underwear that’s fun to wear

The verdict from brand marketers on the worst brand extensions of 2008 is out — Burger King underwear, Kellogg’s hip-hop street wear, and Allstate Green insurance were named the worst offenders.

The annual survey, conducted by TippingSprung a marketing consultancy, reports on the opinions of Brandweek magazine readers and other marketing pros — so it’s definitely not the most scientifically-reliable test of brand extension value, but it makes for good conversation, and that’s exactly where I want to jump in.

Asked to comment in Brandweek magazine on the selection of Burger King underwear as the most inappropriate extension (by 45.5% of the those polled), Laura Ries of Ries & Ries said, “Marketers are so in love with their brands that they think consumers are as well and will go to the lengths of wearing their brand name on their underwear…While people love the Whopper, they don’t want to parade around in underwear that says, ‘This is where my big, fat ass came from.‘”  (Great quote, huh?!)

Bill Cross from Broadstreet Licensing Group, the agency that inked the deal, responded in kind, “It’s a fit for the predominantly male 18-24 target.  People who are buying it aren’t reading Brandweek and don’t care anyway.  BK likes things to be a little edgy. Their CMO, Russ Klein, loves stuff that’s a little weird.

I want to interject into this tit-for-tat that I don’t think the issue with the extension is that it’s underwear — I get that some people like to wear underwear that’s fun to wear (long live Underoos!) and clearly some people want to wear branded underwear (long live Joe Boxer!)  So I am willing to concede that Burger King branded underwear might be an appropriate new way for its target to experience the brand.

The problem with this extension is the design on the underwear. The artwork features a large image of the creepy Burger King character, a large logo, and the Have It Your Way tagline, all superimposed over sketches of various Whopper ingredients (block of cheese, tomato, you get the idea.)  It looks like they took one of their packaging designs and slapped it on the boxers.

It seems to me there are far more creative, “edgy,” and “weird” designs they could have used.  For starters, “Have It Your Way” makes for great sexual innuendo, doesn’t it? — might clever use of the word “King” and some arrows do the trick?  Surely people with more perverted, er, I mean, creative minds could come up with something more appropriate for the brand and more appealing to the brand’s target (and the women they’re trying to impress.)

In case you’re wondering, this is not a gag post — I’m serious.  If a brand is going to do a brand extension, then they should really do one — and do it well.  Simply pasting your logo on different products is not a brand extension.

Brand extensions should reveal more of the story of your brand.  To explain, a brand identity is like a character in a movie — it must captivate its audience’s imagination and subsequent incarnations (that is, sequels for movies and extensions for brands) should feed on its audience’s desire to know more about it or to experience it in new ways.  Marketing Management, the monthly publication from the American Marketing Association, published an article of mine on this topic earlier this year.

So if BK had been more brand-driven in their underwear licensing deal, they might have had a better response — at least among the brand extension survey respondents and commentators.  And I hope this provides a (slightly) more thoughtful analysis of the results.

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