Stock Photography vs. Real Imagery? Which Converts Better?

Making a decision to use stock photography or real images isn’t nearly as easy as one may assume. This is because there is no clear-cut right or wrong answer. Ultimately, it boils down to what a person may be looking for and what they are trying to achieve with the image. Variables exist when trying to make your decision, as there are many considerations to keep in mind.

Below, we will attempt to break down some of the pros and cons of each to help you make whichever choice is right for you. Some prefer their ultimate final product has the genuine feel only a real picture can provide while some prefer the ease and simplicity of stock imagery. It all boils down to which more closely aligns to your vision.

Stock Photography

We’ll start by breaking down the difference between the two. Real images are pictures taken by you or a professional photographer for whatever use your heart desires. Stock photography is typically a storage bank of pre–existing pictures that you can choose from. Some of these storage banks are free to use, such as Google Images, but be careful! Things are not always as they appear as we’ll discuss below. For the savvy user, however, stock photography can lend itself to some pretty sizable upsides.


The first thing to consider when choosing between stock photography and real images is price. As mentioned earlier, there are many stock photograph banks that will allow you to choose from an assortment of images for free or very little cost, both of which tend to be very budget friendly.

Additionally, those working within time constraints might find hiring a professional photographer too time-consuming or expensive. Stock photo banks tend to offer a sweeping selection of images, with a search feature making it quick and easy to find a suitable offering with just the click of a button.


The most glaring con on of stock photos is lack of originality. Stock photo banks can be a great option for many people which is exactly what it sounds like–an option for everybody. Purchasing a license to use the image doesn’t prevent the next person who happens upon it from doing the exact same thing. Since most printing outlets allow customers access to the business stock photo image bank at no additional charge, the odds of running across a previously used picture are higher than one might expect.

Moreover, many stock photo banks rely on cliched, cartoonish characters or pictures that don’t lend themselves to a product or service meant to be taken seriously. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, using free stock photo banks such as Google Docs can come with a hidden charge if you’re not careful. Since many of these pull from images available online, the image may not be free of charge to use even if the platform is. This can lead to licensing violations, which can cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars if you’re not careful.

Real Images

Real Images are quickly becoming the preferred choice for users, as the pros heavily outweigh the cons. Moreover, people typically find the ability to have complete control over the image, its quality, and how it’s used far too enticing. Since real images are photographs taken by you or a paid professional, you are in complete control over what happens next. The creativity that comes from being the one to decide the exact image as opposed to settling for something close can be a small but important distinction when it comes to branding.


It goes without saying that the biggest pro to using real images is originality and flexibility. Whatever vision you may have in mind can be created, with the option of taking multiple shots from multiple angles until you get the result that best suits your needs. This also gives you control over the quality of the image and the ability to format it for its intended use without incurring additional design fees, as many printers will not format images for free. Avoiding licensing fees, while not the biggest pro on this list, can save you time and headache by not having to worry about whether or not the image is being used correctly or as intended.


When it comes to a list of cons for using real images, there really aren’t any outside of potential cost. Hiring and scheduling a professional photographer can be expensive, depending on what you’re asking for. Investing in photography equipment or design software can also be costly but not something you would likely do unless you were to pursue such a vocation on a regular basis anyway. With cell phone cameras getting better with each generation and photoshop applications aplenty, the cost doesn’t at all need to be a deterrent.   

As mentioned above, ultimately, it depends on your vision and which is better going to achieve what it is you want to do. Both offer their advantages and disadvantages, but at the end of the day, it’s about which is going to represent you and your brand the best.  

Why Blogging is Essential to Your Brand

It’s near the end of 2018, your business is running smoothly, your branding is on point, and you’re doing what you love… but you’re wondering: do I need a blog, too?

This is a common question from entrepreneurs, who usually have the same three obstacles: time, money, and not knowing what to write about.

The short answer? Yes, your business needs a blog.

You can skate by without one, but ultimately, the reasons to have one outweigh the time, effort, and money you might save by skipping it.

