LONDON, United Kingdom — ‘Made in’matters. In a society awash in marketing messages, brand provenance gives consumers a filtering mechanism for selecting products that feels both concrete and reliable.
Even companies not rooted in a particular time or place recognise the power of a brand provenance story. In 1986, Charles Tyrwhitt set up a clothing business with no existing heritage in shirting, its first area of specialisation. Cannily, however, Tyrwhitt acquired an address that suggested a powerful provenance: 100 Jermyn Street. Jermyn Street, known for its shirtmakers, is part of St James’s, an iconic shopping district in London which dates back to 1661 and has the highest concentration of royal warrant holders (those who advertise the fact that they supply the British royal family) anywhere in the United Kingdom. And, Tyrwhitt, who set up the business from Bristol University, over 100 miles away, recognised the value of the address, which features prominently in the brand’s marketing.
But what happens if a business lacking genuine provenance, can’t easily acquire one the way Tyrwhitt did? There are three options: hijack provenance by acquiring a brand that has a true origin story; manufacture provenance through clever marketing; or reframe your message altogether and tell a different story.
Since the end of the 1990s, Chinese companies have acquired European brands like Pirelli, Club Med, Volvo and a few Bordeaux vineyards. One reason for this is Chinese recognition of their own country’s weakness in provenance outside of manufacturing and technology. (The fact that Europe is weak economically and the USA is a more hostile environment for foreign investment has played a part too). The domain of fine quality chocolates has always been Belgium and Switzerland, where the leading brands from these two countries define the category. So, if you are an ambitious Turkish consumer goods company wanting to be a big global player, what do you do? You acquire Godiva. Enter Yildiz Ulker Godiva. Still, most people at Godiva stores think they are buying a little piece of Belgium’s rich chocolate history.
In ice cream, we have seen the complete invention of the brand name Häagen-Dazs, created at the kitchen table of Reuben and Rose Mattus in the United States. They deliberately created a Norwegian sounding name to reflect the dairy produce provenance of Norway. And thanks to very effective marketing backed by a sizable investment, today Häagen-Dazs is a multimillion-dollar global business owned by Nestlé.
Until recently, perhaps the most impactful use of provenance in the airline sector was the Singapore Girl, a creation of Singapore Airlines, which has received more advertising accolades than any other brand in the industry, and, to a lesser extent, British Airway’s “To Fly. To Serve.”campaign. Today, however, several Gulf state carriers are digging deep into their pockets to build their service provenance stories. Just watch Nicole Kidman convince us that Etihad is today’s most desirable, service-oriented airline.
One of the most successful reframings of recent times is was achieved by a brand born from the World War II phrase: “You don’t know shit from Shinola.” Shinola, a relatively new watchmaker, has taken a historic brand of shoe polish and linked it to Detroit, a place known for its heritage of Motown music and auto-manufacturing, to create a lifestyle range based around the tagline “Where America is Made.” Recognising the importance of Switzerland’s provenance in watch manufacturing, the company also sources parts from the European country and assembles them in a 30,000 square foot space, vacated by the College of Creative Studies, in Detroit. The company, owned by a venture capital firm born from Texas Instruments, is now selling over 500,000 models a year.
Another great reframing story is that of the Fiat 500, a remake of the iconic Italian automobile. What Fiat did was to tie the car to Italy’s cast iron provenance in fashion and make the Fiat 500 as much a fashion accessory as a mode of transport.
But consumers are increasingly sophisticated and brand literate. When it comes to deploying a hijacking, manufacturing or reframing strategy to tap the power of provenance, it’s critical that brands get their stories straight.
Joy Nazzari is the founder of dn&co, a luxury branding agency.
The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.
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