Suddenly the fashion for brand proliferation is over. AST this week followed market leaders like Compaq and IBM in shrinking the number of lines and reverting to a single name for its corporate desktop range.
AST said it was scrapping its high-end Premmia line-up and melding its high-spec systems into the Bravo range which was previously targeted at budget business buyers. A dual-processor Pentium Pro-based Bravo running Windows NT will be released in October or November.
Earlier this month, Compaq shut down its ProLinea range, saying that all business systems would be sold under the long-running Deskpro name. Last year, IBM closed its PS/2 high-performance and ValuePoint budget lines, in favour of the names Model 700 and Model 300, explaining that the names made it clearer that there was consistency across products. Big Blue had earlier trashed its Ambra wholly-owned subsidiary that was launched as a clone-killer.
"What's happened is that Bravo is a bigger brand and top-end products were impinging on Premmia products. Going to one corporate desktop brand keeps SKUs down. The technology used to take much longer to go down the food chain so you would have 18 months before high-end features became standard. Now it's much quicker with high-end chips going straight into 'value' lines."
"It's a distribution fashion," said Jeremy Davies, managing director of market analyst Context. "The original thinking was 'we have to address different users with different products, different names and different channels' but vendors found out that they were creating channel conflict. The customer doesn't buy the system he's supposed to buy in that channel, so he goes to another vendor or buys it in the grey market.
"The past masters of branding are Sony. They have all sorts of different Walkman for different users but they're all fundamentally the same but [in business computing] it's moving towards a realisation that you can target different users only on price/performance terms, not by peripheral things like sub-brands, channels and Intelligent Manageability [Compaq's scheme for making systems easier to manage on the network]."
PC marketing fashions change with the seasons. It's summer, so it must be a single corporate desktop brand. The good news is that we have lost another dreary name that just about ends the herd mentality towards naming conventions that said you need an 'a' at the end - farewell and don't bother coming back Ambra, ProLinea and now Premmia. AST has had a nasty time of it over the last couple of years and anything that makes it more nimble should help.