Successful brands speak for themselves. This takes a lot of work from the marketing department, but it is possible. An animated brand can stand by itself; an inert one needs the constant weight of the company behind it and remains more a sub-brand than a brand in its own right.

I was asked the other day to include concrete examples if possible in my discussion. While it can be difficult to find truly illustrative examples, there are several good ones in this case. For an animated brand, look at Mountain Dew. Look at ThinkPad for an example of an inert brand.

Recently, Mountain Dew has been advertising the birth of a new flavor. They are trying to encourage customer participation in everything from package design to product flavor and color. Nowhere in the new campaign do you hear mention of PepsiCo, the company that owns and markets Mountain Dew. The brand has enough momentum and energy behind it that throwing the Pepsi logo on the corner would actually dilute the message.

Look instead at ThinkPad. This is (or at least was) a great line of computers developed by IBM and manufactured by Lenovo in China. The brand represented quality business machines that were durable beyond any standard. In 2005, Lenovo was so excited to purchase IBM’s personal computer division, and the ThinkPad brand, that it failed to realize where the brand’s strength came from. These computers were marketed under the brand “IBM ThinkPad.” It doesn’t take a genius to see which of the two names has more credibility. Although Lenovo has the rights to use the IBM name for now, that agreement will soon expire. Marking the “IBM ThinkPad” as “a product of Lenovo” means the company has done nothing to animate the ThinkPad line. It still needs the weight of the company to support its image.

Mountain Dew stands alone, there are probably consumers in the market who don’t know it’s a Pepsi brand. Try to find a ThinkPad computer without “IBM” or “Lenovo” stamped all over it and you will be searching forever. An animated brand is powerful, an inert one is an empty promise of performance that withers when cleaved from its parent company.

What would you expect the life expectancy of an animated brand to be? How about that of an inert one?