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[25 comments]

Misleading Brand Names: Marketing Genius or Scam

February 27, 2012

A U.K. watchdog group is charging that grocers are duping customers by making up names for their private label food products to sound more upscale and authentic.

As an example, consumer advocacy site Which? noted that Marks & Spencer sells 11,000 metric tons of its 'Lochmuir' salmon every year, despite the fact that 'Louhmuir' does not exist. Tesco likewise sells thousands of chickens from 'Willow Farm' although the farm doesn't exist.

Which? said the use of a fake name "can create the illusion of a more personal shopping experience like a farmers' market or evoke images of a specific location. And with more of us interested in where our food comes from than ever before, clever branding can help sell products."

A survey by Which? in 2011 of 1,009 consumers found over half said they always or sometimes look at the source of their food. Seventy-two percent agreed it's important that source labeling is on meat and 73 percent said the same for dairy.

Reports in the U.K. press noted that there are no rules against using names of fictitious locations to brand products unless it has Protected Geographical Status (PGS). Items having PGS status include Stilton cheese, Melton Mowbray pork pies and Champagne.

But Which? said in its statement that the fake names follow a pattern of food makers using "marketing speak" and "creative language" to confuse consumers about the origins, ingredients and/or benefits of items.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said in a statement: "Some of the labels commonly found on shop shelves, while not illegal, hide the real contents of a product or are confusing to customers. The food industry must do more to make sure people get what they think they're paying for."

A Marks & Spencer spokesman told The Sun: "Lochmuir does not exist, however the name is a collective way of representing farms across Scottish regions."

A spokesman for Tesco told the U.K. tabloid, "All the Willow Farm chickens are British, from a number of farms — one called Willow Farm."

FINANCIALS:     [LON:MKS]

Discussion Questions:

Discussion Questions: With growing awareness regarding source of food origins, will names such as Archer Farms and Hidden Valley Ranch begin to draw scrutiny in the U.S.? Should retailers and food brands strive to be more truthful about names related to the origin of foods?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

What's your view on using fictitious names on food products?

Comments:

What's next, remove Aunt Jemima and Betty Crocker from labels because these old ladies do not really exist? Shoppers are not being tricked. Are shoppers really expected to believe there is a Green Giant? Sounds like someone has too much time on their hands.

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research

You mean there is no Hidden Valley?!!!

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Dr. Stephen Needel, Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations

I am not sure why this is all of a sudden a big deal. Product marketers have been using this practice for thousands of years, and plenty in the last century have applied it to everything from sandwiches to sub-divisions. Brand, category, and product names have long served as more than just a generic description of the product itself, rather attempting to connect the product to a consumer's need, desire, or ambition.

As for food origin, this is going to become increasingly more important as consumers and producers alike continue to drive and benefit from a global food market. Still, I would expect that brand and product names will continue to be separated from the specific location where the product or its raw ingredients were grown or sourced.

By the way, there is a real Hidden Valley Ranch that's been in existence since 1954. I first visited the ranch on a 7th grade field trip years ago. You can see more here.

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Verlin Youd, Principal, VPY LLC

This is much ado about nothing. Fancy names are on everything these days. Which Apple farm did Apple computer come from? If the product tastes great, and it is a value to the consumer, then stop the witch hunt. Who wouldn't want to own a clever name-brand product drummed up by a smart advertising agency?

What is misleading is how CPG companies are finding ways to downsize products e.g. 1.5 liter vs 2 liter pop, and pretend that there is no inflation, when in fact, many companies take advantage of consumers every day, specifically targeting people with lower prices, by way of reducing the size of almost everything produced today. A little integrity please!

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Tony Orlando, Owner, Tony O's Supermarket & Catering

Retailers and food brands should do everything they can to sell more products. That includes being less truthful about names related to the origin of foods. That should include leading customers to believe that the product and the ingredients better than they actually are. The consumer must be protected by regulation. It is not the job of the companies to keep us smart, healthy and aware, unless it helps them sell more products.

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Gene Detroyer, Professor, Independent

The late Bobby Kennedy once said, and I believe appropriately, "One fifth of the people are against everything all the time." So here we go again in search of problem that doesn't need to exist.

