Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Dr Vinci Code.

A couple of years back, I got hoodwinked into reading that DaVinci book, about which I am reminded everywhere I turn these days. (It wasn’t very good, since you asked. Take out all the God stuff, and you’ve got a lame thriller that would have made Ludlum blush). Anyway, among the things that I thought didn’t warrant all the fuss was the character of Sophie Neveu, winsomely played by Audrey Tautou in the film. I just kept thinking, dudes… it’s been 2000 years. Even if she IS a relative of you-know-who, she isn’t a close one. Genetically speaking, there’s not much left in there after, oh, a hundred generations or so.

This is what I’m thinking about as I sit in an interminable meeting, sipping a Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper. Not just a Dr Pepper, mind you. And not just a Diet one, or a Cherry one, or a Vanilla one, but a Dr Pepper so manifold blessed that it possesses all of these characteristics in a single, genetically engineered chimera. A third declension of what was a niche little brand to begin with. (A brand so aware of its own marginality, by the way, that it has forbidden the use of the period after ‘Dr’). I selected it from the tray, choosing it from among all manner of surer things, soda-wise, out of sheer incredulity.

Good Lord, what chucklehead brand manager thinks that there is so much meaning in the Dr Pepper name that it doesn’t matter what he puts it on? So, we’ll drink it even if it has mouthwash in it, as long as it says Dr Pepper on the can?

Good luck with all that. Who do they think this brand is? Apple?

Brand extension is a risky business at the best of times. It’s like adding a deck onto your house. It might look nice if it’s proportionally right and made of the same or some complimentary material. But make it the wrong size or too different, and your house will look silly. And if your house is a shack, the whole mess might fall down while you’re hammering away, leaving you with nothing but your new deck, which will be useless unless your hobby is reviewing passing parades.

Let me now return you to my regularly scheduled analogy. This Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper making rings on the boardroom table in front of me was a bit like Sophie: cute, but there wasn’t much of the original brand left in there.

I should have taken the Coke.

Classic, that is.

Hey, don’t look at me. At least that’s just one adjective. And at least its parent brand is ‘the real thing’. Which is more than you can say for Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper. Or Sophie Neveu. Or possibly Dan Brown.

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