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  • Posted by: Fred Burt on Tuesday, October 15 2013 10:08 AM | Comments (0)
    Classic Cutty Sark Ad

    We have a passion for etymology. A search for the history of the phrase “the real McCoy” led me to stumble on a lovely brand story. More of that brand in a moment, but first what of McCoy?

    William McCoy was a sea captain who spent his time sneaking past the coast guards and smuggling booze into the US to keep speakeasies in contraband goods. Bootleggers had a bad reputation for watering down their product, but Bill was a fair-dealing gentleman who never adulterated his liquor, so it became known as the “the real McCoy.” His honesty paid off: based on his good name, in 1924 he handled more than 6 million bottles of booze!

    McCoy admitted that he smuggled as much for the sport as for the money — in the same way that millions of previously law-abiding Americans suddenly took illicit delight in breaking the new Prohibition rules. In Bill’s words, “Americans, since the beginnings of this nation, have always kicked holes in the laws they resented.”

    One of McCoy’s regular cargoes was Cutty Sark Scotch whisky. Cutty Sark was created by British wine merchants Berry Bros & Rudd specifically for export to the US. This was in 1923, right in the middle of Prohibition — so it was a brand specifically designed to be bootlegged illegally into the country! This was the golden age of cocktails and this new lighter whisky blend was designed to be mixed.

    It's a captivating story: the heady mix of the romance and sophistication of cocktail culture, the thrill of a drink that was at the heart of illicit boozing, a brand that has an authentic tale to tell, a product with a proper "reason for being" (lighter whiskey, better for mixing). As importantly, it genuinely makes us want to try the product again.

    Too many spirit brands come across as confections designed to dupe us, but Cutty Sark feels, dare we say it, like the real McCoy. Barman, make ours a Cutty!

    Fred Burt is Managing Director, Global Accounts for Interbrand.

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  • Posted by: Fell Gray on Thursday, February 23 2012 11:54 AM | Comments (0)

    Have you ever been drawn into a great TV ad for something you have to have? Just as you're considering buying that shiny new object, you're hit with a fast-paced, monotone voiceover expounding on various rules, exceptions and provisos. Sound familiar?

    It used to be that a promise to customers was conveyed with your word and a handshake; now we have 100-page "Terms and Conditions" documents in their place. Our litigious society has caused legal counsel to become deeply involved in communications, from warnings to ad copy. And while you should never underestimate the importance of their input, legal teams can sometimes silence brand voice as they try to keep businesses out of lawsuits and on the right side of regulations.

    Some brand and legal teams, however, have worked to find common ground—and creative success—with disclaimers, finding ways to create communications central to the brand experience that are on-voice and in compliance. And legal teams are seeing a reciprocal benefit. Writing consistently on-voice does more than make a cohesive customer experience; it gets people to pay attention to the legalese again.

    Potential side effects are…
    In the realm of alcoholic beverages, brands from Grey Goose to Captain Morgan have found their own ways to tell us to be safe as we have a good time. Hennessy told us to "Flaunt Responsibly," beginning a wave of brand twists on the standard social responsibility sign-off.

    Currently, the standard automobile safety message is front and center in two campaigns. The Mercedes "Disclaimer" ad has the C-class whipping around lawyers who stand sentinel in the desert as they solemnly convey standard disclaimers ("Professional drivers; closed course." "Always wear a seatbelt."). Elsewhere, the Nissan Frontier slaloms down a snow-covered mountain while fine print reminds you, "Fantasy. Trucks can't snowboard."

    Brands who partner with legal teams — early and often — find there's more freedom than they might have thought. So talk to each other, and then get yourself heard.

    This week's guest author, Fell Gray, is Director of Verbal Identity at Interbrand, and a specialist in Brand Voice.

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  • Posted by: Paola Norambuen on Monday, February 6 2012 09:30 AM | Comments (0)

    Sometimes words are not enough—when you need to say I'm sorry, when trying to order food in a foreign language, when you're spitting mad—and you resort to gestures, whether grand, physical or obscene. The same, however, can't be said for naming, especially in mediums where exaggerated finger pointing simply doesn't work.

    So when words fail us, we often resort to numbers. But numbers are no less tricky than words: Some can't cross cultural borders, some convey vastly different things to different people, and some change in meaning when accompanied by words or other digits.

    We can all point to great examples of alphanumeric nomenclature in the market. Anyone who owns, or hopes to own, a luxury car knows how effective it can be. BMW and Mercedes, for example, have made an art form of it. The strategic pairing of this letter with that number tells me all I need to know. In this category it's a natural, a part of the dialect.

    From a naming system perspective, this past year Prius introduced an architecture as clean as their engines: Prius Two, Prius Three, Prius Four, and Prius Five. Each represents a different price point, but the whole gang stays within the realm of affordable and keeps the streamlined Prius promise.

