WHAT'S A MEGABRAND ANYWAY? PROCESS ELUSIVE IN DEFINING A DIFFICULT CONCEPT

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The definition of a megabrand has been anything but static since Ad Age inaugurated its coverage of megabrand spending in late 1989.

Perceptions, in fact, have brought us to this point of reality: A megabrand represents multiple products bearing the same name. Yet to get to this point -- or moving target -- the concept of a megabrand passed through several transformations, none of which completely satisfied editors or readers.

LINE OF PRODUCTS OR SERVICES

In our initial foray into megabranding, the working definition was a line of products or services bearing the same name within an industry subclass as defined by Publishers Information Bureau classifications -- codes employed by Competitive Media Report, the source of our spending data.

This definition captured most line extensions of brands and identified the product in its most recognizable and heaviest advertised segment of the market.

But narrowing the brand to a single subclass seemed too exclusive to many, and they had good reason to complain: The methodology didn't acknowledge the power of a brand name. Alka-Seltzer's expansion from antacids into the cold remedies subclass was swept out the methodology door.

Applying subclass as gospel, companies like Revlon and Maybelline could never make the charts: They lacked ad volume in a single CMR subclass because cosmetics is sliced and diced so many ways -- skin care creams, lip & eye, scents & fragrances, etc. Subcategories identifying beer, for comparison, are contained within a single subclass.

AA editors got to work to eliminate the built-in coding "bias" and redefined megabrands as every product or service marketed under the same name: Revlon and Maybelline suddenly qualified and Ford cars and Ford trucks could drive off the lot as one megabrand; Kraft foods ascended to megabrand status, combining subclasses for cheeses, prepared dinners, salad dressings and peanut butter to name a few.

NAME CONCEPT SLIPS

The "megabrand as a name" concept still doesn't work for all, especially the brand orthodoxy, which claims the definition errs on the side of inclusivity. No. 20 General Mills cereals is too general; Cheerios in all its manifestations should be one of many megabrands at Big G, they note.

Still some call the "name" criteria too exclusive. Kellogg breakfast foods as a megabrand includes Kellogg's Pop Tarts and Kellogg's Special K Frozen Waffles along with its battery of cereals, but under the AA methodology doesn't include the Eggo breakfast waffle line.

AA's megabranding process relies on CMR data and starts with the top 250 parent companies. The brand names are edited to create catchalls for a "name." Ford Escort, Ford Taurus and Ford trucks combine to form Ford cars and tracks, as an example.

CMR listing of brand names sometimes omits the megabrand name, urging a certain flexibility. L'Oreal's Studio Line is the brand name for a line of personal care products found at the drugstore counter, but it is coded without the "L'Oreal" name. AA consolidates Studio Line into the L'Oreal megabrand anyway.

MOVIE STUDIOS SHIFT

Fine-tuning is a byproduct of this report. This year, the movie studios are "de-megabranded." Unlike the rest of the megabrands, they lack continuity in spending for a specific brand or brands. A new release this year is off the spending charts in the succeeding year.

A big influence on "total" annual spending by movie studios is the number of releases, since media outlays easily hit $10 million for even a bad movie. Buena Vista Pictures Marketing released 34 movies last year vs. 38 in '96. Its media spending slipped 13.2%; MGM/UA released 13 movies in '97, down from 19, and spending plunged 33.7%.

To maintain continuity with megabrand issues covering the last nine years, a separate chart carries studio spending on movies and videos (Page S-6).

All this is to say that no matter how hard one tries to cage a megabrand, it somehow takes flight.

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