Categorized | books, the branding notebook

Al Ries slips on a bar of Ivory — see you next fall!

Al Ries - The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding

Over the past couple weeks, we’ve been “smarting” up Al Ries’ The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, which, as its title suggests, admits of precious little nuance or complexity. It’s a perfectly wonderful book — it is, after all, the biggest bestseller on branding — but we’ve found as we throw one random successful brand at the book after another, that it doesn’t really describe what happens in the real world of brands and buyers.

Fundamental to Ries’ whole argument is that a brand must always be one thing. Yamaha must always be “pianos” or the brand will lose value. Apply the brand to some other thing, say, “guitars” or, if you want to be totally goony, “motorcycles,” and you’re busting all the value in the brand. But, as you can see with Yamaha, that prescription of doom doesn’t really seem to hold. So we’re beefing up the book with branding principles that can help guide you to making better decisions about the opportunities your brand provides.

And, today, we turn to the first and original consumer brand, Ivory. The product was created in 1879 by the chemist, James Gamble, who was working to create a soap that would float in water (not, as urban legend has it, when a careless worker overwhipped a batch of soap). The genius of Harley Proctor created the world’s first truly valuable consumer brand in history. That would have been that, but then they had to go and break all of Al Ries’ unbreakable laws.

Ivory
Topping our Ries Ten Most Wanted list is the original brand of brands, Ivory. Through the genius of Harley Proctor, Ivory was the first product subjected to brand building, maintenance, and leverage through promotion and identity. What a surprise, then, that the first modern “brand” in business history violates Ries’ core principle in almost every way.

Originally an aerated, highly pure soap, Procter & Gamble successfully and profitably extended the brand into red oceans categories such as laundry flakes (Ivory Flakes), laundry detergent (Ivory Snow), dishwasher liquid (Ivory Dishwashing Liquid). All these line extensions went up against extremely strong brand competitors without ceding the core product’s overwhelming market domination. Later line extensions into shampoos and conditioners, though not gaining dominant market share, produced successful and profitable brand lines without diluting the brand’s value in its other lines.

All of these moves bust to pieces Ries’ core laws (Expansion, Contraction, Extensions, Subbrands, Siblings, and Singularity). Which is curious, because Ivory with all its extensions has become the standard textbook example of branding strategy. Every book on branding pays homage to Ivory (except Ries) for embodying all that’s good, wonderful, and virtuous about branding. In fact, Harley Proctor is justly celebrated as the man who figured out how to strategically leverage a brand into multiple line extensions.

To give Ries his due, Ivory did lose market share (it is currently in the fourth position for bar soaps) when consumer tastes shifted to cosmetic and deodorant soaps; Ivory was slow to introduce a new extension in line with changing consumer tastes, which it eventually did to great success. Not enough, however, to recover the market share it lost.

So what explains this outstanding, textbook-perfect success at brand extensions? Ries, of course, would say “some companies get lucky.” Not really. In part, the word associated in consumer’s minds with “Ivory” wasn’t a thing, “soap,” but a quality, “purity.” That, of course, goes back to the astounding genius of Harley Proctor and why he’s proclaimed the father of branding.

But even that doesn’t go far enough. The brand itself, through long, patient, extensive promotions and careful line extensions, became a word in the consumer’s mind in and of itself. Sometimes a brand can transcend its association and, by doing this, create opportunity –- we’ll call this the Principle of Transcendence:

The Principle of Transcendence

The purpose of a brand is to create opportunity.

AND . . .

The ultimate goal is for the brand to transcend its association with a word and become a word in its own right.

Witness what has become of Google and how 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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5 Responses to “Al Ries slips on a bar of Ivory — see you next fall!”

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  1. [...] Part 10: Tylenol, or The Brand Leadership Principle Part 11: Maytag, or The Principle of the Word Part 12: Ivory, or The Principle of the Transcendence Part 13: Al Ries on how to build a brand Part 14: Al Ries on how to maintain a brand Part 15: The [...]

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

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

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

  5. [...] the Loom: The Opportunity Principle of Branding Part 10: Tylenol, or The Brand Leadership Principle Part 12: Gucci, 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 [...]


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