The Häagen-Dazs effect: How four new brands made themselves sound elite and established

Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker, characters from Jack Kerouac’s journals, have nothing to do with the  eyeglass company.
Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker, characters from Jack Kerouac’s journals, have nothing to do with the eyeglass company.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Alexis Lamster, CC-BY-2.0
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When naming a consumer brand, sometimes a bit of fantasy sells better than truth. Many global brands of the last decade have taken names of false provenance and enjoyed great success thanks to a paradigm hereby dubbed, “The Häagen-Dazs Effect.” Why choose names that tell a made-up tale, and how can these names affect very real profits? Let’s start with the paradigm here itself, which centers on something that surprises most Americans: Häagen-Dazs ice cream, meant to sound Danish, was born in the Bronx. But the name tells a tale, from that umlaut to the silent “s” on the end, of premium, European origins. And when consumers reach for a pint, they sense the true value this faux identity adds.

The Häagen-Dazs Effect makes an impact as well in these four notable brand names with made-up or embellished heritage and powerful identities:

Sir Kensington’s condiments

The self-proclaimed “Divine Alternative,” Sir Kensington’s makes high-end condiments with non-GMO ingredients, less sugar, and bolder flavors than standard brands. Since the company’s 2008 inception in a Brown University dorm room, their ketchup and mayo have gained wide distribution and are now served in many New York City Whole Foods cafés. But the Sir Kensington’s website chooses to tell a different story, the tongue-in-cheek “saga” of an Oxford-educated gent who developed the original spiced ketchup recipe for Catherine the Great of Russia. Whether two Ivy League undergrads or Kensington himself cooked up this distinguished identity, it’s working. The name, the logo illustration of Sir Kensington with his monocle and top hat, and the fancifully detailed brand story are at once esteemed and absurd–striking perfect harmony.

St. Germain liqueur

The recipe for this delicate, French elderflower spirit dates back to the 1880s, but the Cooper Spirits Company first launched the elegantly packaged product we all know in 2007. The New York-based brand was then acquired by Bacardi Ltd., but the art deco bottle, brand website in French, and heritage name make this liqueur a holistic heritage appropriation. Created in “the artisanal French manner,” St.Germain could have taken a new name to designate the flowery flavor for its modern audience, but stuck to its roots–literally, to the Saint-Germain-sur-Rhône region of the French Alps, where the stuff was first made. Even if it took an American enterprise to do so, this brand brought an obscure cocktail ingredient back into production and onto the global beverage scene.

Warby Parker eyewear

With its faux-vintage, “Dad chic” style frames, the name harkens back aptly to the Beat Generation. This eyewear innovator took its name from Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker, two characters from one of Jack Kerouac’s journals. Warby Parker sounds distinguished, classically American, like it has a trust fund and neatly groomed beard; yet the company is just six years old. Its name signals quality, value, and legacy—major pulls for the millennial hipsters Warby Parker went on to win over. At a refreshingly low price point, with a simple new model, these disruptors carefully avoided the shiny start-up aesthetic, opting instead for a patina consumers could believe in. The initially online retailer now has showrooms across America to prove it.

Brandy Melville clothing

She sounds like a suburban, California teen. But Brandy Melville was created by merchandising veteran Silvio Marsan and his son Stefan in Italy. Of course, their first American retail location cropped up in Los Angeles. It’s a true brand for the Instagram generation–one size fits “most,” heavy on the e-commerce, modeled by leggy teen social media sensations, and followed by 3.3 million people. The name represents an any-girl; Brandy is feminine, young, energetic. She keeps a style blog and draws hearts over every letter “i.” Purportedly, the name is based on an imagined American girl (Brandy) who falls in love with an Englishman (Melville) in Rome.  Not sure if anyone’s buying that, but teenagers across America are definitely buying the accessible image, along with its crop tops.

Ultimately, we’re talking here about the critical importance of a name that succinctly tells a compelling brand story­–whether that story is imagined or not, it must be told with richness and believability. These brands are a few to do so, making the Häagen-Dazs Effect, when done right­, a tactical tool for naming success.