Brand location, location, location

5 November 2018
How impactful is having a geographical reference in a brand name? It’s a question I’m continuously asked, but it’s a good one.

Harrogate water, Patagonia clothing, Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese, Yorkshire Tea, Essex Lambrini. Okay, so I made that last one up, but being asked so frequently, I also started to wonder if these brands would be so successful if their names didn’t include a geographical reference?

Of course, that success usually comes down to authenticity – geographical or otherwise.
Take Harrogate water for example. The Yorkshire town was home to the very first bottled water back in 1740 but, according to the brand’s website, the very first mineral spring was discovered there by Queen Elizabeth I’s physician – all good stuff for positive brand association there. Yorkshire Tea was a family business founded in Harrogate back in 1886.

Patagonia clothing, however, doesn’t hale from that far-flung corner of the world. In fact, when US specialist climbing equipment company Chouinard Equipment decided to branch into clothing in the 70s, it chose the name Patagonia because it “was a name like Timbuktu or Shangri-La, far-off, interesting, not quite on the map”. The brand originally ‘borrowed’ its authenticity from its parent company and since then has built a loyal following based on quality.

Some brand names mean one thing to consumers but have their origins in something very different. Take fashion brand French Connection for instance. France is synonymous with fashion and sophistication, so it makes sense to leverage this.

Actually, and interestingly though, French Connection originally referred to heroin trafficking in the 1960s. The drug was smuggled from Turkey to France and then on to the United States – it even inspired a book and film. The clothing brand founder Stephen Marks traded on the name in 1972, after a French contact provided him with 3,000 Indian cheesecloth shirts that could be resold in the UK at a large profit. I am sure the brand today would rather customers didn’t know about the drug trafficking reference.

There are also cultural associations that give some brands prestige over others based on where they are made. Take Vodka – you’re going to buy Russian over Turkish any day. France is still regarded as the true home of wine and who would argue that the Italians know a thing or two about pizza and pasta.

There are many food and drink brands whose brand names are protected in law, such as Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese, granted Protected Geographical Status in 2013 by the EU – something only bestowed on products with a reputation, characteristics and qualities associated with the area. There is also Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). To qualify your product must be produced, processed and prepared in one area and have distinct characteristics from this area. PDOs differ from PGIs in that all three production stages must take place in the area you want to associate with the product. (For more on this go to https://www.gov.uk/guidance/eu-protected-food-names-how-to-register-food-or-drink-products).

There are also brand names based on locations whose relevance is either lost in the midst of time or only known by-product ‘geeks’ For example, I did a quick Google of ‘London Gin’ to find out that this spirit, named after the UK capital, refers to a particular style of dry gin – most of which was originally made in London. However, just because something is a ‘London Gin’, doesn’t necessarily make it premium, meaning many consumers will stick with the blue, shiny bottle of Bombay Sapphire that signals quality.

I’ve banged-on about this numerous times, but I’ll say it again. Consumers want authenticity and value. Successful brands have a connection to something of value. If brands want to leverage positive associations, geographically or otherwise, to engage consumers that leverage must be honest. Going back to Yorkshire Tea. Everyone knows it isn’t grown in Yorkshire, but its brand values are intrinsically entwined with its heritage as Yorkshire family business.

So, navigating back to my original question – how important is having a geographical reference in a brand? If the location is intrinsic in some way to the brand, how it is made, and/or the ingredients used that will immediately evoke positive associations, go for it. If not, it’s pointless and you’d be better off finding another positive attribute and differentiator rather than taking the easy, but nonsensical, option of using your location – but hey, I’m just a Cockney educated in Essex, what do I know.

Adam Arnold

Founder & Creative Director of award-winning branding agency Brandality.


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