Mumbai: Brands stretch to cover a wider product range through extensions. Much like Nestle India Ltd recently did with Nescafe Mild and Nescafe Cappuccino; Procter and Gamble Co.’s (P&G) Tide detergent stretched to Tide Lemon and Tide Rose and Jasmine; and P&G’s Ariel extended to Ariel 24-Hour Fresh.

Everyone is extending brands, but the advertising done to market these additions often proves unmemorable, ambiguous or out of sync with the mother brand’s values.

M.G. Parameswaran, Executive director, Draft-FCB-Ulka Advertising

The first form of extensions are product variants, as seen in shampoos morphing into black, yellow and pink variants. The second are line extensions, where the brand is extended into a different product form that has the same function, as in soap to body wash gel. And the third, and most difficult method, is brand extension: here, the brand is taken from one category to a different one, such as a soap brand stretching to shampoos.

Brand consultants such as Ramesh Thomas, principal executive officer, Equitor Consulting Pvt. Ltd, however, hold that extensions involve anything that takes on a brand’s name, whether it is in the same category or outside.

UB Group’s Kingfisher ‘Good Times’ has extended from beer to music to airlines and Hindustan Unilever Ltd’s (HUL) Dove stretched from cream soap to damage-control shampoos, he points out.

Thomas, however, says: “Extensions have more chance of being successful when their functional benefits remain alike or the same."

For instance, HUL brand Ponds successfully moved from cold cream to extensions such as Pond’s Age Miracle. “Communication for recent variants is poorly executed, but at least the basic premise of protection for the skin and freedom from wear and tear remains the same," Thomas says. But the Ponds toothpaste extension “failed miserably", he adds.

So, how should advertisers handle such brand extensions?

According to Santosh Padhi, executive creative director, Leo Burnett India Pvt. Ltd, creative pitches ought to be centred on “core properties" of the main brand; the feel-good aspect can be taken forward to market the new products.

But more and more brand extensions these days are not in sync with the main brand, and that poses a problem for ad makers.

“If it’s a youth brand that you are trying to bring under the fold of an old and trusted brand, there’s bound to be an identity clash," Padhi says.

To prevent such a clash, it is best to avoid extensions which tamper with a brand’s core values. Brands such as Amul (milk, chocolates, ice creams and packaged foods) and Nirma (soap to washing powder) proved they could stretch across slots by staying firm to their values in advertising. Umbrella brand Amul still stands for “Taste of India" and Nirma for better value for money. “As long as Nirma offers better value, it can move into almost any category," says Parameswaran.

An agency chief, who did not wish to be named, says ad men are handicapped when brands such as Sony extend across diverse categories, selling laptops to corporates and playstations to teenagers.

Confusion may arise over what really is the brand, its values, and what should its ad language be. Strategic and creative direction, however, helped Kingfisher and Virgin brands successfully move into diverse categories, he adds.

Brand myopia may start at the company level itself. “Extensions are driven by business opportunities. There is (often) no vision or insight for the brand ahead," says Anil Nair, CEO (India), Law and Kenneth Worldwide, citing how luggage brand Samsonite Corp. is also into shoes.

There are very few power brands today, as brands are getting ambiguous and using ambiguity as an excuse to extend, says Nair.

“The challenge for creative people is to keep thematic advertising associated with the main brand alive. About 99% of extensions are done to keep the brand fresh. Yet, most creatives don’t have much synergies with the main brand, and the creative emerges variant- or extension-led," Nair says.

But if a variant tries to go beyond the main brand, it ends up muddling the brand’s image. Says Santosh Desai, CEO, Future Brands Ltd: “Take Lux Chocolate Seduction. Earlier, Lux was a soap that talked about film stars (in ads) and grandeur, and then came down to glamour of a rudimentary kind. It went from a clear brand to one that’s exceedingly unclear."

As brands get more elastic, focused extension advertising is vital for both the main brand and the newer products it markets.