Corporate Eye

Are Your Sub-brands Embarrassing Your Primary Brand?

scionOn Saturday morning, I opened the Yahoo! home page and saw a featured article about celebrity children who tarnish their parents’ names.  I had to take a look and see who the writer tagged as the biggest embarrassments to big name musicians.  I couldn’t help myself.  As I looked through the list of less-talented offspring, I started to think about how the same thing could happen to corporate brands. 

Are your sub-brands embarrassing your primary brand?

Of course, the first rule of branding is consistency, but sometimes a well-known company brand can support a wide variety of sub-brands successfully.  However, what if a sub-brand fails to perform well?  And what if that sub-brand draws a lot of unflattering publicity?  The answer is clear if that sub-brand is not bringing in the revenue the company needs, but what if that sub-brand is driving huge profits?  Does the company protect its main brand and let go of the sub-brand, or does the company keep the sub-brand and let the chips fall where they may?

Keeping a rogue sub-brand could mean completely overhauling the company’s brand-building marketing strategy overall.  The investment could be large and ongoing.  Naturally, any company that finds itself in this extreme position needs to do a great deal of analysis to make the best decision, but what if one of your sub-brands is only slightly out of line with your company’s overall brand?  Is it possible for a mildly disconnected brand to co-exist with the primary brand?

Of course, the answer to that question is, yes.  For example, Toyota retains its position as market leader based on its quality products despite the fact that it offers the Scion sub-brand that is marketed as a less expensive option (i.e., “cheaper”).  Even Mercedes offers a low-end vehicle that has not tarnished the overall Mercedes brand image of luxury. 

However, it’s an ongoing branding challenge to ensure a disconnected sub-brand meshes with the overall brand and if possible, enhances it.  In other words, don’t let a disconnected sub-brand run wild.  Instead, nurture it and make sure it grows in a way that provides value to your primary brand rather than detracting from it and confusing consumers.

Image: Flickr

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.