    The same, however, can't be said for all categories. Today, nobody questions why there's a seven in 7Up. When Coke announced its new calorie-conscious Coke Zero—in spite of Pepsi's challenge that nobody wants to be a "zero"—we got it. (It has no calories. Zero.) But it can be risky in a category where taste always comes before digits. Take Tropicana's Trop50. It's saying all the right things, but it veers into a territory that can feel as artificial as an additive, and not at all delicious.

    When it comes to cosmetics, numbers can help too, especially when they signal a clear beauty benefit. That's why we like names like Revlon's Colorstay 16 Hour Eye Shadow: They promise to take you from day to colorful night. On the other hand, a name like Shiseido's Benefiance WrinkleResist24 makes the process sound exhausting, and shows us how sensitive numbers can be—they don't like to stand beside any old word.

    Unlike the lottery, alphanumeric naming should not be left to chance. So choose your numbers carefully.

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  • Posted by: Interbrand on Friday, December 2 2011 10:30 AM | Comments (0)


    Overindulge over the Thanksgiving holiday? Well, you’re certainly not alone. From that first piece of candy you sneak on Halloween to the last glass of champagne on New Years Eve, it’s that season: the cycle of indulgence, guilt and resolutions. Not surprisingly, weight-loss plans dance in our heads more often than visions of sugar plums. For as long as someone has wanted to lose weight, someone else has been willing to tell us how. And as the most popular methods have evolved over the years, so have the names and promises.


    As a message, thin will always be in. But what we’re allowed to call it continues to change. From the early ’80s, Lean Cuisine generously suggested that dieters could indulge in taste without the fear of gaining – it is Cuisine, after all. Besides, it wasn’t about getting skinny, it was about staying “Lean.”

    Before the ’90s dawned, though, Slim-Fast got a little more direct, and a little swifter. Don’t focus on food, they said. Instead replace it. It left indulgence to a single meal, and suggested that lean was not enough. What you really need to be? Slim. And even now they’re making it as easy as “3-2-1”.

    Today, as more of us turn to the extremes of reality TV and the desire to tell it like it is, we’ve given ourselves permission to celebrate the thin ideal by uttering the cinch-waisted bottom line: skinny. We promote the idea of indulgence, with Skinny Girl cocktails, Skinny Bitch cookbooks, Skinny Cow Dreamy Clusters and even endearing opposites like Fat Witch brownies.

    So it does seem that we’re ever more willing to walk away from euphemisms, and claim terms we’ve long, carefully avoided – terms like skinny and fat. With the season of celebration upon us, be it feast or self-imposed famine, there's no such thing as one-size-fits-all, and certainly more than one way to say thin. Or plan for it….just as soon as the holidays are over.

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  • Posted by: Paola Norambuena on Wednesday, November 16 2011 04:44 PM | Comments (0)


    A stark white cardboard box with the words Macaroni and Cheese emblazoned stencil-like across the front. The same black type spelling out the word Beer on a gleaming white can. Perhaps you recall sitting down for such an unbranded meal, or maybe you've heard tell of these original "private labels" from the generic age. The premise was simple: During lean times, value conscious customers would happily pay less and skip the branding.

    then and now

    Well, you've come a long way, generic baby. The inheritors of the private label tradition now vie for shelf space at retail chains and price clubs everywhere, with personalities, eye-catching logos, color palettes and, yes, actual names.

    It seems every retailer has one — or more. As Walgreens spreads it brings a full line of foods branded with the colorful Nice! label. Target goes to market with Archer Farms for its premium and organic food line – which, like the Whole Foods private label, are sometimes priced higher than the name brands they mirror, turning the value-conscious, no-frills origin of the private label on its head. Meanwhile Target goes cost-conscious with its Up and Up private label health and beauty products, while Whole Foods markets to the place where health conscious and value conscious meet with its 365 brand. Hard to imagine our old black-on-white bargain players grappling with the notion of brand architecture and portfolio management.

    Meanwhile at Costco and Trader Joe's the future of private label is now. Trader Joe's entire model is predicated on private label – and the brand is playfully ingenious in its flex: Italian products are attributed to Trader Giotto, for example, and the fruit bars sport names like This Blueberry Walks Into A Bar….

    But at Costco, the earnest value seeker and the ironic hipster can stroll the aisles shoulder to shoulder. And, unlike most others, Kirkland is slapped on everything from diapers to tequila, permission most private-label brands don't have.

    Is Kirkland stretching the branded private label too thin? We think not. Because what's authentic about the Costco experience is the warehouse feel, the artlessness of the deal, and the supersized aesthetic of stocking the American larder against whatever hell or high water may come. It plays in Peoria and Williamsburg. And more importantly, changing Kirkland diapers all day might drive any parent to reach for the Kirkland drink.

    Paola Norambuena
    Executive Director,
    Verbal Identity – North America

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