Scroll To Top

By Dick Maggiore and Mark Vandegrift

Maintain Your Brand Identity

The Dangers of Tinkering with Brand Identity

You Can Lead a Chevy to the Levee, but Can You Make it Drink Kool-Aid? Brand identity is a very delicate thing. Mess with it too much at your peril. VW has ceased production of the beloved New Beetle this year, with the notion to redesign and make it more "aggressive" and less "soft." As a New Beetle owner and marketer at the nation's leading agency in the practice of positioning, I say Herbie on steroids loses its appeal -- as does the Beetle's brand identity.

Pizza Hut is redefining its brand identity with broader menu items such as pasta and wings, even shortening its name on some signage and takeout packaging to "The Hut." Notwithstanding that real people have already bestowed nicknames like "Pizza The Hut" (courtesy of a "Star Wars" fan, no doubt) as well as another that is less reverent but more colorful.

The internally invented nickname is nothing new. Unlike those that flow from the consumer and sometimes enhance the brand identity, corporate-branded nicknames sound unnatural and forced. Radio Shack's attempt to cool up its brand identity as "The Shack" smacks of this sort of affectation. Perhaps "The Shack" and "The Hut" can merge to give electronics geeks something convenient to eat.

Now, we learn that GM intended to stop employees and marketers from using the nickname, "Chevy," and, without knowing it, damaged its brand identity. They've since backpedaled clumsily, explaining the gaffe from a leaked memo as relating to "consistency" and "foreign markets." So employees are spared having to toss a quarter into a sin jar each time they slip and say the verboten name.

Sure, GM should have more important things to worry about. Certainly, they've succeeded in looking like idiots both with the original crime and the cover-up, so to speak. But what the company is really missing - still - is that "Chevy" IS the brand identity. "Chevy" has been embraced by enthusiasts and fanatics for generations. Who has a "Chevrolet" sticker or t-shirt or banner? What songs evoke a time or an image with use of the more formal, corporate name? Which car or truck owners ever engage in a heated "Chevrolet-Ford" argument? Discarding "Chevy" is discarding its brand identity.

As you drive from "The Shack" to "The Hut" in your "Chevrolet," recall this paraphrase of another marketing icon: "Please don't squeeze the brand."