So it looks as if Zippo is moving into the risky world of brand name extension. The company is diversifying into men's fragrances, casual clothing, watches, camping supplies and other things not related to smoking.
Okay, I have to say that this all looks fine so far but... men's fragrances? Really? They do know what happned when another lighter company, BIC, tried to make perfume, yes? It turned out to be the kind of failure they teach about in business school.
They say they are turning themselves into a "lifestyle products company" but their predominant association with tobacco is a real challenge. In the past they considered making tape measures, key holders and belt buckles and even golf ball warmers!
But now, the company is really serious. They have developed a travel-retail store design that would fit into airports in duty-free shops worldwide and would obviously contain more than just lighters.
The risk is huge. As a blogger at WalletPop points out, "Remember Smith and Wesson mountain bikes? Colgate Kitchen Entrees? Bic underwear? Harley Davidson perfume? Probably not, because they were massive failures."
The reason these things fail is that the association with the mother brand is just too strong. The brand and image of Zippo is rugged and durable, and thus they have started getting into backpacks, sunglasses, wallets, liquor flasks, and playing cards. Walletpop points out that they might ask themselves how to move away from these associations: "Wind-resistant? Emphysemic? Pyromaniac?"
It boasts the same brand recognition overseas as Nike, Coke and the Olympic rings. This is a good thing, but it will also be a bad thing if people cannot accept that the company can authentically offer them something beyond lighters.
Wizbangpop puts it well: "Zippo might well tread carefully here, if the history of failed products with famous names is any clue to use some caution."