Multi-Brand Strategy: Do You Have a Fighter on Your Hands?

Multi-Brand Strategy: Do You Have a Fighter on Your Hands?

Given the Growth of Private Label, Fighter Brands from P&G and Nestle Face an Uphill Battle

A multi-brand strategy consists of marketing similar products in the same product or service category under different brand names. When successful, this allows the company following the multi-brand strategy to command more retail shelf space and reduce competition’s space, among other benefits.

What is a Fighter Brand?

As one example of a multi-brand strategy, Procter & Gamble offers two major brands in the baby care or diaper category: Pampers and Luvs. While there are product differences in size and variety offered, overall, Luvs are less expensive per diaper, and the brand targets experienced moms. Pampers are more expensive and target first-time moms. Luvs serves the role of “fighter brand” in this multi brand-strategy.

Multi-Brand Strategy: Do You Have a Fighter on Your Hands?

For perspective, Procter & Gamble currently offers 65 brands and had 2020 fiscal year net sales exceeding $71 billion. While 65 may seem like a lot, P&G actually cut back in 2014, eliminating  as many as 100 brands so as to focus on leading, billion-dollar brands.

Multi-Brand Strategy in Automotive

Multi-Brand Strategy: Do You Have a Fighter on Your Hands?

The automotive category presents a second example of multi-brand strategy. There is a common practice of selling products with similar major components and features under different brand names. When shopping for a compact SUV six years ago, I found the Acura (luxury) product line very similar to the Honda (midscale) equivalent. While there are differences between the Honda and Acura brand, my consumer experience was that the Acura product did not meet the standard I was seeking in luxury compact SUV. Like the Procter and Gamble example, having a multi-brand strategy allows Honda to follow different pricing strategies and target different consumer segments.    

In another automotive multi-brand strategy example, General Motors pulled the plug on its Saturn fighter brand in 2009 after losses of over $10 billion. General Motors’ trimmed brand set now includes Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC. Pontiac (2009) and Oldsmobile (2004) are long gone.

How Private Label Popularity Affects Multi-Brand Strategy

Complicating the picture is private label, which has been growing in offerings and popularity for years.  Private label gained further ground with food products in 2020, according to Forbes. Within a retail product category, there is usually at least one private label brand, and, at times, several.  Some retailers focus primarily on one private label brand (e.g., Costco’s Kirkland), while others have a brand portfolio in private label.

The consumer has the choice of a quality private label offering, or perhaps a less expensive fighter brand such as Luvs. To be sure, the price may not be identical between the fighter brand and private label, but often the gaps are narrow. Additionally, there may also be premium private label brands in some categories. For example, Insight to Action worked to create one for Walmart in the infant formula category. A strong private label presence calls into question the need for the fighter brand part of a multi-brand strategy.

Nestle’s Complex Multi-Brand Strategy

Multi-Brand Strategy: Do You Have a Fighter on Your Hands?

In a contrasting example of a multi-brand strategy, Nestle reportedly has over 2000 brands across categories.  In the pet care category, Nestle brands include:

  • Alpo
  • Bakers Complete
  • Beneful
  • Cat Chow
  • Chef Michael’s Canine Creations
  • Dog Chow
  • Fancy Feast
  • Felix
  • Friskies
  • Gourmet
  • Purina
  • Purina ONE
  • Pro Plan
  • And others– more than 35 in total

With this large number of brands, Nestle pet care appears to follow a more detailed brand portfolio strategy that goes beyond the more streamlined multi-brand strategy examples of  two brands at different price points from P&G and Honda. 

Search data suggests that interest in “multi-brand strategy” fell nearly 50% from 2016 to 2020, while interest in “fighter brand” was essentially flat (down 2%) in the same period. Perhaps this means that marketers are introducing multi brands that are not intended to be fighter or value offerings. Over the same time horizon, interest in “brand portfolio” fell 16%.  

Multi-Brand Strategy: Do You Have a Fighter on Your Hands?

With COVID impact, several CPG manufacturers that we’ve spoken with are focusing their efforts on a smaller product line and a smaller number of brands. Online retailing by Amazon makes it more difficult for brands to be seen. And Amazon is well known for promoting its own private label, further challenging the role of a fighter brand. 

From these factors, it seems that multi-brand strategy and fighter brands are losing popularity and effectiveness.  

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