These days, branding seems to have become one of the black arts.
A century or so ago it was – and still is in some parts – the cowboy’s art. Get John Wayne to sear a steer with the Double B and you knew where it came from, and who owned it.
Nowadays, things are a little different. All manner of products are branded with company names. But – as we all know – that doesn’t mean the companies who mark them actually make them.
Of course, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the practice of branding goods produced by others. Indeed, without it – and if they didn’t allow them to be labelled by major stores and supermarkets – many food producers would find it hard to sell their products in profitable volumes.
What’s at issue – for me, at least – is the tricky business of how the branding is presented.
Many companies make no particular claims for a food product and simply brand it with their name: Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Marks & Spencer, Selfridges and so on. And that’s fine.
Sainsbury’s, on the other hand, have tried to take the idea one step further. For some time now they’ve been describing their own-label products as “by Sainsbury’s”.
How can this be?
Everyone who shops at Sainsbury’s must know the company simply cannot be the ‘author’ of every product that bears its name. So how can all these products be said to be “by Sainsbury’s”?
A sauce might be “by Sainsbury’s”, if Sainsbury’s developed its recipe. A range of biscuits might also qualify.
But a bag of potatoes? A head of broccoli? Vine grown tomatoes?
Surely it would be more appropriate for the supermarket chain to describe their own-label products as “from Sainsbury’s”.
Not only would this be true – the product was bought in a Sainsbury’s store and so it came from Sainsbury’s – it would also suggest a degree of corporate responsibility, even generosity. “At Sainsbury’s, we think this product is so good we’d like you to have it. It’s not really a gift, but it comes from us to you. So, enjoy!”
As it is, “by Sainsbury’s” simply provokes mild incredulity tinged with low level cynicism. “Nah … they didn’t make it. They couldn’t. They just stuck their name on it.”
Call me a pedant – and many have and will – but I think the difference between the use of “by” and “from” matters.
An orange from Sainsbury’s may well be superior to one from a corner shop that cannot afford to buy and sell totally fresh, top-quality fruit.
But an orange by Sainsbury’s is faintly ludicrous.
Last year the supermarket dropped its strapline urging customers to “Try something new today”.
This year, I suggest, it should try something new itself: try “from” not “by”. That way they might convert the cynics and win a few more friends – to say nothing of some extra customers.