Virgin Finally Says Yes… to an Individual Product Brand

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Yesterday Sir Richard Branson announced the launch of Virgin’s new magazine Project, available only on the iPad. We think that giving it an independent brand is an instructive decision for business leaders grappling with the brand architecture issues surrounding the launch of any new product or service.

On this blog and with our clients, we often use Virgin as an example of a masterbrand strategy. Just about everything they do is stamped Virgin.

The treatment of the word Virgin changes sometimes, but by now dear readers you’re well aware that we believe there’s so much more to brands than logos.

So why the sudden break with a product what would appear to align with everything the Virgin brand is – young, hip, technically sophisticated and sleekly designed?

Our money is that Virgin realizes that iPad’s long-term role in consumers’ lives is still unclear, and they’re hedging against the downside. Sure – half the cognoscenti in the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class lounge are glued to their Apple tablets, but that’s a small and woefully unrepresentative sample of the $2.99/month subscribers Project needs to entice in order to succeed.

While we believe the iPad is here to stay, Virgin has given their digital magazine a separate name because the company doesn’t know whether

  • People will read magazines on their iPad
  • People will be willing to pay for them
  • People will  continue to read anything at all

They’re using brand architecture as a firewall in case the answer to any of the above is no. Yes, people will know that it was a Virgin product that didn’t thrive, but the company has attenuated the link and mitigated the risk.

The downside of the independent brand (besides the cost of developing something new and paying to create any awareness for it) is that if it takes off like gangbusters, the Virgin brand won’t receive as much of the positive associations as it might have.

Business leaders pondering whether or not to create a new brand for a new product or service: Virgin’s move with Project may not make the decision for you, but it does illustrate some of the factors you should be considering. And if you’re still stumped, here’s some free advice: just try to be a little more like Sir Richard Branson.

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