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Branded for life?

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Companies that can include their brands among these 200 are able to secure nearly unshakable customer loyalty.

"To accomplish this covenant, brand marketing must start with children," McNeal says. "Even if the child does not buy the product and will not for many years – AT&T services, IBM computers, Sears appliances – the marketing must begin in childhood...."

Successful brand-building among children can carry over into adulthood. The Tonka name resonates so powerfully with many adults, for example, that Ford this year rolled out a prototype full-size truck co-branded with the toymaker's name.

But for the most part, the trend has been marketing adult brands to children. Apparel companies such as The Gap, Old Navy, and Polo have extended their customer bases by creating clothing for infants and children. Now, they compete with kid-clothing stalwarts such as OshKosh B'gosh and Carter's. The effort is partly to make children comfortable with the brand.

"Infants will never recognize [the brand]," says Marianne Szymanski, president of Toy Tips Inc., a toy-industry consulting firm. "But mothers will continue to buy those brands. Once [the kids] are in school, and brand-conscious, they will still want mom to purchase them."

Other firms are adjusting their marketing to establish a bridge between parent and child. Customer devotion to motorcycle-maker Harley-Davidson is legendary. Over the past 10 years, the company has attempted to extend parents' affection for the brand to their offspring. New products include rattles and baby blankets, a toy Harley motorbike for kids (made by Fisher Price), as well as clothing and helmets.

"We're looking to build a positive memory, and imprint the younger generation with the positive aspects of the brand," says Harley-Davidson's vice president of marketing, Joanne Bichman.

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