This subject seems to subtly attack private label. But for what valid reason? Conversely do my potato chips have to be cooked at Archer Farms or my salad dressing made in Hidden Valley? That's nonsense.

When one uses (national brands) Dove or Dawn, do they do so because they believe a dove has improved their soap's qualities or that Dawn cleans better at the beginning of a day? Of course not! Both CPG and private label companies believe in cosmetics because consumers enjoy pretty fantasies.

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Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

I don't understand the fuss over a brand name. It seems like much ado about nothing.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

The Brits have many fine qualities and initiatives to which we should aspire. But let's hope this one remains uniquely British. Although somehow I doubt it. Sounds like someone is trying to invent "a good crisis...."

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Ben Ball, Senior Vice President, Dechert-Hampe

My mother in SoCal was sorely disappointed in a Costco purchased product last week, branded Mortons of Omaha. She had assumed a connection to a classy steak chain called Mortons, I think. When I checked the packaging for her so she could write and complain, there was no website or address of any kind. A web search revealed it to be a Costco own brand, maybe (not definitely because there was no acknowledgement on either website) produced for them by Cargill. No connection to the steakhouse. She was even more disappointed and lost no time spreading the word to friends and Costco. My mother is not a stupid or gullible woman, but in this instance she took the brand name at face value.

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Bernice Hurst, Contributing Editor, RetailWire

I'm with Tony. I'm not disappointed to find that there really isn't an Uncle Ben ... but I am genuinely surprised to order a box of Girl Scout cookies and find that it now holds only 9 ounces of cookies -- and costs $4. Really? The increase in the number of "cheater packs" is significant, and erodes brand confidence.

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

I do not understand this issue at all. This is called branding and has been going on for thousands of years. It is a way for a company to differentiate its private label products from the national brands. What should the products then be called? The name of the facility they are manufactured in? That would be appealing to the customer. And what of the brands that use multiple sources around the country for their production? Should they refer to each area with a different name? These are not fictitious names, they are brands.

Phil Masiello, President, VALUChain Associates

Agreed with pros' comments that brand names are designed to do just that: evoke an attractive image. The term "UK watchdogs" is illustrative of what is happening in the food biz: too many people watching the pot boil. It seems the more "threatened" the specific (complaining) group is, the more they find fault with those succeeding at it. We expect the FDA, USDA or other U.S. "watchdogs" are too busy barking up the food safety tree to worry about this one.

Veronica Kraushaar, President, Viva Global Marketing, LLC

Clear communications on the source, quality, and nutritional value are important to maintain consumer trust and fairness. However, using custom names for private label products is definitely smart and fair. The two issues are not mutually exclusive. It seems to me that retailers can achieve both objectives.

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Matt Schmitt, President, Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer, Reflect

Is Great Britain still great? Remember when designer Claude Montana wanted to trademark his name and one of the western U.S. states objected? Will Coca-Cola have to resort to putting cocaine in its product again or forever change its name?

If pure, unvarnished truth were required of marketers and advertisers, there would be very short and very dull election campaigns in this country. As so many others have said already, find something better for these people to do.

'scadarfin'

How can Britain have ANY unemployment? If people are willing to commit themselves to a cause this frivolous, I would think even more meaningful work could be found for everybody. Bernice touched on a related issue -- trademark infringement -- but this isn't it...I'm not really interested in "12 Miles West of Overland Park" (Brand) Sausages, thank you.

'notcom'

If this weren't in line with many other silly non-crises that 'public interest' groups try to create, I would assume it was a joke. As many others have noted, this sort of branding is not new, and it misleads nobody.

Bob Houk, semi, semi-retired

When I worked at The Limited way back when, we had "New York/Paris/Milan" in vinyl on our store windows. Part true, part vision, but 100% aspirational marketing.

A better example is some of the names on the subdivisions created over the last 40 years around the country -- Mill's Run/Hunter's Squire/Tawny Down ... really?

