Marley Brew

First Music News reported that the estate of reggae singer and song writer Bob Marley may license his name and image to a range of products including snowboards, hotels, coffee, headphones, and beer. This is in part a defensive strategy to capture revenue from unlicensed use of his name or image, but is this good marketing?

Marley’s music remains popular 28 years after his death. A visit to the iTune store, shows that 16 of his tunes have a popularity rating of 7 bars or more. Start searching on iTunes, YouTube, or even Google for “bob” and “bob marley” is the first suggestion. His YouTube videos such as Buffalo Soldier and No Woman No Cry have been viewed millions of times. This is brand equity.

Marley and the Marley brand are known for music and associated with Rastafarianism, Jamaica, and cannabis. He has no relation with any of the product categories he may be endorsing from the grave. Just as, say, Tiger Woods has no logical relation to the cars, watches, and consulting firms he endorses. Marley Beer looks like an extreme case of brand extension and brand extensions are often a bad idea.

There could be McDonalds headphones, Ford coffee, Apple snowboards, etc. There aren’t. These, and most other companies are very cautious about what their brands mean and what businesses they compete in. If Procter & Gamble had a new way to clean something, it would very likely launch this as a distinct brand rather than as an extension of an existing brand. Similarly, Coca Cola is in the juice and water businesses, but not under the Coca Cola brand.

Most brand extensions disappoint. They risk diluting the position of the core brand and the extensions seldom thrive. Even multi-business wizard Richard Branson has had indifferent success with his derivative brands such as Virgin Mobile and Virgin Money.

Conventional marketing wisdom is not always right. Unlike classic brand extension, no investment or market risk would be born by Marley. The brewer or snowboard maker affixes a new label to an existing product and assumes what business risk there is. None of the proposed brand extensions appears to clash with the Marley brand as perhaps a Marley breakfast cereal or motor oil might.

I’d recommend they do a deal if they have credible licensees. Excuse me, I have to don my IBM athletic shoes and get the gym.