Branding is fragile, which is why so many companies have undermined their brands with a single foolish move. You might think the news today that Lacoste removed its trademark crocodile from a limited edition line of shirts would be another example of marketing gone amok.

Instead, it was an extremely clever move that let the company embrace cause marketing -- tying brand to a bigger concern -- without endangering decades of effort.

The crocodile is synonymous with Lacoste because of the company's history. The company's founder, René Lacoste, was first a famous tennis player who gained the nickname "The "Crocodile," though for reasons that aren't entirely clear even though there are a number of potential explanations.

In his day, during the 1920s, Lacoste faced the traditional long-sleeved white shirts used in tennis. But on seeing a polo shirt, he had the idea of commissioning a tailor to create a set for him. In 1933, he co-founded the company, which originally made tennis shirts.

The crocodile connection is as old as the company itself. Changing a brand is a difficult and dangerous thing. People become attached to what is familiar and can oppose, sometimes loudly, any modifications.

Lacoste carefully walked the line and avoided any problems. On a series of 1,775 shirts, each selling for about $183, the company switched from the crocodile to different endangered species as a fundraiser for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as AdWeek reported. This was the first part of a three-year partnership.

Here's why the move worked:

  • The change was on a limited edition of shirts.
  • This was not a modification of the logo in general marketing. Instead, it was for a cause.
  • The cause of endangered species had a clear connection to a brand represented by a reptile.
  • There is no danger of confusion in the market as to what Lacoste is.
  • As the campaign launched at Paris Fashion Week 2018, there was also the connection to Lacoste's business.

The idea is terrific in multiple ways and doesn't pose any danger to the brand. All in all, a smart form of promotion in conjunction with a good cause. That's what makes this a stupidly brilliant move. Even as it is the sort of thing that could easily go wrong and that might be written off by most marketers, it remains smart.