Surprising Origins Of Beloved Brands
We all have brands that are close to our hearts; companies who make things we aspire to own, whose philosophy speaks to us at a personal level.
So how did these brands come to be?
Was it calculated growth, opportunism or a happy accident?
Let’s have a look at how some of the world’s top brands earned their reputations.
Tommy Hilfiger and the advertising genius
Tommy Hilfiger is both an incredible designer, and the embodiment of the phrase “Fake it ‘til you make it”.
In 1985, Hilfiger gave George Lois the task of creating interest in Hilfiger’s new brand.
Lois created a (somewhat arrogant) billboard campaign, declaring:
THE 4 GREAT AMERICAN DESIGNERS FOR MEN ARE:
Nobody knew who T____ H_______ was, but they now knew his logo and were intrigued by the bold claim.
This mystery generated a vast amount of media coverage, and Hilfiger’s work was good enough to support the boast, immediately launching the brand into fame and respectability.
George Lois became the inspiration for the hit series Mad Men, a show which he detests, claiming he was actually more handsome than his character - Don Draper.
Nike’s run of good luck
You might think that Nike’s distinctive logo was the result of intense market research or a strong personal vision.
Instead, it was the work of a college student, Carolyn Davidson, who was paid $35 for what we now know as the iconic “Swoosh”.
(Don't worry, years later she received over $600,000 worth of Nike shares)
Even the name Nike was a last minute decision.
You may know that it’s after the Greek goddess of victory.
You might not know that founder Phil Knight didn’t like the it, and almost switched to Dimension Six.
Fortunately, his team talked him around.
Co-founder Bill Bowerman is credited with inventing the modern running shoe, having famously experimented with pouring liquid rubber into a waffle iron, and crafting soles from what emerged.
Even the some of the names of Bowerman’s designs were happy accidents.
In 1968 Nike wanted to name one new style the Aztec, in honour of the upcoming Mexico City Olympics, but were sued by Adidas and their new shoe - the Azteca Gold.
Bowerman was furious, and in his anger asked Knight:
“Who was that guy who kicked the shit out of the Aztecs?”
Which is why you can buy a pair of Nike Cortez to this day.
Enzo Ferrari insults the wrong guy
Enzo Ferrari, founder of the world famous car company, had an infamous conversation with an upset Ferrari owner.
The customer, a local entrepreneur who made his fortune building tractors out of military components, was unhappy with the performance of his Ferrari 250GT, and had gone to the nearby factory to complain.
Enzo dismissed him, saying in no uncertain terms that these troubles were the fault of the driver, rather than the fault of the car.
He couldn’t have known how silly that was to say to a passionate, talented man like Ferruccio Lamborghini.
In a fateful burst of emotion and ingenuity, Lamborghini declared that he could make a better car himself, and started his own company.
Cleverly, he recruited Ferrari’s former engineer to design the Lamborghini V12 engine, which helped establish the brand as the pinnacle of performance and elegance.
Thomas Burberry’s technical breakthrough
Whilst we now think of Burberry as an elite fashion house, it made its name with a technological breakthrough.
Back in the 1870’s, clothes were “rubberised” to make them waterproof; an effective but uncomfortable compromise.
Thomas Burberry created a solution:
By waterproofing the individual fibres, then weaving them into a material, he created a fabric that was incredibly water resistant, yet also breathable - which he called Gabardine.
Burberry’s products gained significant popularity amongst explorers and the military thanks to its functional superiority.
The now famous trench coat was originally designed for soldiers in the first world war.
A few years later, the brand added a check lining to the insides of their garments, unaware that this would later become their most distinctive (and most plagiarised) trademark.