Separating the brand from the product

The retail giant Target is embarking on an interesting experiment of separating a brand from its underlying product — what I would characterize as creating a pure intangible. Target is licensing its name and logo (the red bull’s-eye) to be used on a line of chic clothing called Target Couture.
So what, you ask. Lots of retailers sell products under their own brand. Here is the difference: Target Couture isn’t being sold at Target stores. It is only available at the boutique Intuition in Los Angeles, with plans to expand sales to other high-end boutiques and department stores.
Needless to say, this is causing a stir. According to a story in this morning’s Washington Post –
Where Target Is Always ‘Tar-zhay’:

Not all Target shoppers are enamored with the concept, however. The Slave to Target blog, which features posts with subjects such as “where are you tara jarmon puff sleeve tee?” had this to say about the Target Couture line: “Target is a Sell Out though — they are sellin’ out to the fads and the faddiest store ever … Intuition.”
Michael J. Silverstein, a senior vice president with the Boston Consulting Group Inc., said he was skeptical of whether Target-branded merchandise would sell outside its stores. It may confuse customers, he said.
“People . . . would say, ‘Well, why is that here?’ They need an explanation,” he said. “And in the world of consumer marketing, explanations cost money.”
It remains to be seen whether the line will catch on, but it almost doesn’t matter. The move is part of the retailer’s efforts to hold onto the elusive and often ephemeral designation of “cool,” according to Marshal Cohen, a senior analyst with consumer research firm NPD Group Inc. Target Couture allows the chain to elevate its brand beyond the walls of its big-box stores and into the glitzy arena of celebrity high fashion. Selling clothes is secondary.
“I think they’ll be tickled pink — or in their case, tickled red — if they make money,” Cohen said. “But I don’t think they care about that. What they’re most concerned about is maintaining the integrity of the brand.”

We shall see. When the brand is divorced from the product, it becomes hard to maintain the brand’s integrity. And its value become subject to the whims of fashion – not the underlying quality of the product.
An interesting experiment, indeed.

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