Free Riding

March 30, 2010


I was in the city centre the other day waiting for the Aircoach when a taxi pulled up and the driver asked, “Do you want to come with me for the same price as the Aircoach?”. I agreed. The Aircoach wasn’t due for another ten minutes and the taxi would get me to the airport more quickly.

There were already 6 people in the taxi, so with 7 people that meant that the driver was making around €50 for his troubles. Not a bad little earner. Of course, he was cheating, a little. He was using the infrastructure the Aircoach has invested in, to sell his own service.

The same principle of free riding can work for brands. It might be cheating a little, but it’s one way in which the little guys can compete. If we believe that certain brands embody certain values, then it makes sense that where one brand has gone before, another can join in. Where this extends to blatant counterfeiting, it is, obviously, illegal. But where a brand can mirror the values of a larger brand in more subtle ways, it can bask in that brand’s glow, for a relatively minimal cost.

I would argue that brands like Apple, as a best in class example, embody their brand values so completely that those values, where seen elsewhere, become reminiscent of the brand. Things are now ‘Apple-y’.

Where a more minor player doesn’t have the resources to create that sort of brand value on its own, it might make sense to free ride on someone else’s.


%d bloggers like this: