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What We Can Learn From Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’

Branding Basics – What We Can Learn From Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’

January 18, 2019

The literature classics have become classics because although they were written many years ago, they impart a timeless wisdom that remains relevant even in today’s society. 

So there are lessons we can take away from them. Let’s look at Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ for some branding lessons.

First Impressions

Wilde has this to say about first impressions:

‘Something tells me that we are going to be great friends. I like you already more than I can say. My first impressions of people are never wrong’ First impressions still carry a lot of weight in our modern day society. 

For example, when we first meet someone, that person’s handshake, their demeanour, clothes, and the way they speak all create an initial opinion about them. It can be very difficult to change these first impressions too.

Similarly, our initial impressions are often the reason we form a certain impression about a business. 

One reason for being mindful of the brand you create in the first place is because you want to make sure the business attracts your ideal customers and that their first impressions create a sense of trust so you manage to build and maintain a loyal customer base.

In the book, The Culling of Brands Douglas Adams analyses why people join cults, and identifies a similarity to why they follow brands. 

There are ways in which we all tend to feel different, even alienated from the world around us.  This makes us search for a more compatible environment. 

When we find an environment where our difference is seen as a virtue then we’re likely to feel a sense of security and safety in belonging there. 

People who become part of the tribe of fans/followers feel themselves to be within a group of like-minded people so they can be who they truly are and be celebrated for being themselves.

A brand that attains cult status has a protective shield to stave off adversity that could seriously damage a lesser brand. 

For example, a few years ago news about Apple treating its workers in China inhumanely had surprisingly little effect on the loyalty of its customer base. 

Had this news been our first experience of the company we would probably have written the company off from the very start.

The importance of the first impression has in fact only increased with the Internet. Nowadays there is so much noise that people’s attention spans have decreased to the point where a mere few seconds is probably all you get to persuade someone to use your products or services.

Your name, logo, website design, content, and first telephone interaction are all examples of what can go towards creating that all important first impression, influencing the opinion a potential customer forms about you.

The first impression includes the designs, but design is not the only factor that matters. 

You need to get the marketing insights clear in your mind, and the values you wish to impart so that you can then ensure the designs follow through. 

For example, when I rebranded my visual designs a few years ago, I spent a lot of beforehand working out what my values were, what my point of difference was and so on. 

Only when I was clear on all this did I invite a designer to translate these values and messages into a visual identity that would be in keeping with my aspirations. 

For example, we are all about online intellectual property issues. So, I wanted to communicate that message which is why we ended up with a logo design that people associate with technology. The logo draws inspiration from IBM

So, it would have been a waste of time simply to ask a designer to produce a visual identity had I not first been clear what brand elements would be right for the business.


The Name Is The Most Important Decision You Make

Often the very first encounter a potential customer will have with your business is with your company’s name, as this is where a brand both begins and ends. Oscar Wilde says:

My ideal has always been to love someone of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence.’

Wilde does use the theme of the name ‘Ernest’ to mock the superficial way in which people in Victorian times formed their decision whether to marry someone but we can still learn a lot from Gwendolen and Cecily’s desire to place so much faith in a name.

A name does indeed carry certain connotations, and is far from being just a randomly arranged set of letters. Names have meanings and evoke réactions and responses.

Your name is arguably the most important choice you make for your business. You will and help from someone who understands trade marks and marketing intimately. It represents your business’s image and reflects what your business will be like. 

Do you want your company to convey a sense of fun and innovation or do you want to create a more traditional impression? 

FCUK might be a good name for the clothing line aimed at a younger crowd, but would you ever consider calling an insurance company something like this? Of course not.

A lot of the big well-known companies have put a lot of thought into their names- Google based its name on a mathematical term, whilst Amazon chose its name due to its association with the South American river, whose size they wanted to mimic in their desire to ultimately be the largest online shop in the world . They started off of books although Jeff Bezos always intended to be the everything store.

Get the name right and you could put yourself on the road to building a stand out brand- get it wrong and you might unwittingly be losing customers. 

What makes brand names particularly tricky is that quite apart from fulfilling this marketing function, the name has to be legally available, and legally effective. It must also be suitable for your business plans. 


For example, if you’re intending to license the brand and extend it into other categories and offer merchandise, the name has to be distinctive enough to be available to register as a trademark in all the various categories and geographic markets in which the brand will be sold. 

This points to a made up name like Zumba.  This is just one reason why the person helping you with naming must be someone who also understands trademarks extremely well. 

You just can’t choose a name and then think about trademarks. The two are part and parcel of one another.


Being Authentic

Nowadays there is widespread awareness of the importance of being authentic. Authenticity is one of the most important aspects of building a stand out brand.  Even if a company makes an excellent first impression, and has a perfect name, if it is inauthentic in its actions the positive first impression will quickly go sour and the perfect name will suddenly be filled with bad connotations.

‘I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.’

To make sure a brand builds a loyal fan base it has to be consistent and authentic in its actions. If a business promotes itself as ethical, but is then discovered to be testing its products on animals, this is bound to lose it some followers. 

Something similar actually happened to the Body Shop after it was bought by L’Oreal a few years ago. A brand is about delivering on a specific promise- it is something a business is known for.  As the above quote shows, it is hypocritical to pretend to promise one thing and then in reality do something else. 

Therefore if your company makes a promise and promotes itself as being one way, make sure all the company’s actions, whether online or offline, are consistent.  That means if your company prides itself on quality- you need to ensure everything down to the paper you send letters on, reflect this quality.


A surprising amount can be learnt from Wilde’s comedy.

So take these branding lessons and remember to always make that first encounter count. Never dismiss the importance of a name

If you want help as you’re setting up your new brand or want to refresh your existing brand do visit my personal website to find out about the various ways I can help.