The selling power of invention? Brands have found success in feigned tradition

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New made old: The watch-making tradition at Raoul U Braun dates back centuries, or does it? Image: Raoul U. Braun.

“We have been in business for decades, have carved out and maintained a strong foothold in the market over time, ergo we know what we’re doing and people trust us.” This sums up the implicit value proposition of companies and brands that leverage experience and long, rich traditions to score points in marketing. Upon closer look, some of these companies built upon a firm bedrock of tradition are standing atop nothing more than an invented house of cards. Today, we’re taking a closer look at some examples to show how tradition—real or feigned—is used as a powerful marketing tool.

The so-called “traditional” clubs in the German Bundesliga have not had an easy go about it in recent years. Schalke 04 has become a yo-yo club; Hamburg SV remains stuck in the second division, same goes for Hannover 96 and Kaiserslautern. By contrast, one club has established itself in Germany’s top-flight and whose name refers to a century of tradition, but which is disingenuous to say the least: 1899 Hoffenheim. For starters, the professional football division was spun off as a separate limited liability company only a few years before the club’s breakthrough into the Bundesliga, which was completed in 2008, after SAP founder Dietmar Hopp had invested millions in the project. In the eyes of many fans, the 1899 in the club name has no real basis in reality.

Away from the pitch, the phenomenon is even more pronounced. In the consumer goods sector, there are numerous tools at marketers’ disposal to imbue a brand with verve. From employing mascots to celebrity testimonials, such as actor George Clooney for Nespresso—to name just one prominent example. A new tool in the marketers’ toolbox is tradition. Leveraging your own supposed tradition to highlight your company’s deep-seated values. In our annual “State of the German Internet” keynote, we broke down the strategy.

AEG, Grundig, Blaupunkt – Technology *made* in Germany?

This can be seen, for example, in the household electronics’ sector with brands such as Grundig, Telefunken, Blaupunkt and AEG. These names harken back to the days of the Wirtschaftswunder, or the Miracle on the Rhine, where, after WWII, technology made in Germany suddenly became in demand around Europe and the world. But if you take a closer look at the aforementioned brands, it quickly becomes clear that each of these brands have undergone massive, cultural upheaval. Grundig was acquired by competitor Beko in 2004. For Telefunken, AEG and Blaupunkt only the name remains, thus giving off the impression that these appliances are still made in Germany. Each of the three brands have licensing agreements in place that allows other manufacturers to enhance their own products.

Viele Elektromarken klingen noch nach deutscher Tradition aus Wirtschaftswunder-Zeiten – geblieben ist aber oft nur der Name. Fotos: Hersteller

Many of today’s popular electronics’ brands exist in name only. Image: Manufacturers

When it comes to traditional watch makers, the concept of tradition is even more absurd. In the luxury watch sector, especially, brands love touting their long tradition and make a show of emphasizing it when addressing customers. In the most-pronounced instances, brands and businesses have become synonymous with regions, think of the implied luxury and tradition in Swiss watchmaker. And of course, brands need to be able to deliver on what they promise, painstakingly assembled by hand, piece by piece by master watchmakers, using elite materials.

Luxury watches with “storied” tradition

However, it is interesting to note that even in lower price segments, you can always find brands that sound as if they have generations of history of master craftsmanship. Brand names like Constantin Durmont or Raoul U. Braun certainly sound old. And indeed, Raoul U. Braun makes reference to a supposedly long tradition on its website. The brand is inspired by a family tradition that goes back to the 18th century in the Odenwald, it says. The Raoul U. Braun wants to revive this cultural heritage.

Die Uhrenmarke Raoul U. Braun wirbt mit Tradition und Geschichte. Fotos: Raoul U. Braun

The Raoul U. Braun watch brand advertises tradition and history. Image: Raoul U. Braun

Consumers are not provided detailed answers, but that probably doesn’t matter. In many people’s minds, the name Odenwald evokes images of a small village, cobblestone streets, a church square with a fountain in the middle of town and a watchmaker sitting somewhere in an alleyway, working on a piece of such class that it’s sure to outlive its maker. The seed of tradition and quality planted, consumers are condition to pull the trigger the next time a Raoul U. Braun piece is on sale.

A hotel with historical charm

Well, neither Constantin Durmont nor Raoul U. Braun are brands steeped in tradition. After all, these and many other watch brands sold online or on teleshopping channels were only founded after 2005. And Raoul U. Braun brand also has very little connection to the picturesque village of Odenwald. Instead, it belongs to BonMercato GmbH, which resides in an unadorned industrial park in Munich – and whose CEO is Raoul U. Braun.

Ein denkmalgeschütztes Gebäude als Kulisse für ein modernes Luxus-Hotel. Fotos: Screenshot/Fraser Suits

A listed building as the backdrop for a modern luxury hotel. Image: Screenshot/Fraser Suits

But even fake(d) tradition works. This is evinced by an example from our company HQ in Hamburg: Fraser Suites hotel. The 5-star luxury hotel has just under 150 rooms and is conveniently and very centrally located. On its website, the hotel advertises its “historic charm” in the “listed building from around 1900.” However, the hotel was not opened until 2019, so here again categories such as history and tradition are played with to emphasize the feeling and impact perceived value.

The examples show how wide the range is for this topic. From a brand perspective, it naturally also makes sense to be able to refer to a foundation, to be able to show a certain history. This ensures trust and naturally also stands for a form of quality, loosely based on the philosopher Jean Jaures: “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the passing on of fire”.

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Scott Peterson
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