the brand mavericks

By my count, the word “maverick” was used 15 times in last night’s VP debate (transcript available here).  While Biden and Palin debated over whether or not McCain is a maverick, I found myself wondering about the origins of the word (stick with me — I’m getting to a point about brands).

Thanks to Wikipedia, I know now the word first arose in mid-19th century America from Samuel Augustus Maverick, a Texas politician with a large ranch full of unbranded cattle.

Answers.com explains, “In Texas cattle grazed on the open range, without fences to keep one herd separate from another, and thus there was much opportunity for theft and disputes over ownership. To identify their cattle, ranchers branded them, rounding up the calves each year for this purpose.

But Maverick put no brand on his cattle.  Stories about “old man Maverick” give various reasons for his abstinence: he was lazy; he objected to the cruelty of branding. Whatever the reason…he was able instead to claim that any unbranded calf was his. And so, either in earnest or in jest, the name maverick was applied to all cattle without brands.”

While the lack of branding benefited Maverick and other rule-breaking cowboys 150 years ago, it would seem the kiss of death now.  To have “products” without “brands” — hmmm…kinda brings back memories of the 70’s and 80’s, when grocery stores started rolling out “generics” — remember those white packages with the plain black lettering?

These days, retailers are much more savvy and the practice of “private-label” branding and creating “captive brands” is in full swing.

Brandweek’s Elaine Wong wrote the magazine’s cover story this week about this phenomena.  These products yield higher margins for retailers — but they also ruffle the feathers of manufacturers who are trying to secure shelf space and promotional dollars for their own brands.  Retailers use them to drive prices down and create more parity between brands, the bane of every brand manager’s existence.  Given how well-branded some of these products are now, some might even accuse retailers of overstepping their bounds and violating the rules between them and their customers, the manufacturers.

So move over, McCain, it seems like retailers are today’s mavericks — brand mavericks, that is.

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