Categorized | books, the branding notebook

Does Al Ries have a Rubbermaid fetish?

Al Ries - The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding

This is the question we all want answered.

We continue our unprecedented book review of Al Ries’ The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by seeing if the real world actually works like the Ries world. And, since every random, highly successful brand we’ve thrown at the book seems scoff at the immutable laws in some way, we’ve decided to “smart up” the book in our review by offering additional principles and corollaries to help entrepreneurs and marketers navigate real-world situations.

At the very core of the Ries world of branding is the idea that a brand can only be one thing and one thing only. Most of the book is based on that regulation (which we call The Law of the One). It’s not that brand managers can break that law — they frequently do, as Ries acknowledges — it’s just that it’s a really, really stupid thing to do.

We have, of course, found one brand after another that successfully flouts this law, but today we discover one of the most hardened of Ries criminals, the felon of felons in the Ries branding world (which Ries conveniently ignores in his book): Rubbermaid. It’s not that Rubbermaid has one, two, or even a dozen product or line extensions. That’s branding felony, sure, but Rubbermaid is in the serial nuclear bomber category of brand felons. They introduce line and product extensions of their brand at the average rate of one per day! Surely, surely, if ever any brand should self-destruct on the altar of line extensions, it would be Rubbermaid, right?

Wrong.

Rubbermaid
Rubbermaid makes rubber and plastic everything. The Rubbermaid brand every day violates Ries’ one brand-one thing principle and all the laws associated with it by rolling out new products daily and creating new market segments or categories every three weeks. At any one time, there are 600 or more Rubbermaid products on the store shelves ranging from dustpans to garbage cans to laundry hampers to food storage containers, a veritable chaos of things and logos – the logo alone comes in 50 different colors!

Like some colossus, the brand bestrides consumer, commercial, industrial, agricultural, office, marine and automotive accessories markets. Yet, Rubbermaid owns a special place in consumer’s minds. In the U.S., 97% of all adults know the brand and 90% of the company’s new product rollouts are successful.

Read that number again.

90%.

Let me say that again: 90%.

90% of Rubbermaid’s product rollouts — and they roll out new products at practically a daily rate — are profitable.

If ever there was a brand that embodied our Opportunity Principle, Rubbermaid is the poster child.

And if there was ever a brand that in one fell swoop turns Al Ries’ 22 Immutable Laws of Branding into 22 Wastes of Your Time, it’s Rubbermaid.

Curious, then, that the brand is never mentioned in the book.

I know what Ries would say: “sometimes a company gets lucky.” Well, ladies and gentlemen, with luck like that, Rubbermaid should be buying lottery tickets. With a 90% success rate buying lottery tickets, they’d own the world by July.

No mere scofflaw this, but a veritable serial nuclear bomber in Ries world. And a spectacular rebuttal to Ries’ entire argument and his core seven laws. In fact, the entire book seems to vaporize when you cross the threshold at Rubbermaid headquarters.

However, on closer examination, Rubbermaid has created a unique market for itself: the brand specializes in low value, low margin commodities such as car mats and dust pans where price elasticity is high and the work of building a unique brand consequently too prohibitive. So Rubbermaid created a super-brand that can encompass an ever-growing range of low-value commodities (imagine doing 365 independent brand launches per year– any company, even one dealing in high-margin products, would bankrupt at that rate). Rubbermaid stands for “quality” low-value commodities. They use that association to pursue a hyperkinetic Blue Oceans brand strategy, constantly moving into areas and products where there’s no brand competition — with some exceptions, such as food storage containers where Tupperware was and is dominant. So let’s modify our blue oceans corollary to a Blue Oceans Principle:

The Blue Oceans Principle of Branding

The purpose of a brand is to create opportunity.

AND . . .

Establish your brand in a category with uncontested similar categories, then work to own a word in the customer’s mind that is a quality, not a thing, and use that association to own the uncontested categories. The more uncontested categories there are, the more opportunities the brand provides.

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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7 Responses to “Does Al Ries have a Rubbermaid fetish?”

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  1. [...] 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 [...]

  2. [...] 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 [...]

  3. [...] 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 [...]

  4. [...] 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 [...]

  5. [...] 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 [...]

  6. [...] 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 [...]

  7. [...] 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 [...]


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