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Breaking the 22 Immutable Laws of Branding one brand at a time, part 1

Al Ries - The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding

A search on Amazon for “branding” books racks up a whopping 2,500 entries, making it the second most popular topic, after leadership, in the biz-book market. Topping this Godzilla pile is Al Ries’s The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, the king of the hill because, like so many of its bestselling colleagues, it rigorously follows the One Immutable Law of Bestsellers, the Law of the Lowest Common Denominator: “Nobody ever lost money dumbing down their book.” As the polemics of the book’s title suggests (“immutable,” indeed), Ries’s branding “laws” admit of startlingly little nuance or complexity, making the book relatively useless in the messy world of creating and promoting a brand.

Bestsellers have the luxury to be pristinely and maniacly simple-minded, but business rarely rewards the simple-minded.

So say Ries’ critics all. But, as the saying goes, any jackass can kick down a barn. So, in the spirit of Shoestring Venture’s unrelenting positive outlook, our review isn’t going to criticize, but instead “smart up” the book by filling in nuances the Ries bulldozer ignores. You see, ever since the first immutable law in human history (“Don’t eat that apple”), people have found surprisingly clever ways to profitably get around every immutable law that’s come down the turnpike since. And I, for all it’s worth, am firmly in the “children of this generation” category rather than the “children of light” category, so I constantly look for ways to bend and break and bust immutable laws.

So, we’ve chosen a handful of major brands at random that have quite profitably broken Mr. Ries’ unbreakable laws to give us brand insights a little more valuable than the decalogue times two plus two that has made Ries so wealthy.

Ries, like any revanchist polemicist, cherry-picks his evidence, so we’re going to review the book by looking at “super-brands” that have held top market share for decades or centuries. Surely, if Ries’ core ideas are sound, the best brands will embody them in practice and, if not, would have suffered the immutable consequences Ries summons down around their heads.

I’m not a big fan of 10 laws of this and 12 laws of that and 7 laws of this-that. Give me a rule and I’ll tirelessly search out an exception; I’m an optionalist, not a regulist, at the core. Besides which, do you really want to get into casuistic accounting games? “Hey, your brand broke Ries’ Fifth Immutable Law!”

The book can, in fact, be usefully reduced to core principles – individual laws may be broken, but the core principles, or principle, may still hold for successful brands. And the core principle animating Ries’ book? I call it

The Law of the One

What is a brand? A singular idea or concept that you own in the mind of the prospect. It is as simple and as complex as that. (The 22 Immutable Laws, 110)

Although not as dramatic (or bestselling) as “22 Immutable Laws,” we can rename this core idea as the Law of the One:

One brand = one thing

Or what Ries calls the Law of Singularity:

Brands succeed because they are associated in customers’ minds with one and only one thing or concept.

If you are familiar with the Islamic concept of tawhid, you’re well on your way to understanding everything Ries has to say. Ries opens the book with what are in fact corollaries of the Law of the One: the Laws of Expansion and Contraction: expanding the brand to include more than one thing or concept weakens the brand and, on the B-side of the single, focusing the brand on one thing can do nothing but strengthen it.

This core principle, embodied in these three laws allows Ries to flout the sacred received wisdom of brand fortification – brand extensions, subbrands, and sibling brands. Contrary to current practice, Ries asserts that expanding the brand by pasting it on more and different types of products or by creating more than one brand name under a single brand destroys it. If you roll out a line extension, give it a different, sibling brand rather than leverage the current brand.

What justifies this maniacal single-mindedness? Other than the need to sell books? Simple: customers are dumb. I didn’t say that, Ries did; customers can associate a brand with only one thing or concept. (This is, of course, ridiculously easy to disprove: just spend a couple weeks in Japan.) Anything more and the unwashed masses fall into confusion and anomie. And take their dollars elsewhere. This is perhaps best summed up in his Law of the Word (#5): a brand should strive to own ONE word in the mind of the customer. Put this way, our Law of the One really looks like this:

One brand = one thing = one word in the mind of the consumer.