The basic reasons? You need to establish authority with two parties: Google and your target audience. Basically, it’s not enough to be an authority in your field. You need to make sure people know it, too.

At any given time, people are out there looking for information. And if you have it and you’re not making it available, you’re losing out!

Let’s Talk About Google

Google is one tool to get in front of an audience. Basically, to make use of it, you need to make yourself available, and that means putting out content that people are looking for.

Your goal with Google is to put out “lures” in the form of valuable information your target audience actually wants. This helps you to rank with Google, which rewards you with gradually higher and higher search result placement. The more valuable Google deems your info, the higher you’ll rank, and the greater audience you’ll reach.

Blogs are also great to use as part of your social media strategy, which also direct traffic your way. If you’re an authority in your field, you can also benefit from inbound links, which are simply when others reference your work. You can buy this kind of traffic, but building your reputation and attracting quality inbound links is key.

Your Brand’s Personality

You’ve spent so much time and effort designing your brand’s personality, and blogging is a great way to let it shine. “Humanizing” your brand to an audience helps make you more likeable, more authoritative, more relatable, more human. And that’s what resonates with customers and builds trust.

As you build trust, you gain authority. Think about where you go to find info you need right now, and why you go there. Is it a friend? A trusted mentor? A brand with history, authority, or pizzaz? It’s the same on the other side.

So What Do I Write About?

You’re a subject matter expert. You might be a good writer, too. That doesn’t mean you have to spend your own time writing. But you do want to mine your own experience for subjects or topics that will be relevant to your audience.

You may already be bursting with ideas. If you’re stumped, start by thinking about something you’ve explained in detail recently. How would you break it down simply for an audience?

Alternately, you can just jot down topics related to your discipline and come back to them a bit later. You can read other blogs for inspiration. You can imagine your platform as a way to talk about current events.

Really, the sky’s the limit.

Are you blogging now? Let us know how it’s going in the comments!

Logo Design: Don’t Take Chances!

Q: What makes an amazing logo design?


A: Strategy.

The word strategy is cliche, maybe boring at this point. We’ve all heard it a thousand times. However, a strategy is the single most important thing when designing an amazing logo, because logo design without strategy is a gamble.

Developing a strategy for your brand is a lot like planning an outfit (one that you can’t take off, but an outfit nonetheless) and in order to do it right, you need to think long and hard about everything that the outfit is supposed to do, and to whom it is meant to appeal, and what it is supposed to make those same people feel.

The Party Example

Think of it this way: What kind of outfit would you pick out for a party that you knew nothing about? Is it a costume party? Who knows! Is it a baby shower? Maybe! Is it a pool party? Could be! Under these circumstances, you’ll probably pick an outfit that is just… safe.

But if you think about a time when you walked into a party and owned the room, what was going on? Most likely, you had ALL the info, and you knew exactly how you wanted people to feel about you at that party. Maybe “wow, that man looks rich” or “wow, that woman looks like a good mom” or “that is one intelligent looking person”. You were prepared and you knew what to do to accomplish your goals.

Risky Behavior

Sounds hard? Well, it is. But the other option is gambling with your brand! You don’t want to put this in the hands of a stranger and let them run with their own aesthetic inclinations. That’s a scary, silly idea (and expensive, too!).

Before we at BRANDING FOR THE PEOPLE will EVER design your logo, we first put through a strategic planning process…


What We Do

Tha process is our Intensive, and the final product is a Brand Platform. This tells us exactly what your brand is supposed to make people feel, and how it’s going to make them feel those things.

