in Branding

Authentic Brands

My recent post about brand layering reminded me of something Kevin Fong mentioned at the ID Design Strategy conference. Companies like Polaroid and Westinghouse are now renting out their brands to other manufacturers, while the parent company puts an ironic layer of marketing frosting on top: “You can be sure… if it’s a Westinghouse.” Um, apparently we can’t. Click through to the small appliance category and the mask comes off, a giant list of “Salton Brands” (not “Salton Products” mind you).

With brand layering, brand renting, and consumers taking the situation literally into their own hands, an authentic brand backed by an authentic company will be a rare and valuable asset. My current client has two offices full of authentic people doing authentic work under an authentic-but-little-known name, they’re feeling the pressure to grow, and the pure marketing path (as opposed to marketing great work) tempts them. It’s easy to talk about doing the right thing and focusing on the customer, but the reality — even in “good” companies — is much messier, requiring thoughtful conversation within the organization of how the products and processes on the drawing board will change the way they are perceived.

  1. This is the dirty secret of most luxury brands too – they often sell the rights to use their name on specific products. Calvin Klein is probably the biggest example – the underwear lines are owned by Warnaco [1](although I thought CK tried to buy them back), the perfume lines by Unilever [2](well, just sold to Coty). I guess they must retain some creative control, especially over the advertising, but it’s suprisingly as to how far brand renting has gone. Note that Polaroid in the US is basically a shell company after going bankrupt. I guess the brand name is the only saleable asset, unfortunately.


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