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Build Your Brand On Meaning, Not Marketing


Build Your Brand On Meaning, Not Marketing

To celebrate women’s empowerment, department store Harvey Nichols is changing their name to Holly Nichols for the month of September. This reminds me of the stunt IHOP pulled a few months ago when they changed their name to IHOB. Only IHOP’s execution was much shrewder in the way they toyed with the announcement on social media.

In an interview with Campaign Magazine, Deborah Bee, Harvey Nichols’ group marketing and creative director explains that the name Holly was chosen to represent all women, rather than focus on just one person. And because most people assume Harvey Nichols was founded by a man named Harvey, switching it to a visually similar “Holly” helped make it easier to play up the surprise switch.

But what most people don’t know is that there is no Mr. Harvey Nichols. In 1831 Benjamin Harvey opened a linen shop on the corner of Knightsbridge and Sloane Street in London. Over the years, the business grew and in 1841, Benjamin employed James Nichols who rose in the ranks to management. When Benjamin Harvey passed away in 1850, he left the business to his wife Anne, who went into partnership with James Nichols to form Harvey Nichols & Co.

So, the name switch to Holly Nichols to celebrate women’s empowerment, while cute, seems to be missing the opportunity to celebrate a heritage of empowerment on the part of their co-founder and enlightening customers about a richer and more diverse brand legacy than they might expect. And by saying “Wave goodbye to Harvey, say hello to Holly” the brand is essentially giving into the public’s (mis)perception that there is indeed a Mr. Harvey Nichols. And while it’s fantastic they’re “kicking off a month of fashion shows, launches and inspirational talks from women we admire” is that really all there is to empowerment? Fashion shows and talks to an audience of likely very well-to-do women?

A few weeks ago, I highlighted a mistake by Diageo when they decided Bailey’s was all about female empowerment, but with no real substance behind the position. While the Holly Nichols stunt is clearly tied to a month-long marketing moment, the message strikes me as being very familiar and undifferentiated.

Lead With Meaning

In my opinion, Harvey Nichols should have dug into their vibrant legacy and illuminated the real woman behind the “Harvey” in their name. Here’s a few ways they could have supercharged their celebration of women’s empowerment while respecting their history:

  • Create an “Anne Harvey Prize” for women entrepreneurs and setup a contest to pitch to the board
  • Offer a series of scholarships for women in business and those returning to business after an absence (like having children)
  • Launch a “Be like Anne” executive mentorship program which calls attention to the fact that seven out of nine board members at Harvey Nichols are women
  • Anything that actually empowers women

It’s so very tempting right now for brands to stand for something more than just selling products and making money. I don’t doubt the sincere intent behind the campaign, and the execution is fun to see. But before brands get clever about a purposeful initiative, figure out a way to have a meaningful impact and create change.

Image Credit: E Signs Signmakers

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