The Failure Awards for defunct branding | #1 Colgate Beef Lasagne

Colgate lasagne

If necessity is the mother of invention then failure is the father of success. There are legendary tales of brand failure throughout the history of brands and each week Andrew Eborn, founder of Octopus TV, will shine a light on products and services, brand extensions and campaigns that - for one reason or another - failed. As a result they have could earn entry into the Failure Awards and a place in The Museum of Failure (if they're not already there).

The first of the Failure Awards winners is a brand extension too far as toothpaste brand Colgate launches its own brand lasagne.

Colgate-Palmolive, the small soap and candle business that William Colgate began in New York City early in the 19th century is now - more than 200 years later - a truly global company serving hundreds of millions of consumers worldwide.

Ian Cook, chairman, president, chief executive, chief cook and bottle washer points out “our 200-year history reflects the strength and innovation that our people have used to constantly transform our company and identify new opportunities.”

Colgate is very proud of its rich 200 year history and rightly so.

On its website Colgate highlights several key events over the last two centuries including:

1817 First Colgate advertisement appears in a New York newspaper.

1896 Colgate introduces toothpaste in a collapsible tube

1947 Ajax cleanser is launched, establishing a powerful now-global brand equity for cleaning products.

1966 Palmolive dishwashing liquid is introduced. Today it is sold in over 35 countries.

1968 Colgate toothpaste adds MFP Fluoride, clinically proven to reduce cavities.

1983 Colgate Plus toothbrush is introduced. Today over 1.6bn Colgate toothbrushes are sold annually worldwide.

There is, however, no mention in this impressive list of the launch in 1982 of Colgate Kitchen Entrees, a range of frozen ready meals.

According to a number of sources, Colgate wanted to enter the lucrative ready meal market harnessing the strong brand loyalty it had so successfully developed – the hope apparently being that customers would enjoy eating Colgate dinners and then brushing their teeth with Colgate toothpaste.

Why did it fail?

Brand extensions can be very successful, enabling new products to be introduced under a well-established existing brand name. Apple is a prime example at the top of the tree.

Generally, to benefit from the existing brand, however, the new products need to be consistent with core brand values and customer perceptions and expectations. What values and expectations are conjured up when customers think of Colgate? Colgate is strongly associated with health and oral hygiene. The very name and logo instantly suggest that fresh, minty taste.

Associating the brand with food was clearly not going to work. Who wants toothpaste flavoured pasta?

What could have been done differently?

Generally, products that have nothing in common should not be linked. Colgate should have launched with a different brand name in the same way as they maintain Hills Pet Nutrition as a separate brand having acquired the company in 1976.

Market research would have made this clear.

Fake news?

Colgate Kitchen Entrees do not feature in Colgate’s summary of its impressive 200 year history. So why is that? Is Colgate too embarrassed by its fanciful foray into food or is this perhaps just another fake news story which has managed to fool the media and marketing industry for years?

Colgate Kitchen Entrees are certainly frequently cited as a text book example of how brand extensions can fail. I have my views – but let’s not allow the truth to stand in the way of a good story!

It would be great if Colgate was to clarify once and for all, though...

In the meantime, Colgate Kitchen Entrees remains one on The Museum of Failure’s most popular exhibits - even though the Museum exercised more than a little artistic licence in its depiction of a Colgate frozen Lasagne – with the white sauce oozing out so deliciously reminiscent of toothpaste.. Yum Yum - tongue tinglingly tasty!

Send your nominations for other major marketing innovation failures with full description and images to TOFA@OctopusTV.com. From failed products and services to campaigns and ads we would rather forget, we want to encourage organisations and brands to be better at learning from failures, not just ignoring them and pretending they never happened.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.