Let’s break it down a little further so you can see all the things that go into building a brand that compels people to do what you want them to do…

  1. Target audience. We work with you to define everything about the audience you’re trying to reach, from basic demographics to how they feel about the most minute aspects of their life. Children, parents, hometown, it’s all fair game.
  2. Problems, solutions, proof. You’ve got problems? We’ve got solutions, and this is how we know they work.
  3. Archetypes. Identifying your brand’s character and how it interacts with your customer base.
  4. Purpose and vision. Purpose and vision statements clarify why your company exists and where it’s going.
  5. Values, attributes, voice, and proposition. There’s a lot packed into this step, and this is one of the most important ones
  6. The competitive review. You need to know who and what else is out there to know where you stand and what your strategy will be.
  7. Brand platform, and brand idea. This is the heart of your business, and critical to consider to create an effective logo.
  8. Best, unique, and relevant. Differentiating yourself by knowing what you’re best at, what makes you unique, and why you’re relevant helps guide logo creation, and may help you consider options you’d never think of otherwise.
  9. Positioning map. Knowing where you stand in relation to your competition offers insight into how you want to present yourself visually.
  10. Brand vocabulary. The words you use impacts the imagery you want to put forward.
  11. Naming. We don’t have to explain how choosing the right name guides your logo creation.
  12. Problems, solutions, proof. In this step, you’ll clarify exactly what the problem you solve is and how you do it.
  13. Revenue streams, and offerings. Having a complete list of your products and services helps narrow ideas that might only apply to one aspect of your business.
  14. Brand architecture. Visually speaking, architecture is incredibly important to logo design. Without knowing your brand’s architecture, you risk creating a logo design that just doesn’t work for every part of your business. This may make your brand appear fractured.
  15. Signature processes. Nobody else can do what you do the way you do it, and you can communicate this visually.
  16. Brand experience, and touchpoints. Your brand experience needs consistency, and not knowing your touchpoints can lead to a disorganized experience.

This isn’t even the complete process, start to finish. As you can see, there’s a lot more to putting together the right logo than just fonts and colors. Sure, some of these steps don’t seem directly related to your logo. But having a holistic strategy will make your brand much more focused, professional, and will likely identify holes in your strategy so you can address them before they become a problem.

If you don’t go through all of these steps BEFORE you start designing? Expect to get a logo design with more risk than reward…

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

Understanding brand voice and tone

“Voice” and “tone” are two words we hear in branding that are sometimes used interchangeably, and sometimes confused. We’ve talked about brand voice in terms of how to develop one and how to keep it consistent. By the end of this post, you will understand the difference between brand voice and tone, why it matters, and how to use them.

What Voice Is

“Voice” is your brand’s unique personality. This is what makes you stand out in a crowd. When you recognize someone in a crowd, or when you can tell who wrote something without seeing the name – that’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about your brand’s voice. 

Everything your brand will say will be said in this voice.

What it is not

Brand voice is not an attribute. As we talked about, there’s a difference between your brand being “funny” or “intelligent” and your brand being witty, silly, wry, goofy, or another, more tangibly defined version of “funny”.

It’s not enough to just be “intelligent” because that really doesn’t tell us anything useful about your brand. Imagine yourself as a writer, trying to write in an “intelligent” voice. The phrase is so widely open to interpretation that what’s “intelligent” to one writer will read completely differently to another. And this will read as inconsistent to your audience.

What tone is

“Tone” reflects your brand’s stance, attitude, and disposition in a given situation.  One of the best ways to determine the tone to use is “how would you talk to a friend in a similar situation?”

Imagine a private message to that friend vs. a post on their Facebook wall vs. an email vs. in person. Are you being formal, are you using slang, what do you say and what do you omit depending on the situation?

Tone takes into consideration your purpose, audience, and goals to create the desired result. This is the fun part, where the more specific you can be about any of those three points, the more your brand can come alive.

What it is not

Tone is not flat. It’s consistent, but not rigid. It needs to be responsive to be effective. And it is not boring.

Social media can smell a template, and you don’t want to rely on scripting.

If it’s boring, dense, corporate, or anything other than human, you’re doing it wrong.

The difference between the two

Here’s the key: while your brand’s voice will not change at all, your tone will be consistent, but adaptive.

Think of it as music. Let’s say you’re playing a flute. The flute won’t change, but the sounds coming from the flute will – or they’ll sound like one flat, droning sound.

