Can brand owners really pull the wool over your eyes?

by Nick Ramshaw
  • Can brand owners really pull the wool over your eyes?


    A couple of things have happened to me this week that have got me thinking about brands that pretend to be one thing, but are in fact another. It started last Friday, at the excellent Open House #6, an event we held for colleagues, clients and friends at Thompson’s base in Leeds.

    Open House is a series of informal events where speakers share their inspirational stories. The whole idea is to listen to how others have overcome fears and obstacles to achieve great things.

  • Learning about craft beer


    Last Friday was a superb talk by Liam about how he turned home-brew and a love of beer, into a whole new career. He’s now an Assistant Brewer at Vocation in Hebden Bridge.

    As well as introducing us to five very different, cool craft beers, Liam answered all our questions and inspired everyone with the confidence to follow our dreams.

    One of the questions asked was ‘when is a craft beer not really a craft beer?’

    This is the sort of question that gets emotions running high, when a craft brewery sells out to the big boys. It happened in 2015 when Camden Town Brewery sold to AB InBev. The outpouring of grief and anger on social media from fans for whom craft is not only about taste was palpable.

    Other brewers to sell-out include Goose Island, Blue Point, Bosteels and Elsyian.

  • Will the hipsters stop drinking Camden Hells? I doubt it, because the brand continues to be cool, stocked in all the right places and the beer tastes great.

    Quaint high street book shops


    The second thing was hearing that Waterstones has opened three ‘unbranded’ high street book shops, prompting accusations of deception.

    The shops are Southwold Books in Suffolk, The Rye Bookshop in East Sussex and Harpenden Books in Hertfordshire.

  • Introduced in 2014, the policy was quietly launched with the ‘quintessentially local bookshop’ in Southwold. Some have accused Waterstones of pretending to be the little guys they helped eradicate from the high street with their big boy retail tactics.

    The retailer says that they are not keeping their identity a secret and that all three shops are on high streets that did not have an independent bookshop. But my view is that if they think this is such a good idea for customers, then why not use their own brand to deliver it. Smaller units, local stock, local knowledge and an air of independence are all achievable, as long as they manage their own brand is a meaningful and genuine way.

  • Brands of convenience


    The final example is the use of made-up farm names by Tesco, like Boswell Farms’ beef steaks and Woodside farms’ sausages. Not the most recent, but one that still stirs emotions.

    All seven farms were real at one point, but none are now. Designed to simplify the food range, the farms were not designed to be real, but to be distinct brand names, and using fictional names is not unique to Tesco.

  • Surely by making up fictional farms, Tesco isn’t helping the public’s desire for provenance. This is especially the case as some products are being imported. When people want to know where food comes from, these ‘brands of convenience’ are insulting to customers. Give us the opportunity to make our own minds up and concentrate on providing the right information, not made up stories.

    Give us some credit


    People are smart after all, so don’t try to deceive customers with made-up brands, hidden ownership or clever little marketing ideas that have the business’ best interests at heart, rather than theirs.

    My conclusion is very clear. Give consumers the credit they deserve to make informed decisions, based on truthful information.

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