The Sunday Life supplement of the Melbourne Age newspaper recently carried an item about the release in Japan of Kit Kat Sakura (cherry blossom), a springtime variant of the confectionery brand that is said by the J-list to have become "the new Pocky" in Japan, based in part on its status as a lucky charm (see this BBC report). In fact, Kit Kat in Japan has a history of bizarre seasonal variants, from lemon cheesecake to green tea. Likewise, in Australia as well as the UK (Luscious Lime) and the US (Mint and Milkshake), Kit Kat flavour variants have emerged increasingly over the last few years (you can see a great collection here).
At least these line extensions - from Blood Orange to Black Bean - have had one thing in common: the classic four-fingered Kit Kat configuration of ingot-shaped, chocolate-coated wafer biscuits that has been around since the 1930s. Never mind the flavour or the language, Kit Kat has always been easily recognisable in any market.
Product shape or form is one of the quintessential identity elements of the Kit Kat brand. The advertising catchphrase "Have a break... have a Kit Kat" (registered Trade Mark No. 486933 in Australia) is based on the notion of breaking off individual "fingers". There's even a characteristic hand action required to separate the portions. That's the essence of what the name Kit Kat calls to mind, the anchor for the network of brand associations in the minds of consumers.
Even when Kit Kat "chunky" bars were introduced a few years ago, they retained clear links to the classic via the ingot shape of the bar and the (allegedly) humorous advertising line "You deserve the big finger".
Sadly, someone at Nestlé Australia apparently doesn't understand or subscribe to this notion of anchoring and protecting the central brand concept and brand identity. Nestlé has just introduced Kit Kat Temptations: "a tempting new range of indulgent bars combining lashings of creamy chocolate, delectable bite size pieces...". Kit Kat Temptations has the aesthetically unpleasant shape of some kind of lumpy bean-pod.
Yes, Kit Kat Temptations is indulgent - self-indulgent, driven by the kind of brand egotism that says "we can put our brand name on any kind of confectionery and it'll sell". The risks of cannibalisation and consumer confusion are very high. This is apparently well recognised in the UK, where a recently-departed marketing executive at Nestlé Rowntree has been criticised for his aggressive pursuit of brand proliferation (see this story from Brand Republic) and its potential to damage the Kit Kat brand.
But the message seems not to have been heeded Down Under. This looks like another case of the new marketing myopia - a shortsighted and short-termist approach to the exploitation of brand equity that's just as dangerous as the one Theodore Levitt described in 1960.
UPDATE (Easter Saturday): Just saw the ad for Kit Kat Temptations at the movies and it's a shocker!