by Matt Haig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Brand Failures / 9780749444334
Who doesn't love reading about epic failures in marketing and product branding? A good "brand autopsy" can be both fun and educational, and can really help educate amateurs (like me) and marketing savvy experts alike on what pitfalls to avoid and how to properly package and market a new brand.
"Brand Failures" attempts to ambitiously tackle 101 famous branding mistakes and errors, from the classic "New Coke" to the failure of "Betamax" to Kodak's recent efforts to remain relevant in a world where casual consumers are increasingly turning away from film and to digital cameras. If there is a problem with this approach, it is that at 235 pages, each brand failure story is spread distressingly thin - most of the vignettes have less than 2 pages devoted to them. This simply isn't enough time and space to discuss all the factors that went into the failure of Enron, or Crystal Pepsi, or most of the other brands on display here.
The other problem with this approach is that some of the "autopsy analysis" statements seem a little questionable. It's easy, of course, to say when a brand has failed, but it's much harder to say WHY the brand has failed. Did "Earring Ken" really fail because his 'alternative' approach to masculinity alienated homophobic parents, or did he fail for the same reason that Ken sales have traditionally lagged behind Barbie - because little girls care more about the doll they can project upon? Did the leather substitute Corfam really fail because it didn't "feel" as good as real leather, or was it because the company failed to emphasize the animal-cruelty issue (which would still be a failure to correctly market a brand, but a different failure than what is given here)? Did the HotWheels PC and Barbie PC fail because parents didn't appreciate the overt gendered marketing or because parents in 1999 weren't quite ready to invest heavily in personal computers for their children?
In some ways, "Brand Failures" is a failure because the quick overview approach leaves a lot of questions unanswered and aspects unexplored. I would have liked to see this book about twice the length and containing half the products - a solid 10 pages or so per product would have given the reader a much better grasp of each product and a better look at why the brand *might* have failed, with heavier discussion on potential alternatives and competitors and market factors that may have doomed the product. In other ways, however, "Brand Failures" is a success because as a good overview of failed products, there is a lot of information here that probably can't easily be found elsewhere in a similarly compiled form. I think this would be a useful text for an "intro" course as a supplemental material to a meatier book, or an interesting foray into the subject for casual readers who are intrigued by the subject but don't want to get bogged down in a lot of extra details.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through NetGalley.
~ Ana Mardoll
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