This type of fictional marketing has been going on here since they named New Amsterdam New York! It's hard to imagine customers really thinking the chickens are coming from some idyllic farm somewhere after years of getting beat down with fictional names -- shouldn't we give them a little credit? And for that matter, shouldn't we give the marketers some credit for those imaginative (albeit gag-worthy) names?

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Lee Peterson, EVP Creative Services, WD Partners

I don't see this as a deception, really. There are probably a few firms that may appear a bit stretchy or almost desperate in wanting to make up a name for a store brand. I've chuckled most every time I've been in my local Aldi stores in their length to come up with store brand names. One is their "Valley View" mashed potatoes (I first saw these literally in an Aldi location across from a similarly-named Dallas mall). Others include (for the unfamiliar): "Brookdale" (canned corned beef hash), "Millville" (cereals), "Northern Catch" (canned tuna), "Sea Queen" (frozen seafood), "L'Oven Fresh" (bread products), and don't forget "Choceur" (chocolate items)... the list goes on.

Misleading? Not *really*. Amusing at times? Definitely yes.

'swissJohn29'

Marketers have been creating product brands, images and entire line branding for years. This is really nothing new. Consumers don't really believe that there is a Hidden Vally Ranch, or a Keebler Elf ... this is just a signature of their branding experience. It is absurd for anyone to even call for a "truth in advertising" when branding names, since part of the products' perceived image is created from its name.

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Kai Clarke, President, Kowa Optimed, Inc.

This is a silly post and hardly worth the commentary, but here I go with mine ... of course there are fictitious place-based brand names. Or brands with real place names that have nothing really to do with that place. Really? So what. What is legitimate is the need to have accurate source labeling for meat and dairy products so the consumer knows if the chicken they are buying is from 100 or 1,000 miles away. But brand names? Get over it.

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Mike Osorio, Senior VP Organizational Change Management, DFS Group

Retailers might change their approach to "fantasy brands" if it doesn't deliver sales results. Otherwise, as a marketing strategy, it provides an avenue for retailer private brands to position away from their core brands, either as premium or value tiers, or new products. New packaging that evokes the right communication has been successful for many large retailers on both continents that choose distinctive brand names for new positioning. The caveat is transparency about the retailer ownership of an unrelated name, as well as ensuring there is not a perceived association with an established brand.

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Anne Bieler, Sr. Associate, Packaging and Technology Integrated Solutions

This is simply absurd. Does anyone think that people who purchase product from Archer Farms truly think there is a farm? Does everything have to be taken literally? Okay, if this is the case, let me be the first to tell everyone the following:

There is no Green Giant, and if there was, I question he would be jolly.

There was no tuna named Charlie, and if there was, he most likely would not have been able to speak.

Dr. Pepper was not a doctor.

Mr. Pibb never existed.

Oh, and one last thing. English Muffins are not really English, because if you go to the UK, they have absolutely no idea what we are talking about when we mention an English muffin.

Don't we have better things on which we should be focusing?

Joel Warady, Chief Marketing Officer, Enjoy Life Foods

So a UK Busy Body group is presuming to supervise naming? Unless there are some serious changes in the US, we'll likely have an expansion of the US Busy Body agency here to encompass this pressing societal need!

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Herb Sorensen, Ph.D., Scientific Advisor TNS Global Retail & Shopper, Shopper Scientist LLC

These are just brand names. There is nothing untoward in this behavior. It would be equally valid to criticize Chevrolet because an Impala is not a four-legged herbivore.

Tim Callan, CMO, SLI Systems

Excuse me -- this is crazy! The people complaining do not seem to understand marketing. If all the fictitious names were removed tomorrow we would lose 95% of products and in 5 years everyone would choose private label brand in the first retailer to re-instate a private label name. That is all that is being discussed here. Does anyone really think that the president of Kroger really chooses for the "Presidents Choice" line? Macy's "International Concepts" (INC) line is nice, however, I doubt it is a product of a group of multi national designers coming together to do the design. I do not believe that there ever really was an "Ann Page" for A&P.

Companies put in hard work and resources to design and build their private labels and are rewarded every day by customers choosing those brands. I can't see that changing any time soon. I applaud them for their work and for expanding choice.

William Passodelis, associate, ML Co.

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