Master Brand Definition

What Is a Master Brand?

A master brand is an overarching brand name that serves as the main anchoring point on which all underlying products are based. Master branding is one of the main tent-poles in branding architecture that aims to link a company's product-lines with the key values the brand represents.

While individual products may have their own names and brand identities, the master brand is instrumental in contributing to consumer beliefs that products stand alone in their classes. Virgin is one well-known master brand example.

Key Takeaways

  • Master brand is a business term used to describe a specific encompassing brand name that serves as the main anchoring point for all underlying products and brands.
  • Although individual products may carry their own names, the master brand is essential in leading consumers to believe that products stand alone in their categories. 
  • In the practice of sub-branding, affiliated brands have little in common with the master brand name; for example, the film company Touchstone Pictures produces more risqué film titles than the child-friendly films typically offered by its parent company, Disney.
  • A master brand strategy can help companies reduce advertising costs, enjoy increased brand awareness for sub-brands, and transfer brand equity to sub-brands.
  • Some drawbacks include risks to diversification and the potential failure of sub-brands when the master brand fails.

Understanding Master Brands

A master brand, in effect, creates a single corporate trademark for a variety of products in a portfolio of offerings. The intent is to link affiliates under the master brand, even though they may operate independently and serve vastly different functions. If executed correctly, consumers will readily identify associated brands with the qualities of the master brand—even if only on a subconscious level.

Of course, this strategy works best when the master brand is regarded positively by consumers, who consequently assume that there is a consistency of quality across all brands and products.

Master Brand vs. Sub-Branding and Portfolio Branding

Master branding is part of a branding architecture landscape that also includes sub-branding and portfolio branding. Sub-branding may be described as affiliated brands that have little in common with the master brand.

For example, Disney is known for outputting more child-friendly fare, while affiliated studio Touchstone Pictures tends to produce more risqué film titles. In portfolio branding, a parent company features a portfolio of brands that are kept separate and distinct. They may even deliberately compete with one another so that the parent entity is better able to segment the marketplace. Procter & Gamble is particularly well-known for strategically engaging in portfolio branding.

Intel Corp., another prime example of a master brand, has several competing product offerings under its banner. At one time, Intel offered a full range of computer processors, such as Pentium, Centrino, and Core Duo. While each one of these products offers a different level of performance and sells at a different price point, it is the Intel brand that lets consumer believe that the chip he or she purchases will have the same high level of quality as all other Intel products—regardless of the sub-brand.

Master Brand Advantages and Disadvantages


Master branding has several benefits, such as increasing brand awareness and reducing advertising costs. It may facilitate customer feedback and brand mergers and allow businesses to create economic moats. Employing an effective master brand strategy can also attract investors and supply chain partners who wish to capitalize on the brand's success.

Under a traditional advertising model, companies promote their individual brands separately, focusing on the specific utility and quality of that brand. Companies can reduce advertising costs by employing a single campaign that promotes the master brand across various media channels.

If customers' perceptions of the master brand are positive, they will likely have positive associations with sub-brands. As a result, sub-brands are awarded a competitive advantage over competitors' brands, resulting in increased sales. In addition, when sub-brands satisfy other needs, companies often realize increased customer loyalty and retention.


With master branding, a company should be aware that some business or product lines may have unique marketing requirements or demands that may not fit well into a single, rigid branding architecture. This is especially true when the sub-brands and products subscribe to a vision and mission counter to the master brand.

Although master branding lets companies achieve greater economies of scale with their advertising campaigns, on the downside, these initiatives tend to be less market-specific and less product-specific.

Master branding allows a company to communicate its vision and values in a single campaign that encompasses all brands. However, under this strategy, a company may be unable to successfully diversify its offerings. For example, a company that makes healthy drinks and snacks might find it difficult to employ a master brand strategy if wanting to diversify its business into spirits and libations. Launching products misaligned with the master brand may confuse and repeal current customers.

Where a master brand strategy makes sense, companies should consider the risks of master brand failure. If the master brand suffers a blow to its reputation, it could adversely affect the reputation of subordinate brands.

