Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream company, was founded by two guys; Ben and Jerry in 1978. They ran the company until it was bought by Unilever in 2000. They come across as a couple of regular guys, and they were the authentic face of the company for more than 20 years.
In contrast Häagen-Dazs is a name invented to sound Danish, and included maps of Denmark in its original branding. They’re not the only company to hijack a nationality for their products, Australian Homemade, a chocolate company, was founded in the Netherlands by a Belgian.
Other companies have invented a company backstory to give their company a nostalgic veneer to their company’s branding. The Hollister clothing company rests on a fictitious founder John Hollister Snr, and uses a date of 1922. The company promotes a hippy-ish nostalgia and encourages employees with stories of the founder’s adventures “He and Meta sailed around the South Pacific, treasuring ‘the works of the artisans that lived there,’ and eventually settled in Los Angeles, in 1919.” The only problem? The guy apparently never existed and the company was only founded in 2009. Does it matter? Teen-aged shoppers don’t seem to care.
In the 1920s Liberty’s of London built a wonderful mock tudor department store in the heart of London. I’m sure that anyone who thinks about it realises the building is 500 years old, but it does give the company an air of age and stability beyond its establishment in 1875. As creative backstories go it less explicit than creating a founder with an adventurous past.
All the best business books talk about authenticity, all the communications and branding talks about authentic stories. Yet customers are buying a feeling not a truth. So do the brand stories need to feel true or be literally true?