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What Businesses Can Learn About Branding from ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’

November 16, 2012

Classic pieces of literature are often classics for a reason, and whilst some of them may have been written hundreds of years ago, the wisdom they can impart is extremely relevant even now. So with this in mind, what can we learn from Wilde’s famous ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’? And specifically what branding lessons can we learn?

The Importance of the First Impression

‘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’

We may have left the Victorian times behind, but first impressions still carry a lot of weight in our modern day society. For example, in a first meeting, often a person’s handshake, the way they dress, and the manner in which they speak all add up to inform our initial opinion of them. And often these first impressions can be extremely difficult to change.

Much like when meeting people, a lot of how we judge a business is based on our initial impressions. One of the main reasons to create a brand in the first place is to establish a business that customers trust, and often that first impression can be integral to whether you manage to build and maintain a loyal customer base. Remember the news about Apple treating its workers in China inhumanely? Apple’s brand was surprisingly unaffected by these reports because it already had an established strong brand with a loyal customer base. If this had been our first experience of the company we may well have written the company off from the very start.

The importance of the first impression has in fact only increased with the Internet, where people’s attention spans have decreased to the point where a mere few seconds is probably all you get in order for someone to decide whether or not to use your products or services.

A brand’s name, logo, website design, and first telephone interaction can all influence the opinion a potential customer forms about it- get these elements right and this could act as a stepping stone to creating a loyal customer, or get it wrong and the potential customer will go elsewhere.

The Importance of a Name

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

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.

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 can evoke certain reactions and responses.

A name represents a business’s image and reflects what a business will be like. Is your company fun and innovative or more traditional? 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?

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 offer the largest selection of books in the world.

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. (To find out how to protect names see this blog post: Is a trademark necessary for your business?)

What makes brand names particularly tricky is that quite apart from fulfilling this marketing function, the name has to be legally available, and suitable for the business plans of an organisation.  For example, if you’re intending to license the brand and extend it into other categories so as to offer merchandise, the name has to be distinctive enough to be available to register as a trademark in the various categories and geographic markets in which the brand will be sold.

The Importance of Being Authentic

 ‘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.’

One of the most important aspects of building a stand out brand is the need for authenticity. 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.

In order to really ensure a brand builds a loyal fan base it has to be consistent and authentic in its actions. If a business sells itself as being ethical, but then it is discovered to be testing its products on animals, this would be 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 doing. As the above quote shows, it is hypocritical to pretend to promise one thing and do another in reality. 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- make sure everything down to the paper you send letters on, all 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, and finally, never forget the importance of being earnest.

One of the services we provide is branding consultancy, so if you are setting up a new brand why not have a preliminary no obligation discussion with us to find out how to go about it correctly?   Send us an enquiry to fix up a time to speak or buy a copy of Legally Branded which will tell you all you need to know about creating a stand out brand that is legally protected.

This post was co-authored by Chloe Smith