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April 25, 2007

Brand Name Authenticity: When Bad is Good

It seems to me that the concept of authenticity is the branding idea du jour these days. Sometimes it makes sense to me and sometimes it sounds like marketing mumbo jumbo.

You decide.

Much has been written on brand authenticity, including a very thoughtful and resourceful article by Bill Breen in the May issues of Fast Company entitled Who Do You Love, about the appeal and risks of brand authenticity.

haagendazs.gifJohn Moore, author of What Starbucks Must Do, says the article a must-read for every marketer.

An authentic brand, with an authentic brand name, of course, is becoming a magic chalice for marketers. A recent article on NJ.Com frets that “Starbucks’ Growth May Threaten Brands’ Authenticity,” while another pundit posits that Anna Nicole was a brand name that we loved “because she lived her life with authenticity.”

Breen reminds us that the word authentic comes from the Greek authentikós, which means "original." And unfortunately, there's no recipe for originality.” He quotes Seth Godin, who quips in his Permission Marketing, "If you can fake authenticity, the rest will take care of itself."

pointer_shoes.gifWhen it comes to developing of an authentic-sounding product or company name, however, I think Breen’s assertion that “A brand doesn't feel real when it overtly tries to make itself real” is right on the money.

What does that mean to a naming company who wants their client to wind up with a truly authentic-sounding name? Does it really mean that you might contemplate creating a brand that looks so unlikely that consumers will believe in its authenticity?

I think Bathys watches is an illustration of this concept. I love these watches but using the word “Bathys” as a watch name, even if it is Greek for “deep,” is a risky: it sounds like “bath.” Yet it works, perhaps because consumers feel it’s so wrong that it must be right.

Another new company name seems authentic because it seems so unlikely: Pointer, a small shoe company that is highly influenced by skateboarder fashion, perhaps one of the fields that simply demands authenticity.

orville_movie_butter.gifAnother brand name that was just profiled in Adweek really piqued my interest: Dickel, as in, The Dickel Tennessee Whisky Distillery. Although it’s a bit difficult to pronounce, and sounds kind of weird, brand fanatics are loyal to it. A brand name like Dickel or Bathys or Pointer is easy to remember and sounds so off the beaten track that customers will seek it out.

And what could be a more authentic brand name than Orville Redenbacher?

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Posted by William Lozito at April 25, 2007 11:32 AM
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