When Choosing Between Two Brands, Why Keep The Less Popular One?

from the go-figure dept

The real clincher for AT&T's buyout of BellSouth was its desire to control Cingular, their wireless joint venture. Cingular, you might remember, bought AT&T Wireless back in 2004, and spent a good chunk of change on rebranding efforts to make consumers aware of the change. Given that, it was a little curious to see the news that AT&T plans to quickly phase out the Cingular brand as it seeks to unite all its units, services and products under the AT&T name. But it wasn't just the money that made it strange, it's also the fact that the Cingular brand represents something very different than the staid, old (albeit well-known) AT&T one. Cingular's brand is all about wireless, and represents something much more forward-looking than the old fixed-line mentality AT&T evokes. However, a marketing research firm has added a little more fuel to the fire with a report saying the Cingular brand is much more popular than the AT&T one. Granted, its metrics sound a bit fuzzy, but it reports that AT&T is the least talked about telecom brand, and when it is mentioned, fewer of those mentions are positive than any other telecom brand in the US as well. Things get even stranger when you consider how AT&T said that AT&T Wireless had broken its brand by offering such poor customer service and gaining such a bad reputation. It's hardly clear why AT&T thinks it's got more to gain by consolidating everything under its less popular brand name. While the AT&T brand may have a lot of recognition, the thoughts that follow aren't necessarily good ones.

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  1. identicon
    misanthropic humanist, 22 Jan 2007 @ 3:42pm

    Never kill a brand

    A brand is something that should never lose its value. Think of it like a property, it can have many owners and be bought and sold, but over the years it should grown in value. Unless the company does something *really* bad to sully a brand name it should never be decomminsioned. I've talked about brand robustness before, how the Neumann name is legendary in the microphone market even when products exist with 10 times the value for money. Or another example is how Sony, despite all its mistakes and outright malice against its customers is still a strong brand in many peoples minds. I hear people say, "Well, yes, Sony are fucking evil criminals, but you know, they do make good products don't they". Even though Sony may become synonymous with invasive and deliberately defective technology, there is a kind of paradox which means the previously established image of Sony as a reliable and quality brand survives. Of course there are some names that will never live down the reputation that is attached to them. Union Carbide is indelibley stained with the image of 10,000 choking, dying Indians. General Dynamics, Haliburton etc will never be known for anything other than images of human bodies torn apart. But if you can establish a "good" association to a name that also has a powerful logevity.

    I can't think of an example that will mean much to Americans. But in Britain we had a chain of supermarkets called "Fine Fare". Back in the 1970's there was a FineFare in every town, they were the Tesco of their day. But in just a few years after they were bought out by Gateway the brand dissappeared. It exists only in the minds of old farts like me now.

    But here's the thing that the current owners probably don't realise. If I were to walk into a street with an ASDA (Wallmart) and I saw a FineFare shop I would choose to go there in an instant. Those memories from the 1970s are as strong as ever, the brand is still synonymous with "good value" in my supermarket schema.

    Destroying a brand is simply destroying potential wealth. AT&T are extremely foolish to do so. I have no idea what Americans think of Cingular, but I can tell you what Americans think of AT&T - a company that snoops on their private conversations and actively sells their private information to sinister government agencies. Or, as saw it said on Slashdot once, "AT&T, the only company whos logo is the Death Star".

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