Brain Chatter: The Makings of A "Masterbrand"

December 8, 2017 Shane Schick

I was trying to find a marketing contact at Pizza Hut the other day (don’t ask) and was having no luck on LinkedIn until I realized his profile listed him as working for Yum Brands.

To the average consumer, Yum Brands is not really a brand. Pizza Hut is a brand, as is KFC, Taco Bell and a number of its other restaurant chains. So what might be the impact if it suddenly put its name forward -- re-christening its pizza chain as Yum Brands’ Pizza Hut, for instance?

This question ran through my mind as I listened to a panel discussion last week hosted by Interbrand Canada. It featured Roots, a brand everyone knows, and two that seem to be striving to transform from holding companies into brands, such as Cadillac Fairview (CF) and TMX Group.

The TMX Group, for instance, is often referred to as “formerly the Toronto Stock Exchange,” but in fact represents a powerful collection of entities, including the Montreal Exchange, the Canadian Depository for Securities and, through an acquisition a few weeks ago, a firm called Trayport.

Alison Simpson, TMX Group’s chief marketing officer, said growth at that scale comes at a cost, at least from a marketing perspective. Do you keep the names of all those firms you acquire, and a separate way building the awareness and equity of each?

“There’s a notion that to support 12 different brands isn’t good business,” she said. “That’s one of the big questions I’m looking forward to grappling in 2018.”

CF’s senior vice-president of marketing, Jason Anderson, says his firm has already settled some of those questions and described holding companies coming into the public consciousness as “masterbrands.” That’s why you now see the “CF Eaton Centre” instead of just “the Eaton Centre” in downtown Toronto.

“Twelve of the top 20 shopping malls in Canada are CF properties, but nobody knows that,” he said.

Becoming a masterbrand takes more than just putting your logo on a building, Anderson added, though it starts there. He pointed to Fairmount, which caused a public outcry back in 1999 when it tried to replace the famous Royal York Sign with its own name.

In the end, a compromise of ‘Fairmont Royal York” was reached, but the overall strategy has been unquestionably successful. When you see the name Fairmont in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary or elsewhere, you know you’re dealing with five-star luxury.

Similarly, CF needs to demonstrate it is more than a collection of retailers but a consistent set of experiences that lead consumers to create memorable moments, whether it’s the first place you see Santa to where you go on your first date.

TMX Group, on the other hand, has gotten considerable attention for a recent campaign that promotes the idea of more female CEOs. It’s a good example of how Masterbrands can entrench themselves not merely by virtue of their presence but by embracing a purpose or set of values that connect across the various sub-brands they own.

With startups like Uber and Airbnb establishing themselves as household names seemingly overnight, it’s kind of incredible that companies which have existed for decades are only embracing the power of branding now. For all their resources and legacy, though, making this transition is no easy task. After all, there is only room for so many brands in the average consumer’s life. The masterbrands will be fighting alongside countless others to be among them. 

Shane Schick is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine. He tells stories about technology, marketing, innovation, fashion and more at

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