This means that practically every brand owner from Arm & Hammer to Zumiez is majorly frakking up their brands, since almost no-one with any kind of brand equity isn’t trying to extend their brand somewhere. And many brand owners, despite the fact that these laws are immutable, are seem to be busting these laws all the way to the bank.

So, either reality is wrong or Ries is wrong.

Let’s find out in the next parts of this review.

Tomorrow: we test whether reality or Ries is wrong by putting Al Ries in a no-holds barred smackdown wrestlemania with a big, sloppy, jiggly bowl of Jell-O. Who will win? The Jell-O? Or Al Ries? Tune in tomorrow and get ready to rummmmmmmmble!

Breaking The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding one brand at a time, part 1
Part 2: Jello, or The Blue Oceans Corollary
Part 3: Aunt Jemima, or The Love and Marriage Corollary
Part 4: Campbells, or The Brand Value Corollary
Part 5: Jacuzzi, or The Model Corollary
Part 6: Formica, or The Intel Inside Corollary
Part 7: Tiffany’s, or The Retail Corollary
Part 8: Vaseline, or The Reinforcement Corollary
Part 9: Fruit of the Loom: The Opportunity Principle of Branding
Part 10: Tylenol, or The Brand Leadership Principle
Part 11: Maytag, or The Principle of the Word
Part 12: Gucci, or The New and Improved Principle of the Word
Part 13: Rubbermaid, or The Blue Oceans Principle of Branding
Part 14: Yamaha, or The Cultural Principle
Part 15: Ivory, or The Principle of Transcendence
Part 16: Al Ries on how to build a brand
Part 17: Al Ries on how to maintain a brand
Part 18: The Final Word

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16 Responses to “Breaking the 22 Immutable Laws of Branding one brand at a time, part 1”

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  1. [...] Breaking The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding one brand at a time, part 1 Part 2: Jello, or The Blue Oceans Corollary Part 3: Aunt Jemima, or The Love and Marriage Corollary Part 4: Campbells, or The Brand Value Corollary Part 5: Jacuzzi, or The Model Corollary Part 6: Formica, or The Intel Inside Corollary Part 7: Tiffany’s, or The Retail Corollary Part 8: Vaseline, or The Reinforcement Corollary Part 9: Fruit of the Loom: The Opportunity Principle of Branding Part 10: Tylenol, or The Brand Leadership Principle Part 11: Maytag, or The Principle of the Word [...]

  2. [...] Breaking The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding one brand at a time, part 1 Part 2: Jello, or The Blue Oceans Corollary Part 3: Aunt Jemima, or The Love and Marriage Corollary Part 4: Campbells, or The Brand Value Corollary Part 5: Jacuzzi, or The Model Corollary Part 6: Formica, or The Intel Inside Corollary Part 7: Tiffany’s, or The Retail Corollary Part 8: Vaseline, or The Reinforcement Corollary Part 9: Fruit of the Loom: The Opportunity Principle of Branding Part 10: Tylenol, or The Brand Leadership Principle Part 11: Maytag, or The Principle of the Word [...]

  3. [...] Breaking The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding one brand at a time, part 1 Part 2: Jello, or The Blue Oceans Corollary Part 3: Aunt Jemima, or The Love and Marriage Corollary Part 4: Campbells, or The Brand Value Corollary Part 5: Jacuzzi, or The Model Corollary Part 6: Formica, or The Intel Inside Corollary Part 7: Tiffany’s, or The Retail Corollary Part 8: Vaseline, or The Reinforcement Corollary Part 9: Fruit of the Loom: The Opportunity Principle of Branding Part 10: Tylenol, or The Brand Leadership Principle Part 11: Maytag, or The Principle of the Word [...]

  4. [...] Breaking The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding one brand at a time, part 1 Part 2: Jello, or The Blue Oceans Corollary Part 3: Aunt Jemima, or The Love and Marriage Corollary Part 4: Campbells, or The Brand Value Corollary Part 5: Jacuzzi, or The Model Corollary Part 6: Formica, or The Intel Inside Corollary Part 7: Tiffany’s, or The Retail Corollary Part 8: Vaseline, or The Reinforcement Corollary Part 9: Fruit of the Loom: The Opportunity Principle of Branding Part 10: Tylenol, or The Brand Leadership Principle Part 11: Maytag, or The Principle of the Word [...]

