L.L. Bean and the Misguided Co-brand

December 12, 2005

Co-branding is about sharing equities; two partners each contributing some aspect of their brand (permissions, expertise, distribution, status, etc.) to create an offering that neither could develop as effectively on their own. Often, however, one partnerís brand does all the heavy lifting while the other just sits back and parasitically co-opts the otherís hard-earned brand equity. Case in point, L.L. Bean and The Weather Channel.

L.L. Bean has licensed the Weather Channel brand to create a new product line: The Weather Channel Outerwear by L.L. Bean. My main question: why? Whatís in it for L.L. Bean?

Generally, a licensee (i.e. the manufacturer or retailer ñ in this case Bean) pays a company for the use of its brand in order to borrow some equity for a specific market. Electronics manufacturer Jasco licenses the GE brand to gain some distribution and instant recognition on retail shelves; sporting goods company Tyler Sports licenses Marvel characters to leverage the exposure and demand generated by the property. In both cases, the licensee can leverage the borrowed brand equity to gain consideration in the mind of the consumer and probably drive higher prices. In the case of Jasco/GE, it kind of kills the story for both parties if Jasco's presence was announced in a co-brand. In the case of Tyler/Marvel, a subtle Tyler co-brand offers the credibility for Marvel in the space.

For the licensor, The Weather Channel in this case, the benefits can include revenue generation, extension of their brand into new categories, increased exposure and expanded perceptions of their brand. For The Weather Channel, this is a no-brainer. Get your brand into the millions of catalogues distributed by L.L. Bean. Bring in some additional revenue if people want to walk around with a Weather logo on their chests or sleeves. Affirm your position as a leader in all things weather-related.

But whatís in it for Bean? They have the credibility in outerwear, donít they? How does a Weather Channel logo help them sell more windbreakers? Maybe they can benefit from the traffic Weather Channel gets on their websites ñ but those people are looking for forecasts, not fleece pullovers. In short, what is Weather bringing to the party? Credibility? No. Recognition? Not really. Demand, in the form of web traffic? Doubtful.

Bean is actually allowing Weather to cannibalize their credibility. There is some implication here that a co-branded Weather Channel jacket is better/warmer/dryer than the plain Bean jacket. And that is a huge trade-off for Bean. And the question remains: why?

Bean has been the official outfitter of The Weather Channel ñ and they may have needed to enter into this co-brand agreement to save that smart sponsor relationship or to prevent someone else from selling Weather Channel goods. As a pure licensing deal, this is just stupid for L.L. Bean. Perhaps there is some great demand out there for folks wishing to be perceived as a Weather Channel weatherman that I am just missing here. Because if thatís not the case, Bean is just giving money (in the form of a licensing royalty) and a chunk of equity in the space over to the Weather Channel.

- Jonathan Paisner jpaisner@corebrand.com

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