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  Uche Nworah Miss Silverbird International: Brand extension or brand arrogance?
by Uche Nworah
June 20, 2005

The Igbos in Nigeria say Ezi Afa Ka Ego (a good name is worth more than money).

Companies like Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Nike and McDonald's may, however, think differently. In agreement with image and branding consultants, their own philosophy may be Ezi Afa Wu Ego (a good name translates into money).

Ben Murray-Bruce, the Nigerian owner and CEO of Silverbird Productions, is one who hopes a name will translate to money. Arguably Nigeria's biggest show business personality, Bruce's Silverbird brand has extended to broadcasting (Rhythm FM, Silverbird Television), beauty pageantry (Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria and Miss Silverbird International), and cinema (Silverbird Galleria). Nigerians however will remember Bruce and Silverbird mainly for his exploits in beauty pageantry.

 
 

In the eighties when the Miss Nigeria franchise was beginning to lose its glamour along with the interest of Nigerians and sponsors, Silverbird introduced the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MBGN) pageant. This event eventually took over the market leadership of the Miss Nigeria franchise, owned and operated by the Daily Times (a media organization owned by the Nigerian government).

In 2001, when Agbani Darego won the Miss World beauty pageant, she became the first ever Nigerian and African to win the pageant. Her victory stretched the Silverbird brand and image further, nationally and internationally.

In 2002, the Miss World event was due to take place in Nigeria, however, a local press article regarding the pageant sparked religious riots in some sections of the country. Beauties fled, along with the image, tourist revenues and media sponsorship fees that Nigeria would have gotten.

Eventually, Bruce controversially lost a government appointment, but with fame and fortune already in the bag, he went back to rebuilding his Silverbird empire. He appears to be pursuing the brand extension and serial entrepreneurial strategies seen in the actions of Virgin Group's founder Richard Branson and easyGroups' founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou. However, such expansion strategies are not always successful; brand extension can sometimes lead to brand proliferation and also brand arrogance. The last stage obviously spells doom for the brand; it is at this stage that consumer apathy sets in.

Both Haji-Ioannou and Branson face issues at the moment with some of their recently introduced businesses, particularly easyCinema, Virgin Money and Virgin Mobile. Will Bruce experience the same problems with his recently launched Miss Silverbird International pageant (a renamed venture of the Miss Intercontinental)?

The world pageant market is already crowded and competitive with established leading franchises such as the Miss Earth, Miss World, and Miss Universe pageants (the latter two are owned by American real estate businessman Donald Trump).

Re-branding Miss Intercontinental to Miss Silverbird International isn't just a case of a mouthful to pronounce (would eventual winners proudly call themselves "Miss Silverbird International"?), it's also facing hard competition on the world stage.

The inaugural Miss Silverbird International kicked off with a cash prize of just US$ 20,000, and promises of increasing the prize money to $200,000 in the coming years. It's a paltry sum to start the race with; Trump and other franchises offer more attractive prizes to their winners.

Further, going global with the Silverbird brand through the Miss Silverbird International beauty pageant may be a little premature at the moment, especially considering the nature of the beauty pageant business (which is already in serious decline in the US) as well as the apparent lack of recognition of the Silverbird brand internationally. Even Trump has not rebranded either the Miss World or Miss Universe pageants as Miss Trump beauty pageants (yet). Doing so would presumably affect the equity of the two famous pageants.

Bruce may have crossed the fine line that separates brand extension from brand arrogance. It is still early days yet to judge the success of the Miss Silverbird International franchise, but then early days are also the best time to evaluate whether a brand owner should pull the plug on a venture. Bruce should abandon this possible dog, which may never become a Silverbird star.

 
   
   Uche Nworah teaches business and marketing at Newvic, London. He is a Doctorate in Education candidate at the University of Greenwich, with a research interest in country branding.



 
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