I like Extra Life Radio, and listen to it as often as I can. Occassionally something comes up in the discussion that gets me thinking, and this week's episode did just that. The host, Scott Johnson, mentioned that one of the things that really irritates him is when he hears folks use the saying "oh, they totally sold out". He mentioned this in response to criticism of the recent Mt. Dew ads featuring a World of Warcraft tie in.
That got me thinking about the phrase. Scott's beef was that it didn't make sense. After all, Blizzard (Activision) is in the gaming industry not to create some love-in for RPG fans, but to make money. If working with Mt. Dew leads to more money, then that's good business.
Is it really though? I do agree that this term "Selling out" gets thrown around rather flippantly, but sometimes, it is spot on. Branding is incredibly important to some companies. Great care must be taken not to dilute that brand or associate the brand with things that do not synergize with the brand. For instance, you probably won't ever see a Rolex tie-in with McDonald's. McDonald's is all about convenience and being inexpensive, while Rolex is about luxury and prestige. If such a combination were to occur, it could be accurately described as "selling out the brand".
I do agree with Scott Johnson that the pairing of WoW with Mt. Dew does not diminish either brand, and thus the "selling out" comment is not relevant. On the other hand, I do believe it is important to listen to your consumer base, and to be cautious about how, where, and when your brand image is used.