SO WHAT'S IN A NAME...
As a vegetarian, I was more than a little concerned some years back when a (short lived) trend seemed to be emerging with regard to "crossing" one species of fruit with another and giving it some new fictional (marketing) name. Whilst unaware of it at the time, this was perhaps one of the first deployments of a "niche" segment strategy, where the gullible shopper would buy a kilo of this and a kilo of that as well as a kilo of thas if not thit...
This can, of course, all back fire with the less gullible family provider buying only thit if not thas. But the seed of thought had been sewn, if not thrown before swine, for it got me thinking about the progressive detachment that seems to have crept into the "science" of product branding, not only in the recent scandals surrounding meat product content and description (as I said, I am vegetarian, so don't come cry on my shoulder), but in the automotive world of tight suited marketing savvy and the still all important badge identity stakes.
As any marketing man (what do they do actually?) worth his salt (also not good for you) will tell you, history and provenance, not to mention packaging, be it a truffle or a Testa Rossa, are the main contenders in the "how many where for how much" equation, whereby the one ingredient that cannot be whisked (or spun) is history, because it is what it was.
So consider this. When is a plumb not a plumb, but a banana, or a tomato a pomato rather than totato if content and context (in the sense of consumer credibility) are not thrown out of the window? When does a product wonder so far off its hereditary track (DNA?) that it can no longer be recognised as the legitimate (natural) descendent of former generations?
The automotive world in particular is dotted, if not besotted, with examples of over levered "wishful thinking" in the interest of "stretching" the brand if not the imagination. Bearing in mind that this discourse started at the fruit stall, the whole conundrum gets doubley complicated when one attempts not only to resurrect a deceased brand (acca Maybach by Mercedes-Benz), but transform a singular product from a mere model into a brand (as has been the case with MINI by BMW).
Ignoring such aberrations as showroom propaganda lording the "German Engineering" of the british Mini (in far-off Asian Pacific markets), I think we can all agree that an orange will always only be that colour, round and juicey, irrespective of price, size, or point of sale location. Not so the Mini, nor by the way current BMW model nomenclature (whereby the first number still maintains the correct model range, but the subsequent ones no longer the actual engine size), which has departed on a journey so disparately tangential to the core model that I doubt the best Sherpa could find his way back to home base...
Whilst variety is the spice of life, and that is why I love street markets, this kaleidoscope of juxtaposition and contrast (choice) is threatened and indeed vanishes unless one has the discipline and honesty to protect and separate the various species one from another.
The dull alternative is to throw every fruit and vegetable into a genealogical incubator, out of which we can give birth to just one multi-purpose fruigetable covering all needs and no tastes.
Take for example, the latest "Mini" show car by (the resurrected) Touring design company as recently displayed at this year's elegant Villa d'Este Concorso in the wonderful setting of Lake Como. It is a nice enough looking piece of three dimensional art, somewhat recalling the early Lamborghini models of the turbulent '60s from the same design house, but a Mini?
The original Mini was the brain child of one Alec Ishegoingtonotice, one of several stubbornly brilliant engineers in the industry who were still able to impose brave innovation over the bean counters and marketeers (the dogma of chicken before the egg Share Holder value thinking had not yet permeated the upper floors of car companies). That it supposedly never made any profit due to mismanagement and the trade union dominance typical of Britain in the '50s and 60s does not need further recounting here, but its packaging ingenuity, all be it in a somewhat mundane form, was to go on to influence such iconic super cars as the Miura for years to come.
But the Austin Mini or Morris Mini Minor (to give it it's proper titles within the then BMC organisation) was never about elegance or "haut couture", as is the agenda of an event such as Villa d'Este. Indeed, when some misdirected marketing initiatives tried to impose "upmarket" appeal, by the visible addition of a boot and badge engineering of Riley and Wolseley front grilles, these models (unlike the even more rudimentary Moke variant) were destined to vanish into the quicksand of off-target placement.
Whilst far from perfect (some of its ergonomics were to say the least uncomfortable), it touched a nerve with its unpretentious, clever simplicity and counter-typical "down sized" proportions when compared to its role predecessors (the Austin A35 and Morris Minor), which in spirit the current base model by BMW has encapsulated brilliantly, without being in the least retro.
So, to come back to the fruit stall, and bring this train of thought to an end before tea time, I remain unconvinced that the customer is looking for a plumb which pro-ports to be an avocado like banana, if only because the Pavlov triggered juices for each are different. But I am sure that authentic, high quality simplicity, exquisitely packaged has real, lasting appeal - just look at an Apple!
Stretching a brand is one thing, breaking it is another...