Magazine article The Spectator

Names to Conjure With

Magazine article The Spectator

Names to Conjure With

Article excerpt

The Branded Gentry by Charles Vallance and David Hopper Elliott & Thompson, £20, pp. 312 ISBN 9781908739780 We care because our name's on it. This was the slogan used by Warburtons, the familyowned bakery company, to set itself apart from its rivals, most of which had impersonal names like Premier Foods or Allied Bakeries.

Is this just a marketing ploy, or do people actually prefer to buy from a company that has the same name as the person who owns and runs it? The answer is not obvious. Entrepreneurs often choose to use an invented brand name rather than their own.

Branson Atlantic sounds less inviting than Virgin Atlantic, and Apple might not be the company that it is today if it had followed the example of its Silicon Valley predecessor, Hewlett Packard, and called itself Jobs Wozniak, after the two founders.

On the other hand, there are cases where the company and its products are so closely identified with a single individual that the use of his or her name is entirely appropriate. Sir Paul Smith and Johnnie Boden, two of the 13 'branded gentry' interviewed in this engaging if somewhat deferential book, have both developed distinctive styles of clothing which seem to reflect their personalities, their outlook on life.

According to the authors, Smith wanted to design clothes that were 'free of irrelevance and self-indulgence', clothes that did not dominate the person but were complementary to the real business of living. In one of the overwrought metaphors which the authors favour, the brand is said to be successful because 'Smith's own liquid self, with all its contrasts, has been poured into his collections'.

People love the Boden brand, we are told, 'because it bears the name and spirit and set of values of a truly likeable character'. Johnnie Boden himself is probably nearer the mark when he says that in a crowded market you need as many things as possible to make your business stand out. 'Putting my name behind it gives customers some sort of extra reassurance, a guarantee over quality, design, service.' If it upsets people who think he is a 'pompous arse', he can live with that.

Julian Richer, who owns Richer Sounds, one of the country's largest hi-fi retailers, believes that 'if you have got the balls to put your name on the shop front, it raises your game - you can't hide behind some customer service department. …

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