  5. [...] Breaking The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding one brand at a time, part 1 Part 2: Jello, or The Blue Oceans Corollary Part 3: Aunt Jemima, or The Love and Marriage Corollary Part 4: Campbells, or The Brand Value Corollary Part 5: Jacuzzi, or The Model Corollary Part 6: Formica, or The Intel Inside Corollary Part 7: Tiffany’s, or The Retail Corollary Part 8: Vaseline, or The Reinforcement Corollary Part 9: Fruit of the Loom: The Opportunity Principle of Branding Part 10: Tylenol, or The Brand Leadership Principle Part 11: Maytag, or The Principle of the Word [...]

  6. [...] Breaking The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding one brand at a time, part 1 Part 2: Jello, or The Blue Oceans Corollary Part 3: Aunt Jemima, or The Love and Marriage Corollary Part 4: Campbells, or The Brand Value Corollary Part 5: Jacuzzi, or The Model Corollary Part 6: Formica, or The Intel Inside Corollary Part 7: Tiffany’s, or The Retail Corollary Part 8: Vaseline, or The Reinforcement Corollary Part 9: Fruit of the Loom: The Opportunity Principle of Branding Part 10: Tylenol, or The Brand Leadership Principle Part 11: Maytag, or The Principle of the Word [...]

  7. [...] Breaking The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding one brand at a time, part 1 Part 2: Jello, or The Blue Oceans Corollary Part 3: Aunt Jemima, or The Love and Marriage Corollary Part 4: Campbells, or The Brand Value Corollary Part 5: Jacuzzi, or The Model Corollary Part 6: Formica, or The Intel Inside Corollary Part 7: Tiffany’s, or The Retail Corollary Part 8: Vaseline, or The Reinforcement Corollary Part 9: Fruit of the Loom: The Opportunity Principle of Branding Part 10: Tylenol, or The Brand Leadership Principle Part 11: Maytag, or The Principle of the Word [...]

  8. [...] Breaking The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding one brand at a time, part 1 Part 2: Jello, or The Blue Oceans Corollary Part 3: Aunt Jemima, or The Love and Marriage Corollary Part 4: Campbells, or The Brand Value Corollary Part 5: Jacuzzi, or The Model Corollary Part 6: Formica, or The Intel Inside Corollary Part 7: Tiffany’s, or The Retail Corollary Part 8: Vaseline, or The Reinforcement Corollary Part 9: Fruit of the Loom: The Opportunity Principle of Branding Part 10: Tylenol, or The Brand Leadership Principle Part 11: Maytag, or The Principle of the Word [...]

  9. [...] Breaking The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding one brand at a time, part 1 Part 2: Jello, or The Blue Oceans Corollary Part 3: Aunt Jemima, or The Love and Marriage Corollary Part 4: Campbells, or The Brand Value Corollary Part 5: Jacuzzi, or The Model Corollary Part 6: Formica, or The Intel Inside Corollary Part 7: Tiffany’s, or The Retail Corollary Part 8: Vaseline, or The Reinforcement Corollary Part 9: Fruit of the Loom: The Opportunity Principle of Branding Part 10: Tylenol, or The Brand Leadership Principle Part 11: Maytag, or The Principle of the Word Part 12: Gucci, or the new and improved Principle of the Word [...]

  10. [...] Breaking The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding one brand at a time, part 1 Part 2: Jello, or The Blue Oceans Corollary Part 3: Aunt Jemima, or The Love and Marriage Corollary Part 4: Campbells, or The Brand Value Corollary Part 5: Jacuzzi, or The Model Corollary Part 6: Formica, or The Intel Inside Corollary Part 7: Tiffany’s, or The Retail Corollary Part 8: Vaseline, or The Reinforcement Corollary Part 9: Fruit of the Loom: The Opportunity Principle of Branding Part 10: Tylenol, or The Brand Leadership Principle Part 11: Maytag, or The Principle of the Word [...]

