Success is built on the masterbrand strategy

What does SLP mean to you? Nothing, I expect. What about YSL? Yes, the French luxury brand created by Yves Saint Laurent and owned by luxury group PPR.

Ruth Mortimer

Now the new creative director of YSL, Hedi Slimane, plans to change its name to Saint Laurent Paris (SLP) for its ready-to-wear collections. But with 83 stores worldwide, changing the name of such a well-known brand is fraught with risk.

Perhaps this is why not all YSL products are changing their moniker. Notably the famous YSL logo will remain on handbags, cosmetics and perfume products – it is thought.

So now there will be some products called YSL, some called SLP and perhaps a lot of confused consumers.

It is unclear why Slimane wants to break with the fashion house’s name. Maybe it is an odd tribute to its founder. Yves Saint Laurent himself was a rebel in the 1960s and broke with convention. Slimane may be keen to follow his lead.

It is also likely that PPR has had plenty of time to investigate the impact of such a radical change. It is rumoured that Slimane’s demands for full creative control over every aspect of the brand led to delays in his appointment.

Surely it works better to have one masterbrand that ties all the products together? I want to buy a YSL handbag because it reflects the values I see in the brand’s runway collections. I expect the chic and sometimes radical look seen on models to be replicated in accessories or make-up.

Imagine if other brands with initials followed YSL’s lead. The BBC, the subject of this week’s cover story, might go from being the British Broadcasting Corporation to the Public Multimedia Channel-Neutral Content Producer (PMCNCP). Not quite as catchy.

But the BBC wouldn’t consider changing its name, because it knows thatone of the basic laws of branding is that a name can take on any meaning necessary. The organisation won the title of Brand of the Year in our Marketing Week Engage Awards 2012, in association with YouGov, because it adopted a masterbrand strategy that brought together all its different platforms and content in one place, under one name.

Another brand keen to gather its products under a masterbrand is fastmoving consumer goods giant Unilever. Its vice-president of marketing Marc Mathieu – known as one of the best thinkers in the industry – joins us as a regular quarterly columnist this week, debating universal issues for businesses. This time he argues that marketing must rediscover its humanity.

Which brings me back to YSL. By removing its founder’s name from the clothing line, it seems a little less personal. The brand is a little more removed from an individual’s human brilliance. And I’m not sure that’s an idea which will wear particularly well.

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