How TED Lost Control Of Its Brand

TEDx_logo_k_RGB_3650When Simon Sinek presented his now famous “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” it was, perhaps, the first time a mass audience saw the TEDx logo.  Who knew that four years later the creation of TEDx would become an interesting story about branding.

In 2009, TED (“Technology, Entertainment and Design”) decided to further democratize its process by letting licensees use its brand, in the form of TEDx, to nearly anyone, anywhere. It started off great with talks like Simon’s emerging all over. In the beginning there were about 280 TEDx events.

But TEDx kept growing and by the end of 2012 there were ten times that many TEDx gatherings reaching 130 countries. While the organization had succeeded in democratizing its ideas worth spreading process the quality of the videos began to decline with the TED logo and stage design all over them. It became so noticeable that the New Republic wrote:

“TED is no longer a responsible curator of ideas ‘worth spreading.’ Instead it has become something ludicrous… a place where ideas, regardless of their quality, go to seek celebrity, to live in the form of videos, tweets, and now e-books.”

A bit dramatic, but point taken.

TED took a hit because it had chosen to extend their primary brand versus create something new and in doing so hurt their 30-year-old premium heritage.

Al Ries famously wrote about brand and line extensions in The 22 Immutable Laws Of Branding. “The easiest way to destroy a brand is to put its name on everything,” he stated. I don’t believe this should be a  “law” but it is, for the most part, true.

Ries went on to write that “if the market is moving out from under you, stay where you are and launch a second brand (think Toyota to Lexus). If it’s not, stay where you are and keep building your brand.”

Harvard Business Review has an excellent perspective on how TED lost control of its brand by losing control of its crowd. It was one of the most viewed posts on HBR this past month. So if you enjoy branding, the wisdom of crowds, or TED itself, you should read it.

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