
Does Keith’s Premium White do battle with other white beer or does it steal market share from other Keith’s products?
Bud Light is the #1 selling beer in America. So when Bud Light with Lime came along, did it take market share from competitors like Miller Chill or directly from Bud Light?
When Coors introduced Coors Light in 1978, did they steal market share from other light beers… or did they make the original Coors irrelevant? Coors Light is the 4th best-selling beer in America. Finding a bottle of the original Coors is rare anywhere.
I don’t know the answers, but I do believe that at some point this type of line extension spreads the brand too far.
Does Starbucks’ Via brand instant coffee extend the Starbucks line too far?
The danger is that Starbucks has built a brand based on on warm cafe environments, rich escapes from the hustle of the world, where soothing music plays while you relax. The Via instant coffee doesn’t offer any of the elements built into the Starbucks brand. You could very well drink it from a paper cup while listening to heavy metal music in a cold car while idiots cut you off in traffic. That’s not a Starbucks experience at all.
For a beer company, they risk creating fad brews that don’t match up with the image of the brand. Keith’s is built on heritage, having been brewed the same way since 1820. Their marketing is all built around the heritage of founder Alexander Keith. Would Alexander Keith have created limited-time summer blends that are best served with a slice of orange?
Here are 3 keys to successful line extension:
1. The new product must thrive in the same world as the original brand. Diet Coke can be just as refreshing on a warm day as regular Coke. They are served the same way and consumed the same way.
2. The new product cannot violate the marketing premise of the original brand. Volvo is built on safety, and any new Volvo – SUV or sports car – cannot violate that safety premise. Jeep has taken a dangerous route creating non-trail rated Jeep station wagons like the Compass.
3. The new product must have a direct relationship with the original brand, or else both will suffer. Is Bic a lighter, a pen, or a razor? Are they the current leader in any product category? New products that do not have a direct relationship with the original brand are not line extensions, but rather much riskier brand extensions.