Bud’s sub-brands subvert the brand
One of many risks with sub-branding is subverting your brand and creating to fragmentation, as shown by the example of Budweiser beer, shared with me by Roser from Friesland Foods. Check out the photo below of a shelf of Bud.
Will the real Budweiser brand please stand up?
The four different versions of Bud look to me like four different brands altogether. Even Bud Light and Bud Light Platinum look totally different in terms of brand properties and colours. The brand is failing to reinforce and build on the "memory structure" created by brand properties, such as the Budweiser logo. And Budweiser is missing out on shelf impact that would come from a more consistent identity.
Here are some suggested watch-outs when managing core range extensions:
1. Clarify your core equities
Be clear on the visual equities which are core to your brand. These are the ones which have formed memory structure in consumers' minds, and so help them easily buy your brand on "auto-pilot". For example, Coke also has multiple versions, but more of a coherent identity which amplifies the brand properties of the Coca Cola logo and the "swoosh" ribbon.
2. Balance consistency and range navigation
There is a balancing act between consistent use of brand properties and ease of navigation. I can guess that the argument from the Bud Light team is that it needs it's own distinctive identity, to help people find it easily and also to be clearly positioned vs. Bud. However, I suggest starting from the core brand identity and adjusting it, as Coke do, rather than just starting from scratch with each sub-brand like Budweiser seem to have done.
3. Brand leadership is key
Fragmented brand identity is often a symptom of a fragmented brand management structure. I am pretty sure there are separate teams working on Bud, Bud Light, Bud Light Platinum and Bud Black Crown (please shout if I am wrong, or to confirm I'm right). It seems they have different agencies, with Anomaly, mcgarrybowen and Cannonball used to promote respectively Bud, Bud Light and Bud Light Platinum.
Strong brand leadership is needed from the top to manage the brand equity, and establish the key brand properties that need to be respected. This is not just "brand policing" for the sake of it. Its about SMS (selling more stuff), as new versions should sell better if they are building on existing brand memory structure, rather than starting from scratch.
In conclusion, be careful when extending your core range, and clearly establish the brand properties which need to be respected and reinforced. Be more like Coke, less like Bud.