  • Reduced advertising costs

  • Increased customer loyalty

  • Increased competitive advantage

  • Strategy may not meet the unique needs of sub-brands

  • Harm to one is harm to all

  • Risk to diversification

How to Create a Master-Brand Strategy

A company can leverage the solid reputation and success of its flagship brand to drive success for its other brands. Under a single campaign, it can communicate the values and strengths the master brand is known for, thereby creating a protective blanket for its subordinate brands.

  1. To create a master-brand strategy, identify your primary mission and hone in on the master brand's values, strengths, and weaknesses. In particular, focus on the strengths and values your customers most appreciate.
  2. Communicate those values and strengths clearly and concisely in a campaign that evokes a positive emotional response. Remind your customers why they trust your brand.
  3. Personalize your message with your customers through various channels, and enlist your customers to become part of the campaign. Brand ambassadors are an effective and inexpensive way to promote and extend the reach of brands.
  4. Analyze the effectiveness of your strategy, and make adjustments to advertising that does not resonate with the target audience.
  5. Continue delivering the value customers expect, and remain true to the company's mission.

Real-World Examples

Virgin: Master of Master Branding

The Virgin Group, founded in 1970 by Richard Branson and the late Nik Powell, is a British conglomerate of more than 200 brands and 40 companies across five continents. All brands don the Virgin name and subscribe to the same goals, values, and mission: to change business for good as a market disruptor with a spirit of entrepreneurship, innovation, and customer-centricity. The company stresses that "the backbone of our brand will always be our values."

Beginning as a record mail-order feature in Branson's Student magazine in 1970, Virgin quickly expanded, first as a record shop in 1971, second as a recording studio in 1972, and then as a music publishing company in 1973. Within a decade, Virgin expanded into air travel, gaming, book publishing, and other diversified brands, all while remaining true to its master brand goal.

Each brand and company carry the Virgin name followed by the type of product or service delivered. However, the consistent message for all is about delivering the best experience and serving customers.


One of the most famous examples of master branding is Coca-Cola. While the name has become synonymous with red soda cans and curvy bottles, Coca-Cola is also an umbrella for a whole universe of sugary treats, from Fanta to Costa Coffee.

Starting in 2016, the Coca-Cola company launched the "Taste the Feeling" Campaign to unify all of their products under a single brand image. The "one brand strategy" emphasized the number of choices available to consumers, including those seeking healthier products.


Hershey's represents a wide variety of chocolate and other confections, from Kit Kat bars and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups to Cadbury Creme Eggs. For many years, these products were branded separately. Then, in 2016, the company decided to unify all its brands in a single campaign.

The new campaign, dubbed "Hello Happy, Hello Hershey," focused on emphasizing the emotional experience of consuming Hershey's treats, rather than simply describing the various products on offer. The campaign featured new ads that brought all of Hershey's products together, and also unified them on social media under a single Hershey's account.

What Is Brand Architecture?

Brand architecture is the way brands, products, and services are structured within an organization. The architecture organizes how brands complement, are related to, and differ from each other.

What Is a Master Brand Campaign?

A master brand campaign is a marketing strategy that aggressively promotes the name of a company and its main brand, treading other brands and products as offshoots of the parent brand. This type of strategy seeks to develop trust and recognition of the company name, making consumers more likely to buy the company's products.

What Are the 4 Main Branding Strategies?

Companies often choose a branding strategy that can build brand awareness and increase sales and favorability among customers. There are many strategies, but the most common are:

  • Attitude branding: branding that prompts an emotional response to connect the consumer to the brand
  • Individual branding: the branding of individual products or brands to give them a unique and separate identity from their master brand
  • Company name branding: branding that uses the strength of a company's recognized name to promote its products, brands, and services. Individual brands may be branded, but the company name is associated for recognition.
  • Brand-extension: using an established, reputable brand to promote a new product or product line.

The Bottom Line

In marketing, a master brand or parent brand serves as an overarching brand name that encompasses a large family of smaller brands and products. Marketing agencies use master brand strategies to link these various products with the values that the larger brand represents.

Article Sources
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