No one would dispute that a strong brand is a valuable item. Companies with the right images keep customer loyalty more easily than their lesser-known competitors, while strong brand holders often can charge a premium for their products and services. And yet, brands are tricky things. In the wrong market, a brand can go from being the symbol of desirability to just another name in a sea of rivals.

Polo Ralph Lauren (NYSE:RL) yesterday announced that it has taken another step to establish full control over its brand with its decision to buy back the license to sell footwear under the Polo and Ralph Lauren names from Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation Reebok (NYSE:RBK). The luxury goods purveyor will pay $110 million to reassume such rights, which the firm sold to Reebok back in 1996 for an undisclosed sum. The move follows Polo's re-assumption of its rights to its Lauren women's line from Jones Apparel (NYSE:JNY) in 2003. The Lauren line has helped Polo's wholesale business grow solidly, although Polo is mired in a legal battle with Jones Apparel that could prove costly.

Those hoping that the footwear license will translate into a major improvement in Polo's bottom line may be disappointed. Granted, Reebok recorded nearly $210 million in sales from both Ralph Lauren and Greg Norman brand footwear in 2004, and one analyst has put the Polo portion of those sales at $150 million. Polo has been making investments to accommodate the footwear line and sees the reacquisition of the footwear license as "a key element of a successful accessories strategy."

However, heady competition in the shoe area, especially in athletic shoes, will make success particularly tough for Polo. There is little doubt that Polo's clothing and housewares areas are associated with style and status. But in the athletic shoe area, Nike (NYSE:NKE), Adidas, and Reebok itself all have their own extremely strong brands with shoes that carry their own connotations of wealth and prestige. An effort by Polo to compete in this area might just be counterproductive.

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Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer in Chicago. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.