Semiotic Stretch Brand extensions
In early 2022, Tilda launched Rice MLK, a naturally sweet, plant-based drink, after fifty years of ‘expertise in bringing [consumers] the finest quality rice’; a move into the alternative milk category for a brand that historically has only ever produced dried and microwaveable rice. Their Rice MLK boasts a higher rice content of 16%; higher than many of their competitors. Tilda position themselves as experts in rice, making the move into rice milk, therefore, a meaningful one: rice is literally what Tilda do best, it is the only thing they do.
How have other brands successfully moved equity from one category to another, all while staying meaningful and relevant to their brand identity?
Yvon Chouinard, remembering the moment Patagonia first branched out beyond mountain climbing tools in the late 1960s to selling clothing, said: ‘Scepticism seems to rise whenever a company refuses to “stay in its lane”, but as an entrepreneur, I see business opportunities everywhere.’ Fifty years later, Patagonia is as well-known for clothing as it is for mountaineering gear, and in 2020, the company launched Patagonia Provisions, a move into the food category that saw the eco-giant offer everything from tinned Savoury Sofrito Mussels to Kernza® grain fusilli to Smoked Buffalo sausages. But why specifically the foray into tinned fish, obscure grains, and bison bits?
Chouinard makes it clear that the move is in keeping with Patagonia’s brand identity. “I think the only revolution we’re likely to see is in agriculture, and I want to be a part of that revolution […] I’m talking about foods that are a key part of the solution instead of the problem.” Hence tinned rope-grown mussels that provide nutrients and increase biodiversity in the ocean around them while requiring zero food or attention, perennial Kernza® grown in ecological polycultures, and meat snacks made from bison – known to be an integral part of preserving the grasslands of the US. Consumers already trust Patagonia in return for their dedication to fighting the climate crisis, and with people increasingly anxious about making sustainable food choices, that trust qualifies the brand to take the leap into offering food products.
In the early months of this year, Heinz, a brand the British public think of as synonymous with ketchup, launched a line of pasta sauces under taglines like ‘Ridiculously Late, Ridiculously Good’; ‘150 years late. 7 ways to apologize’ (referring to the seven types of sauce in the new range); and ‘150 Years without making any pasta sauce’. With a flurry of adverts designed as an apology to the public for not getting jars of pasta sauce to us sooner, Heinz’ position, upon moving from condiments to cooking sauces, was very much one of ironic nostalgia. Adverts replete with the capitalised serif titles, white studio backgrounds, and large bodies of small-font size text all suggest the print ads of the earlier decades in the 20th century: artificially placing Heinz Pasta Sauce into those decades in the minds of consumers, in a neat trick that gives them a sense of universal timelessness – even though the brand is ‘150 years late’. Their adverts employ a type of earnest-yet-playful tone of voice currently popular: in adverts like La Vie’s break-up letter to meat, or British Airways’ tick-box exercises questioning why people travel.
3 key takeouts for brands:
- Highlight expertise. If you’re known for your expertise in one product, use that to your advantage when launching in a new space (hence Tilda Rice = Tilda Rice MLK).
- Use TOV to your advantage. Are you trustworthy, serious experts launching into a new category that makes sense (as with Tilda Rice MLK) or imaginative innovators; launching into a new space because it aligns with your brand values (Patagonia)?
- Utilise consumer trust. The trust of brands like Patagonia is well-established, owing to their water-tight principles. Consumers can react to newness with insecurity – but not when a brand dials up codes that signify trust, like Heinz’ nostalgic assertion of themselves as part of the past and present establishment via their use of vintage-style advertising.
Freya Ward-Lowery, Semiotician