How far can a line extension go before it breaks a brand?
While looking at a can of Coca-Cola I noticed the wording ORIGINAL TASTE below the logo, placed prominently in the middle and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, you must have really messed with your brand to feel compelled to make that claim on its packaging’.
A few days later the thought came back when I read that Al Ries had died. I never met the man but his thinking has influenced me through his writing. In 2009, he wrote for AdAge: “We call line extension the ‘hockey-stick effect.’ Short term, you get the blade and score a few goals. Long term, you get the shaft.”
You can read the full article here: Al Ries • Line extensions
As a form of tribute to Al Ries, I went to the Coca-Cola US website to investigate the extent of the Coca-Cola brand line extension and I found the following on offer: Coca-Cola; Caffeine Free Coca-Cola; Coca-Cola Cherry; Coca-Cola Cherry Vanilla; Coca-Cola Vanilla; Coke Zero Sugar; Caffeine Free Coke Zero Sugar; Coca-Cola Cherry Vanilla Zero Sugar; Coca-Cola Cherry Zero Sugar; Coca-Cola Vanilla Zero Sugar; Coca-Cola® with Coffee Mocha; Coca-Cola® with Coffee Vanilla; Coca-Cola® with Coffee Dark Blend; Coca-Cola® with Coffee Caramel; Coca-Cola® with Coffee Vanilla Zero Sugar; Coca-Cola® Dreamworld; Coca-Cola® Zero Sugar Dreamworld; Marshmello's Limited Edition Coca-Cola®; Marshmello's Limited Edition Coca-Cola® Zero Sugar; Coca-Cola® Starlight; Coca-Cola® Starlight Zero Sugar; Coca-Cola® Zero Sugar Byte.
That’s 22 individual products. By coincidence, one of Al Ries's books (co-authored with Jack Trout) is called 'The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing' , in it he had this to say: “If violating any of our laws was a punishable offence, a large portion of corporate America would be in jail. By far the most violated law in our book is the law of line extension.”
Cuff ‘em Al.