And that’s ultimately what you’re trying to avoid: the flat, droning sound of marketing, in favor of a sweet, tasty gathering of cohesive notes that feels like it needs to tell a story to you, and you only.

Brand voice and tone are two distinct but complementary aspects of your written presence. If you’re trying to get them right but falling flat, we’d love to help you out.



Let’s Talk About: Moodboards

Feeling frustrated? We’ll help you avoid some common moodboard pitfalls.

We published “How To Make a Moodboard” about a year ago, but it’s such a popular topic, we thought we’d revisit it—this time with some pointers on how to get inspired, and some moodboard pitfalls to avoid.

As we discussed, moodboards aren’t intended to be a definitive, final look or identity for your brand. They’re a starting point, meant to give your ideas some physical characteristics and make sure it’s communicating ONE visual moodnot many interpretations of the same mood.


When is it time to make a moodboard?

Once your brand’s messaging has been determined, you’re probably ready to get into visual identity. It’s a good place to start before you begin logo explorations, fonts, or other more tangible aspects of your visual identity. Your moodboard will help define what the whole brand looks like. Without  this in place, you run the risk of haphazard or mismatched ideas (which will come back to haunt you later on).

Sometimes this can seem like a fluffy activity when you already have a logo in mind, you know your colorsmaybe a couple of colors, and you have your font picked out. But similar to really pausing to spend time on your messaging, truly visualizing each element together will help you avoid annoying conflict further down the road. We’re going to go over some pointers and common moodboard pitfalls to help you along the way!



Be fearless! This is a time to be creative behind the scenes, so nothing is off-limits. Do you have a logo you absolutely love? Here’s your chance to see what about it might fit into your brand image without worrying about copyright.

Think outside the box (the box is a Google Image search). Again, nothing is off-limits. Do you have a favorite Instagram account, an image on your phone, a famous photograph, a statue, an exhibit? Is there a person or place that evokes your brand’s message? No matter how disparate, any of these can serve as inspiration.

It’s not just color. The term “moodboard” might bring to mind carefully curated, monochromatic Pinterest boards. We get itpink, pink, pink. This is also a place where you can play with something that can be overlooked: pattern. Some of the most famous brands in fashion make exquisite use of patternthink of a brand like Burberry’s iconic check pattern. You don’t need any more visual information than that pattern to know exactly what you’re looking at (and they’re aiming to keep it that way).


Moodboard Pitfalls

Being overly detailed. Sure, you want to capture as much as you canbut this isn’t the final, definitive iteration of your brand’s image. True to its name, the moodboard is helping establish you brand’s moodnot its technical intricacies. That comes later.

Speaking of technical… this isn’t the stage where you want to take your brand platform and create a literal visual interpretation. Your goal is to try to capture “attributes”things like “wise” or “graceful” as opposed to, say, a Caretaker avatar. This is an abstract processwhat does “wise” look like? You can see how this is easily open to interpretation, which makes solidifying that image all the more important.

Limiting your scope. There are lots of tools out there (we mentioned some in the previous article) for creating moodboards, and they can be helpful tools—but recognize they have limitations. You can easily assemble something on a site like Canva or Pinterest, but to truly put it together, you may be best off enlisting the help of a professional. In the same vein, you want to be aware of your target market and competitorsbut you don’t want to mimic them too closely.


Moodboards are an essential place to get creative juices flowing, but not at all a final product. They may even surprise youwhen you begin to put your ideas together, It might not look like what you expect

We hope you found this helpful! As always, let us know in the comments.

Get Out Of Your Own Way!

How to be creative at work, at play, and every day.

“Be creative”, they say. It sounds so simple, but It’s is a much larger topic than we can cover in a single blog post, of course. In this post, we’re going to start at the beginning—harnessing the creativity you already have.

There’s a long-standing narrative about creative genius happening almost magically—behind the scenes, when nobody’s looking, and arriving in its final, polished form to an adoring public.

None of this is true, and the sooner you embrace that that magical creative moment is a myth, the sooner you can get to work!


Generate, generate, generate.

