8 Brands That Went Off-Brand
By Jake Rossen
For globally recognized brands, image is everything. Sneaker giant Nike, for example, is unlikely to ever get into the home appliance industry; Maytag will probably not be offering automobiles.
But some brands have attempted to diversify, banking on their name recognition to propel them into a new market. More often than not, they simply wind up confusing consumers. Take a look at eight products that gave brands an identity crisis.
1. Bic Pantyhose
In 1950, a French fountain pen manufacturer named Marcel Bich saw an opportunity to market plastic ballpoint pens, a cheap alternative to the revolutionary ballpoints first introduced in 1945. Bich’s economy model was just 19 cents, compared to $12.50 for the expensive version (or about $180 in today’s dollars). Changing the spelling of his last name for what should be obvious reasons, Bic and his company became synonymous with stationary and, later, disposable razors. Focusing on personal care items prompted the company to release a line of pantyhose in 1976. In test markets, the company dubbed it “Fannyhose” because, according to Bic, it offered more space for the buttocks.
The marketing was rather strange overall. Bic opted to sell the pantyhose in office supply stores on the theory they would be regarded as an office necessity for secretaries. One pair cost 99 cents. Promotional tie-ins with Bic pens were also rolled out. But Bic hit a snag—the low-cost pantyhose market was dominated by brands like L’Eggs and No Nonsense and consumers really didn’t see the need to shop for apparel bearing a Bic logo. The hose all but disappeared by 1979.
2. The Apple Video Game Console
It’s hard to overstate Apple’s dominance in the technology market—unless you think back to 1995, when the company was looking to branch out of the personal computer aisle and into the lucrative video game industry. The Apple Pippin was a game console manufactured by Bandai that used Apple’s Mac operating system. The companies hoped it would become a multimedia hub for the home, able to play games as well as function as an educational tool.
So what happened? For one thing, the Pippin carried a hefty price tag. It retailed for $600, or roughly double the $299 price point of Sony’s PlayStation, which had debuted just a few months prior. Only about 42,000 consoles were sold before Apple directed their attention elsewhere. (Pippin, incidentally, is a variety of apple.)
3. Topps Comic Books
For decades, Topps ruled the trading card industry with their line of sports cards, Garbage Pail Kids, and other wax packs. In 1992, they shuffled a new hand, this one comprised of comic books. The move was an attempt to capitalize on the explosion of the comic industry, which had become a $320 million genre thanks to collectible issues and the success of Tim Burton’s Batman films. The company issued titles based on Jurassic Park, The X-Files, and Zorro, among others, but the waning comic market didn’t leave them much room to grow. The imprint folded in 1998, though Topps still publishes Garbage Pail Kids comics on occasion.
4. Life Savers Soda
In 1912, chocolate maker Clarence Crane wanted to come up with a treat that was more heat-resistant in the summer months. Using a machine that normally produced medicinal pills, Crane rolled out a hard candy and then punched a hole in the middle of it, which resembled a life preserver. He dubbed them Life Savers, and they’ve become a staple of candy aisles everywhere. In 1970, Life Savers attempted to migrate to soft drink shelves with a line of sodas based on popular flavors. The drinks disappeared and then reappeared in 1999, but people didn’t seem to respond to a liquid version of the hard candy. It hasn't surfaced since.
5. Hello Kitty Beer
The endurably adorable Hello Kitty has enchanted children everywhere for decades, which makes the precocious feline a puzzling choice to endorse an alcoholic beverage. Licensed from Sanrio, the owner of Hello Kitty, the beer was released in 2013 by Shanghai KT and brewed by Long Quan. A variety of different flavors, including passion fruit, peach, banana, and lemon lime were available. While just 2.3 percent alcohol by volume, the beer was said to be so smooth that over-indulging could be a problem. The beverage was only available in China.
6. Cosmopolitan Yogurt
Cosmopolitan has been a popular periodical with high brand recognition, and it would be easy to imagine the Cosmo name being used for spin-off publications, books, and more. But National Magazine Company, which published Cosmo in the UK, went in a different direction. In 1999, they launched a line of yogurts in the hopes of breaking into the lucrative health food market. Shoppers didn’t seem to make the connection between the magazine and a dairy product, and the line was scrapped in 2001.
7. Harley-Davidson Cologne
When people think of Harley-Davidson, their sense memory may involve the smell of burning rubber, gas, and other noxious emissions. Yet the company seemed intent on marketing a line of colognes and perfumes in 1996 in the hopes people would associate Harley motorcycles with a pleasant scent. With fragrances like Destiny and Hot Rod, the brand wanted to capitalize on the lifestyle commitment of riders. The idea fizzled.
8. IKEA Inflatable Furniture
Swedish home furnishing giant IKEA has made a cottage industry out of inexpensive ready-to-assemble furniture. In 1998, they debuted a collection of inflatable furniture they dubbed the a.i.r. line—not the kind found in toy departments for kids, but actual plastic sofas and chairs that ranged in price from $40 to $200. IKEA’s approach was in using different air chambers that purportedly increased comfort. Consumers could use a hair dryer to inflate the pieces, a process that could take up to 30 minutes. Once inflated, a fabric slipcover would give it the appearance of conventional furniture.
This didn’t work as well as planned. “What was a comfy sofa on Monday was a shapeless piece of dusty fabric on Friday,” author Stina Holmberg wrote in the 2018 book Democratic Design. “And to be honest, it wasn’t even that comfy. And then there was the sound when you sat down, a sound of something not at all glamorous.”
IKEA customers seemed puzzled by the idea of outfitting their home with a college dorm aesthetic, and the air line was quickly dropped. IKEA Swedish meatballs, however, remain very much a thing.