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Pseudo Names: Do Studio Stand-ins Muddy Brand Waters?

Posted by: Wynne Renz on November 20, 2012

Image from Fast Company 

Image from Fast Company

Give me a Glencallan neat. I’d like a bag of Let’s Potato Chips and a nice cold Haber Kern beer for my friend please. Do you mind if I smoke my Bilson in here?

You’ve never heard of these brand names, but as Nathan Matisse recently wrote in Fast Company, you’ve likely seen them. Thanks to the clever folks at Independent Studio Systems, fake brand names are showing up all over TV and film.

ISS is a Hollywood prop supply company that is also in the business of brand name creation. They invent fake brand names for fake worlds, brand names that look so real, they easily could be.

Why not use a real brand name product? Wouldn’t brands welcome product placement opportunities? Isn’t there money to be made in product placement and having a famous actor holding a product?

As Abe Sauer reported in brandchannel, when Budweiser lodged a complaint about its brand appearing in Denzel Washington’s new film Flight, brands sometimes don’t want to be associated with certain content. While Budweiser has benefited from appearing in big box office hits, appearing in more than 20% of the top US box office hits since 2011, Budweiser was unhappy being associated with Washington’s pilot character and his alcohol abuse.

As Budweiser’s VP stated, “We have asked the studio to obscure the Budweiser trademark in current digital copies of the movie and on all subsequent adaptations of the film, including DVD, On Demand, streaming and additional prints not yet distributed to theaters.” But Sauer notes, brandchannel, working with Front Row Analytics, reported in June 2012 that Budweiser benefited from $3.7 million worth of screen time in just two 2012 films.

Conflicts of interest can also lead studios to develop pseudo brands. A TV actor, for example, can’t be seen drinking from a Heineken if — cut to commercial — a Budweiser ad then comes on the screen.

Fake brand names have marketplace value, but they also create a marketplace problem. They’re assets when real brands do show up on the screen after all those fake ones. Then we take notice. We recognize them, and appreciate their authenticity.

The problem is when fake brand names muddy the screen, they also muddle brand name mindshare. We wonder if these names are in fact, real, and we just haven’t heard of them. Our minds are so used to seeing real products on our screens that we may confuse the two. And in our minds, the real brand name may get lost in the crowd of fake ones. It also unconsciously affirms the idea that generics or store brand names are just as good, or the same, as a brand name product, impacting the value of the brand name.

Smoke and mirrors are just smoke and mirrors. Fake names create illusions; they allude to reality. They’re make-believe that makes us believe. But, belief is one thing—reality another. And Haber Kern will never be Budweiser. Let’s Potato Chips will never be Lay’s Potato Chips. In other words, these fakers will never be the real thing. No matter how real they look and sound on screen.

Wynne Renz is a Consultant with the Verbal Identity team at Interbrand, NY.

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