In other words: start. Don’t wait for that elusive flash of inspiration. Rather than trying to be creative as a state, try to do creative—every day.

Try keeping a journal for a month, and commit to writing in it for at least fifteen minutes a day. Don’t think about it too hard—just get in there and do your best James Joyce impression. Write about what inspires you, imitate something brilliant, or even just the same word over and over until you inevitably start really thinking about that word—and write that down.

Ever had a brilliant idea—that doesn’t work for the project at hand? Save it! Keep a “junk” file and save these moments until it’s their time.

And sure, we opened saying inspiration is elusive, but we’ve all experienced those moments. When they do hit, be prepared—carry a notebook if you’re the analog type, or open up your Notes or Voice Memo app.


Go off the path.

We’re used to clear, linear explanations, but in reality, problems don’t tend to solve themselves in such an organized way. Think about what you know—and write it down. Where does it fit? Is it a problem to solve, a solution to provide? Is it a feeling you want to inspire? Is it something about who you want to be?

So for example: let’s say you know you have a great solution for

Now that you know what you know, you need to discover what you don’t know. Make a list of possibilities and variables, or try to create a narrative. Really delve into your topic and continue asking questions—become as much of an expert

Talk to people, even if they’re completely removed—you might be surprised what a fresh pair of non-expert eyes can see or imagine. Do you have a mentor or another expert in your life? Reach out to them!

Don’t put pressure on yourself to be an endless font of creative wisdom—put in time and practice.


Time and space.

Sometimes it feels like we have to sit still and focus on a problem until it’s resolved. But in practice, how many times have you finally gotten up out of sheer frustration and returned with a clearer head—and a solution?

There’s a reason famous creative people walk so much. Plan for these kinds of walls to happen, because they will. Planning breaks helps save time and frustration, and it’s far more effective than multitasking.

Honestly? You probably already know this – but if you’re not doing it, the reminder doesn’t hurt.

What of strategies help you be creative in your work, play, and everyday? Let us know in the comments!

Five brands that will make you rethink color in branding

Brand color doesn’t mean anything on its own.

Q: What does your brand color mean?



Shocking, we know. We get this question all the time. What is the meaning of purple? Or blue? How about CERULEAN blue? Is periwinkle even blue?

Like fonts. graphic design, writing, photography, and other creative aspects of branding, there’s just enough information on brand color on the internet to make anyone, well, somewhat dangerous.

You have probably found yourself in a conversations where someone wants to tell you all about fonts after seeing Helvetica once, or who recently bought their first DSLR camera and suddenly has a watermark on their Instagram photos.


Maybe you know this person. Maybe this person is actually a Google search, and you’re overwhelmed by results like:



Avoid! Red means anger and danger. Sometimes it means warmth. Sometimes it means TOO HOT! Sometimes it means passion. You don’t want to be too passionate, though. And sometimes red makes you hungry. But how can you be hungry when you’ve got so many conflicting feelings?

VERDICT: Avoid red at all costs, it’s too difficult. Except when it’s not. Are you hot? I’m hot.



Bright! Fun!  Energetic! Enthusiastic! Childlike! …you don’t want to seem like a child, do you? Or the Home Depot? Also “healing” I guess?

VERDICT: Only use if your brand is childlike, but proficient in home improvement.



It’s the color of sunshine. Bright, warm, inviting, hope, fun, happiness, optimism. Yellow’s a winner! Let’s all use yellow. (5 minutes later) Nobody can read this.

VERDICT: Yellow’s a winner, especially when you don’t want anyone to actually read any of your copy.



Green has to be a safe bet. That’s the color of nature. And money. Prosperity and abundance! And… banking. Fertility?

VERDICT: I’m tired.


And so on. But we at BRANDING FOR THE PEOPLE implore you to think about this in context. For example, if you saw a beautifully painted baby pink rhinoceros running at you at 34 miles per hour, would you think it’s cute?

If someone handed you a ratty forest-green sweatshirt, would your first thought be “Ah… money”?

