Brand Endurance: 1,000 years of French branding

October 24, 2013

Few countries in the world live their brand better than France. How have they managed it for millennium?

After spending two weeks traveling 1,700 miles across France, I'm more convinced than ever that there are few countries in the world that live their brand better than France.

How can an entire country be branded? National tourism campaigns have consistently tried to capture geographies, culture, history, and fun in advertising and taglines. “Locals know,” proclaimed Canada’s campaign in 2009. Paul Hogan helped “Put another shrimp on the barbie” for Australia. Israel once invited tourists to “Come to Israel. Stay with friends.” And Spain’s current campaign says, “Spain has what you want. Spain has what you need.”

As I visited small French towns and villages, walked the Champs Elysees in Paris, explored local cuisine in France’s different regions, it really hit me how heavily branded France is through its art, culture, food, history, language, and geography. And it’s far more than a campaign tagline that changes year to year.

The streets around my hotel in Paris were a veritable catalog of contemporary French fashion brands: Chanel, Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Hermes, Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, Lacoste, Petit-Bateau for kids, Gerald Darel handbags, Christian Louboutin shoes for women, and Mephisto for men.

Restaurants also get their branding fix with the Michelin Guide leading the way to cuisine gastronomique or just plain regional folk fare.

Branding may seem like a recent practice. But the fact is France has been branding itself for centuries. Perhaps one of the first examples of branding was Roquefort cheese. Back in the 14th century or even earlier, almost all food was local. Cheese was just fromage. But because each town produced its own version, cheese was often named after the town of origin. In 1411 Charles VI granted a monopoly for the ripening of the cheese to the people of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. In 1925 the cheese was the recipient of France's first Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, the governmental terms for Protected Designations of Origin.

A.O.C. is the certification granted to certain French geographical indications for wines, cheeses, butters, and other agricultural products, all under the auspices of the government. There are 300 French wines entitled to the designation A.O.C on their label, as well as lavender, honey and even figs. Think of this exclusivity as brand guidelines and you’ll see it’s a strict and practical way to insure that brands are protected.

But, it’s not just food and fashion that France brands. It’s also their 22 administrative geographic regions, each with its own unique history, chateaux, castles, foods, and some even have ancient legacy languages like Occitan spoken in Southern France. And speaking of languages, the Académie Française has been regulating the French language since 1635. Talk about maintaining Brand Voice!

While we may think of branding as a recent innovation, the French seem to have been mastering it for over 1,000 years. What’s their secret recipe to brand endurance? Maintaining control over historical brands, promoting brands consistently and adding a healthy portion of Gallic pride.

Do you know any enduring brands? What’s the secret to their longevity?

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