  11. [...] Breaking The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding one brand at a time, part 1 Part 2: Jello, or The Blue Oceans Corollary Part 3: Aunt Jemima, or The Love and Marriage Corollary Part 4: Campbells, or The Brand Value Corollary Part 5: Jacuzzi, or The Model Corollary Part 6: Formica, or The Intel Inside Corollary Part 7: Tiffany’s, or The Retail Corollary Part 8: Vaseline, or The Reinforcement Corollary Part 9: Fruit of the Loom: The Opportunity Principle of Branding Part 10: Tylenol, or The Brand Leadership Principle Part 11: Maytag, or The Principle of the Word [...]

  12. [...] Breaking The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding one brand at a time, part 1 Part 2: Jello, or The Blue Oceans Corollary Part 3: Aunt Jemima, or The Love and Marriage Corollary Part 4: Campbells, or The Brand Value Corollary Part 5: Jacuzzi, or The Model Corollary Part 6: Formica, or The Intel Inside Corollary Part 7: Tiffany’s, or The Retail Corollary Part 8: Vaseline, or The Reinforcement Corollary Part 9: Fruit of the Loom: The Opportunity Principle of Branding Part 10: Tylenol, or The Brand Leadership Principle [...]

  13. [...] of the answer, of course, lies in our first immutable law of bestsellers. You remember that one, the one we nicknamed, The Law of the Lowest Common Denominator: [...]

  14. [...] Breaking The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding one brand at a time, part 1 Part 2: Jello, or The Blue Oceans Corollary Part 3: Aunt Jemima, or The Love and Marriage Corollary Part 4: Campbells, or The Brand Value Corollary Part 5: Jacuzzi, or The Model Corollary Part 6: Formica, or The Intel Inside Corollary Part 7: Tiffany’s, or The Retail Corollary Part 8: Vaseline, or The Reinforcement Corollary Part 9: Fruit of the Loom: The Opportunity Principle of Branding Part 10: Tylenol, or The Brand Leadership Principle Part 11: Maytag, or The Principle of the Word Part 12: Ivory, or The Principle of Transcendence Part 13: Al Ries on how to build a brand Part 14: Al Ries on how to maintain a brand Part 15: The Final Word [...]

  15. [...] Breaking The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding one brand at a time, part 1 Part 2: Jello, or The Blue Oceans Corollary Part 3: Aunt Jemima, or The Love and Marriage Corollary Part 4: Campbells, or The Brand Value Corollary Part 5: Jacuzzi, or The Model Corollary Part 6: Formica, or The Intel Inside Corollary Part 7: Tiffany’s, or The Retail Corollary Part 8: Vaseline, or The Reinforcement Corollary Part 9: Fruit of the Loom: The Opportunity Principle of Branding Part 10: Tylenol, or The Brand Leadership Principle Part 11: Maytag, or The Principle of the Word Part 12: Gucci, or The New and Improved Principle of the Word Part 13: Rubbermaid, or The Blue Oceans Principle of Branding Part 14: Yamaha, or The Cultural Principle Part 15: Ivory, or The Principle of Transcendence Part 16: Al Ries on how to build a brand Part 17: Al Ries on how to maintain a brand Part 18: The Final Word [...]

  16. [...] Breaking The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding one brand at a time, part 1 Part 2: Jello, or The Blue Oceans Corollary Part 3: Aunt Jemima, or The Love and Marriage Corollary Part 4: Campbells, or The Brand Value Corollary Part 5: Jacuzzi, or The Model Corollary Part 6: Formica, or The Intel Inside Corollary Part 7: Tiffany’s, or The Retail Corollary Part 8: Vaseline, or The Reinforcement Corollary Part 9: Fruit of the Loom: The Opportunity Principle of Branding Part 10: Tylenol, or The Brand Leadership Principle Part 11: Maytag, or The Principle of the Word Part 12: Gucci, or The New and Improved Principle of the Word Part 13: Rubbermaid, or The Blue Oceans Principle of Branding Part 14: Yamaha, or The Cultural Principle Part 15: Ivory, or The Principle of Transcendence Part 16: Al Ries on how to build a brand Part 17: Al Ries on how to maintain a brand Part 18: The Final Word [...]


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