How about a dyed-red ice cube (hey, stranger things have happened). Could you think about heat and passion while it’s melting in your hand?

Let’s look at a few examples of brand color that have flipped the script:


Thomas Pink:  Would baby pink be the expected choice for masculine clothing? Maybe not, but it works!

Hermès: There’s nothing childlike about this luxury brand’s bold, brash orange.

Vans: Using bold red, black, and white, this brand is breaking out of its skateboarder stage.

Milk Makeup: “You can’t use the whole rainbow”, they said, but Milk paired it with clean grey and white for a surprisingly understated look.

by Chloe: Stark black and white allows the rainbow of colors to shine at this vegan eatery.


So now you know: your brand’s color can’t be decided out of its visual context. A color isn’t a “concept” all on its own.

Are you brand building —or baiting?

Is your brand lying to your customers?

To over-sell or under sell? That is the questionright? We want to get our brand to the widest audience humanly possible, but we don’t want contort our brand so much that it’s unrecognizable. Or worsethat it looks like something it’s not. Properly branding your company helps you avoid what we’re calling “brand baiting”, or, bluntly, branding lies.

Here’s the thing: have you ever bought something that you THOUGHT was cashmere, only to get home and discover that it was polyester? Have you ever bought something from a company that LOOKED like your favorite brand, only to discover later on that it was a cheap knock-off?

Us too!

…it sucks.

Think for a second about how you feel when you realize you were duped. Mad, sad, evaluating whether or not it’s worth trying to get your money back. The company got the sale, right? Right.  Are you going to spend another penny with that company?

A b s o l u t e l y not. And you’re probably not going to stay quiet about itwhat might have once been a low-key gripe to your friends and family can now be broadcast instantly and LOUDLY across social media.

You could go viral for all the wrong reasons.

This practice is the exact opposite of brand building. We call it brand baiting, and it’s a terrible idea for anyone that wants more than a one-night-stand with their customers.


So, how do you know if you are doing it? Here are the top 5 ways to figure it out…

    1. Your sales jump then slump. Did you start out strong and full of promise, only to see your revenue dwindle? That could mean you’re promising something people really want, and not delivering. Which leads to the second point.
    2. Your social media is full of complaints. Social media is a goldmine of informationpeople do not hold back. They’ll let you know through poor ratings, and will often detail their experiences with the product itself, their experience with customer service, billing problems, you name it. If you’re seeing a lot of “NOT what I expected!” or “LIES!”, it’s time to re-evaluate your strategy.
    3. Your top Google results are poor reviews.Similar to social media, if your product is on Amazon with poor reviews or any other third-party site, pay attention. People might be buying into one thing but dealing with branding lies.
    4. You’re kind of a one-trick pony. Imitation and deception aren’t long-term strategies – you will be discovered. Even if not, the zeitgeist will change, and you’ll have to change too.
    5. Customer service is overburdened with confusion and complaints. Your customer service will be hit HARD with complaints if your brand is pulling a bait and switch. Customers are incredibly savvy, and, similar to social media, they’ll make their voice known. Listen!


If you suspect you might be dealing with branding lies, accidentally, on purpose, or in-between, it’s time to take control of your message. Discover what you can do to make sure you’re putting the right message into the world.

The Real History of Five of Your Favorite Brands

Your Brand History Doesn’t Have To Tell The Truth All The Time.

Have you ever known someone for a long time, only to discover… she’s an IRL vampire? Or she’s trying to steal your identity, or she’s a former assassin, recently woke up from a four-year coma and is hell-bent on avenging the former lover who tried to kill her on her wedding day?

Or, you know, someone went to the same high school as a friend of yours and you had no idea. Maybe they were at the same Carly Rae Jepsen concert as you last year, and you bond over it.

Once you find out, don’t they become a little more interesting?

Grab the popcorn, because this week we’re talking about some of the brands you think you know – but you have no idea.  

Banana Republic

Today, most people think of Banana Republic as a purveyor of conservative office wear, mall staple, and the spendy older sister to the Gap.

