For most businesses/products, branding helps. Understatement.
For a few, though, novelty works just fine. At least in the short run.
Today, Seth points out that Mikhail Kalashnikov has just sold his name to an umbrella company, and makes the point that fame doesn't equal brand. Excellent, perfect point. Taken.
But, wait a minute. In some cases, I contend, novelty can translate to sales. Think about it - how much does branding really sell an umbrella, anyway? When was the last time you seriously considered, for more than a few seconds, your umbrella purchase? I'm sure there are many exceptions, but it seems to me that most umbrellas are sold when people get caught unexpectedly in the rain. It's an impulse/necessity buy, most of the time. And that's precisely the time when a novelty product can sometimes have an edge. Maybe the water and vodka that are also planned will benefit from the novelty, too. Maybe not.
Now certainly, Kalishnikov umbrellas probably won't be a big seller in Connecticut, as it's my guess that Kalashnikov's original invention (the AK-47) probably will create a negative image for any umbrellas that might be sold there. But it's also my guess that the AK inventor's name will, in fact, sell umbrellas in gun states. Places where people aren't upset that this guy invented a popular, functional, inexpensive, globally accepted product a long time ago -- just because this product happens to be a military-grade firearm. I don't want to get in a gun argument here - I just want to point out that there are two very strong, opposing views of this particular product - both with plenty of money to spend (or not.) Some people find his invention horrible. Some don't. They will respond to his name differently.
It's not branding. Seth's right. It's novelty. And novelty is rarely a great long-term strategy. If there's any branding here, it will be the result of a quality product with/in spite of a famous/infamous name, depending on how you choose to view it. That will take time, as branding is wont to do. But that doesn't mean the name won't sell products. It's just...which products, to which people.
Like I said, it's not a long-term strategy. I'd almost never recommend novelty over branding. But when you read the story, you find out the guy never made anything, really, for inventing the most popular firearm in the world - because he invented it while working under the old Soviet system. If he can cash in, just a little, even, by selling umbrellas to guys at gun shows, I say novelty is ok. Sometimes.