brand differentiation, ice cream & the bus industry

It's not uncommon in the bus industry to see a livery on the street with four different branding reference points - that of the parent company, the UK/local company, the route, and the number.

Compare that with the packaging of your average retail product, say something like a Cornetto. 
If we're describing branding as something that differentiates your product from a competitor, then an ice cream usually has two reference points - the product name, and parent company logo - leaving colour, flavour etc as generic.

But that's not the only thing.

Cornetto's brand managers will have spent a budget of millions trying to get the name and image of their product into your psyche, so when you fancy ice cream two and two are put together and you choose theirs.

And they (must) do this because there is so much choice in the sector. Even though ice creams like Twister, Solero, Magnum, Feast and Calippo are all made in the same factory by the same company, they are in direct competition with each other for a customer's spend.

The odds of you buying a Cornetto without this external influence (i.e., advertising) are probably more than 50/1. Advertising's job is to dramatically improve these odds, and after you've bought it, the product's job is to encourage repeat purchases through enjoyment. 

The cycle of acquiring new customers is constant.

But we all know the bus industry doesn't have to operate like that. While some companies choose to see themselves as a retail product (and have the results to back up their decision), many simply don't bother. 

Why? Because for every Cornetto on the streets, there is no Calippo, Twister or Solero alternative for the customer to choose from. Captive markets can survive (but not flourish) without investment.   

So, the answer is no - the accepted rules of brand differentiation really don't apply to the bus industry- and boy, doesn't it show.