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  • Jennifer Marks

Making A Brand Stand on its Merchandising Merit

At the Heimtextil international trade fair last week, there was more talk about what branding is — and isn't these days, at least as far as the U.S. market is concerned.

With JCPenney's launch of the Polo Ralph Lauren-spawned American Living label imminent (late January/early February), people are asking whether the lack of any Lauren identification on the product will prove a problem. After all, by the time the Chaps brand was extended to Kohl's, it already had a long history in other segments of the marketplace and was recognized by consumers as a Ralph Lauren brand.

Or is it recognized today as a Ralph Lauren brand primarily by those of us who remember its original launch as a men's cologne in 1979 and subsequent extension into men's apparel? We're talking almost 30 years — a period during which many of Kohl's suburban mom shoppers were, at best, infants.

Which brings us back to the American Living/lack of Lauren conundrum. Heretofore I'd been inclining toward the hand-wringers, but the more I've thought about, the closer I've come to concluding it's a non-factor. In fact, I'm willing to bet if you asked the average mall maven which designer invented Chaps you'd be greeted with a blank stare.

Would American Living get a boost if it were delivered into the world in the arms of a Ralph Lauren co-brand? I'd think so. But either way, American Living is bound to stand or fall on its own merits.

It will succeed only to the extent that it's been properly designed, produced, packaged, marketed and merchandised. Same goes for Wal-Mart's upcoming Canopy (spring '08) and Better Homes and Gardens (fall).

So what is a brand? These day's it's whatever a retailer says it is. It's as good as the standards the retailer sets for it, the energy the retailer puts into marketing it, and the degree of sophistication employed in merchandising it.

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