But what’s up with the name “Banana Republic”? The term itself comes from O. Henry’s collection of short stories, Cabbages and Kings. The term suggests a rural, tropical country that depends financially on agriculture. In Henry’s story, foreign fruit importers have more influence than the country’s own government.

Banana Republic, the company, started in 1979 as an outlet for co-founder Patricia Ziegler’s modified army surplus clothing. By 1983, the company was a thriving catalog business with two Bay Area stores. At this point, the Gap purchased the brand, bringing the store into malls across America. These stores looked nothing like the Banana Republic of today – thanks to the Indiana Jones franchise, America was, ahem, bananas for the safari aesthetic, and the stores were festooned with items like Jeeps, giraffes, and tusks.

It’s a far cry from today’s conservative minimalism imposed by the Gap.

Duncan Hines

That red-boxed mix you reach for when you need cupcakes—stat? It seems like it’s always been there for you. But would you guess Duncan Hines himself was a traveling salesman who could barely cook? It’s true!

As a traveling salesman in the 1920s-40s, Hines didn’t exactly have access to Yelp. He documented locations and reviews of hidden ice cream stands, barbecue joints, and diners along his travels until friends and family started begging him to share his list. He did, in 1936, in the form of the self-published Adventures in Good Eating. He continued updating the volume until his death in 1954.

Hines himself never made cake mix. “Recommended by Duncan Hines” was the Zagat rating of the time, with signs appearing in windows of restaurants who earned the honor. In 1952, he signed off on the approval appearing on things like ice cream and cake mixes, and in 1959, Procter & Gamble bought the franchise.

So yes: Duncan Hines was a real person, but no, he wasn’t a baker at all.


Today, Madewell is the vintage-inflected little sister to J. Crew. “Founded in 1937” is part of their branding, but the Madewell that was founded in 1937 was actually a men’s workwear brand selling no-frills workwear to the fishermen and manufacturers of New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Back in 2014, Buzzfeed published a story from the great-grandson of the founder of Madewell. “We don’t do too much of that designing bullshit,” the author’s great-uncle stated, and his great-grandfather’s motivation was profit. Quality was what drove profit.

Mickey Drexel, CEO of J. Crew in 2014 (and instrumental in Banana Republic’s above transformation), acquired the logo and trademark and used it to create a vintage narrative for a very new brand, and it was a success – superseding it’s big sister, J. Crew, in profits.


Also in the old-story-new-brand vein, Shinola’s “Built in Detroit” watches are worlds away from the brand’s shoe-polish origins. Bicycles, headphones, leather goods, journals – all items sold under the name famous in part for the WWII era insult “you don’t know shit from Shinola”.

Similar to Madewell, Shinola looks nothing like it did originally—a shoe polish company founded in Rochester, NY. The brand today revitalizes a long-dead company’s history in order to tell a more compelling story to its consumers, who crave depth and old-world working-class authenticity.

And it works. Shinola has a fan in Bill Clinton, who purchased 14 watches from them in 2014.


While we commonly associate Volkswagen with the friendly-looking Beetle of the peace-loving 60s, the brand’s origin is significantly darker. Founded in Germany in 1937 with a name that translates to “the people’s car”, Adolf Hitler commissioned Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that Porsche) to create a cheap vehicle designed to carry two adults and three children at 60 MPH, costing the same as a motorbike. The vehicle was sold via a monthly subscription, but production was halted with the outbreak of WWII. The brand shifted to producing war vehicles using concentration camp labor through 1945. (I told you it was dark).

The Beetle sold well through the 60s, but sales began to slump in the 70s. The company introduced new models and continued to grow. By 2014, Volkswagen was one of the biggest firms in the world. Today, the brand is recovering from the revelation that they rigged emissions tests for diesel vehicles.

Branding isn’t about telling the absolute, transparent truth about yourself at all times—it’s more like reality TV. If your storytelling is compelling, it’s selling. If your brand’s story feels more like it’s too busy telling its own story to actually convert, it might be time to audit.