THE IMPORTANCE OF AUTHENTIC PROVENANCE FOR FOOD AND DRINK BRANDS
by Zane Radcliffe, Creative Director at The Agency
One of the first things we like to know about people when we first meet them is where they’re from and what’s their story. The same is true for brands. We refer to this as brand ‘provenance’; a word derived from the French ‘provenir’, meaning ‘to come forth’ or ‘originate’.
Which is all rather ironic for Kronenbourg, who last year fell foul of the UK Advertising Standards Authority for making claims about its ‘Frenchness’ that the brand could not substantiate. Parent company Heineken has appealed the decision, which would limit its ability to portray Kronenbourg as authentically French. If successful, the damage to the brand could be significant. After all, without a claim to a distinctively Gallic provenance, Kronenbourg is about as French as a McDonald’s fry.
This case highlights how provenance matters for brands, particularly in the food and drink sector, where it can provide a strong source of differentiation and, ultimately, competitive advantage.
Consumers value authenticity and will gladly pay a premium when the brand’s connections to origin run deep. Much of our industry research points to the fact that we put provenance before price and availability when shopping for food and drink. ‘Made In’, ‘Made By’ and ‘Made Since’ all matter. They have become the shorthand for all things consumers care about: quality, ingredients, health, animal welfare, environmental and labour concerns. In short, provenance equals confidence.
Of course, advertisers have known this for a long time. We’ve been handcrafting ads about provenance since 1623. Probably.
Even a humble bag of spuds can be covered in purple prose – often accompanied by a sepia-tinted photo of the very field from which they were plucked – in a bid to sell the unique provenance of its contents. Potato lovers aren’t merely buying the potatoes, they are buying into the farm, the field and the fingers that pulled them from the long-tilled earth. They are buying the story. Your story.
That does not mean you should instruct your agency to dress up your mutton as salt-marsh or black-faced lamb. Or that you enlist the services of Eric Cantona as your brand spokesman before you can prove that your Strisselspalt hops are grown in Alsace and not some greenhouse in Latvia. While there is a popular conceit that ‘all advertising is fiction’, the best and most effective advertising is invariably built upon truth.
If the consumer spots a hole in your story, their confidence in your brand can be obliterated. And digital consumers can be highly attuned to testing the veracity, or otherwise, of claimed provenance. From a communications perspective, brands simply need to get their stories straight.
Of course, many regulatory bodies and industry kite-marks exist to rubberstamp brand provenance. An unfortunate side effect of this is a proliferation of brands seeking to ‘flex’ the rules. Hence, our supermarket shelves are well stocked with ‘Greek-style’ yoghurt, ‘Belgian-style’ chocolate and ‘American-style’ pancake mix. Volvic piggy-backed the 2014 World Cup with a flavoured water ‘Inspired by Brazil’, surely stretching notions of provenance to their breakable limit. Unless you understand your core consumers and are absolutely sure that they’ll be similarly elastic in judging your brand, it’s a risky game to play.
Marketing begins and ends with your consumer. The digital consumer has a whole repository of tools to instantly gauge the strength of your claims and often a large audience to broadcast to, should they find your story lacking. It’s only worth you making origin a strong part of your brand marketing strategy if you understand their expectations about your brand category. Belgium works for chocolate. Not so renowned for pasta sauces.
If you’re a brand with strong provenance, leverage it and be truthful. For ‘comeback brands’, rediscover your heritage. For ‘new brands’, find your story. And if your provenance isn’t attractive – [Belgian Tagliatelle, anyone?] – don’t emphasize it.