It’s easy to see the recent growth of “authentic” brands as a reaction against globalisation. The idea that in Mexico, Tokyo and London people are all eating the same breakfast cereal, using the same deodorant and eating the same burgers seems somehow to be bland and uninteresting. It goes against our sense of individuality.
From our viewpoint, here in the 21st century, it seems hard to understand how the dominance of global brands came about, my grandparents generation after all didn’t have access to them.
Today, we take it for granted that when we buy something, it will taste or perform the same way it did the last time we bought it. Brands like Coca-Cola were virtually built on the idea. Until very recently the Coca-Cola model was the one to emulate, in fact the Coca-Cola story is still taught in MBA courses across the world. For the past 50 years, if you wanted to know how to create and market a consumer brand, Coke was the model.
It’s not that long ago that things were very different. After all, when everything is produced locally, some local producers are inevitably going to be more artisan than others! The triumph of the Big Mac is that it’s cheap, fast, available and above all consistent. Try and imagine what cheap food was like in 1960’s Britain: Fish & Chips or a bacon sandwich and if you were on holiday at the seaside a pot of cockles with some malt vinegar sprinkled on. Nobody was popping out for a cheeky Nando’s in the swinging sixties. What was on offer was at best lacking in choice, and usually not very good quality.
Today we take choice and quality for granted and increasingly want more. It’s not enough for beer to taste good and be cheap, it has to come with a back story and most importantly it has to come from somewhere: Brooklyn, Camden or Hackney! A sense of place is inherently linked with authenticity. L’Occitane comes from a tiny village call Manosque in France, Ferraris are from Maranello. Head and Shoulders and Ford are from everywhere and at the same time nowhere and as a result seem somehow corporate and bland.
Nobody really knows where things come from. The Mini (perhaps the most British car ever) is owned by a German company and made using a Brazilian engine and German parts. So the brand and the backstory matter. People have an inherent emotional connection to a brand that goes well beyond value and features. Nine times out of ten it’s emotional engagement not an intellectual analysis that’s the deciding factor when choosing brand A over brand B.
It’s hard for big brands to compete and largely they have been doing so through acquisition. Coca-Cola own’s 90% of Innocent, Pepsi owns Naked and Bentley and Lamborghini are owned by Volkswagen.
The backstory is the key. People want to feel that the product has originated somewhere and been made by someone. It’s not the result of a focus group within some faceless corporation. We want to believe that someone would be making it for themselves anyway.
The old model of TV advertising doesn’t work either. Partly because people have moved on – according to Ofcom, only 17% of British teenagers said they would miss a TV if they didn’t have one. But also because authentic products have to be discovered. Unearthed only by those in the know through meaningful content.
Brands like the Camden Town Brewery offer brewery tours – so you can see the place the beer is made – but also a curated food market, a bar, a blog. Rapha’s shops are called clubs, and they host film screenings, art exhibitions, it’s a place to hang out, a place to join a ride. It’s billed as “the first cycling club of its kind, an active riding and racing club designed to create a global community of like-minded, passionate road riders.”
Passion and place, brought to life through content is everything. It has to matter to the audience and be part of their lifestyle. To work it needs to be deeper than just pitching the USP over and over again in 15 second TV slots.