Overhyped brands that bubble and burst
We have seen bubbles in e-commerce, in real estate, and in commodities. These are all based on overhype and a momentum resembling a stampede with little attention paid to reality. Can it happen in brands? A frenzy of buzz and excitement with little substance? Is Charlie Sheen just an aberration? Actually brand bubbles, brands with a high ratio of hype to substance and value, are all too common. The interesting question is how did the buzz get created if the substance was missing? Sometimes a deliberate scam is involved. But other times it is not so clear.
Consider the case of Yugo.
The Yugo was an imported car from Yugoslavia that sold some 150,000 cars between 1985 and 1992. During 1985 it was described as the fastest selling first-year European import. It turned out to be a loser of historic proportions. It was poorly built, unsafe, broke down frequently, got poor gas mileage, and was dirty with respect to emissions. Over the years it has been repeatedly recognized with titles line like “the worst car ever sold in America.”
There was no end to Yugo jokes.
• What is included in every Yugo manual? A bus schedule.
• What do a Yugo and a ceiling fan have in common? They both have the same motor.
• How do you make a Yugo go from 0 to 60 in less under than 15 fifteen seconds? Push it off a cliff.
• How do you make a Yugo go fast? Use a tow truck.
• What do you call a Yugo with brakes? Customized.
Yet the Yugo started off with buzz, excitement, and sales. It had an auspicious introduction, with coverage in the media, and favorable reviews from people who had not had a chance to drive the car. Plus it had a remarkable promoter. But most of this excitement was in place before the car arrived and the appraisals were not based on first-hand experience. The buzz generated lines at dealerships that reaffirmed the conventional wisdom that the car performed and provided a “hard-to-get” aura around it as well.
How could so many be so wrong? First, the Yugo was breathtakingly cheap, over 20 percent less than the least-expensive alternative, making a new car or second car much more affordable. Second, it had the credibility of being based on a Fiat design and thus had an indirect endorsement of a major manufacturer. Third, it was made in the country that showcased a successful Olympics which led to a reputation, perhaps undeserved, of being a country that could make the buses run on time. Fourth, virtually no one questioned it. There was too much PR momentum. Everyone, even the experts, relied on the word on the street rather than actually testing the car. There was no credible person to prick the brand buzz bubble.
The Yugo is a sobering lesson in how hype can take over. What you hear three times must be true. It is also a lesson in the importance of implementing the concept and delivering on the promise. The best idea poorly executed will fail.
Please share other examples of brand bubbles with accompanying lessons about how they were generated (and any Yugo jokes).
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