Commodity brands

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It is truly rare that a brand name can survive an ownership change: Marantz, JBL, Infinity, Harman Kardon, Wharfdale, Klipsch, Krell were all iconic brands when owned by their founders. Today they are but commodities.

The wholesale name transfer doesn’t automatically pound a nail in the brand’s coffin. Mark Levinson’s brand got (arguably) better after Mark sold to Sandy Berlin and Mike Kay, but it is rare.

We place a lot of value on these names and companies are willing to pay a lot of money to possess them though it’s always been a bit of a mystery to me what the new owner’s expectations are. Success without breaking a sweat, perhaps?

Some brands take a reverse course. Instead of representing a lifetime of work they represent an idea instead. The ice cream brand Häagen-Dazs is a good example. It is a made up name that over the years has become associated with rich tasting expensive ice cream and to that goal succeeds well.

In high-end audio, though, brand names are more often than not representations of personal work that have or have not withstood the test of time. The dustbin of come-and-gone names is full, yet those remaining have either morphed into something different than their founder’s intent—Klipsch and JBL are great examples—or fade into obscurity over time.

I cringe when someone writes to me excited about a purchasing decision based on the former reputation of a brand only to later question how it got there when they don’t get what they had hoped for.

It’s best to take a close look at what’s attached to any brand before jumping into the deep end.

After all, the old saying what’s in a name? might be more valid than you know.