Literature Inspired: Branding by the Book


Literary Brands

The following guest post is by brandchannel reader Margaret Wolfson

Margaret Wolfson

As a brand naming and brand storytelling specialist with a literary background, it’s not surprising that many of my favorite brand names and campaigns are literature inspired:

  • Quark, the desktop-publishing software program, stems directly from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.
  • Starbucks derives from Starbuck, the first-mate in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
  • Warby Parker, the ever-popular eyewear company, created its name by fusing two characters in an unpublished Jack Kerouac journal—Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker.

Literature, in fact, informs much of Warby Parker’s culture. The blog recommends books—from serious novels and literary guides to journals and diaries. To further advance the cause of books, the brand has teamed up with small publishers, displaying a potpourri of titles at its library-like flagship store in Soho.

Chipotle Mexican Grill has also jumped on the literary bandwagon with its “Cultivating Thought” series, the brainchild of award-winning author Jonathan Safran Foer, who also curates the selections.

Since 2014, “Cultivating Thought” has published two iterations of the project. To date, the fiction and nonfiction of 20 literary lions has been published on Chipotle cups and take out-out bags, including Tony Morrison, Steven Pink and Julia Alvarez.

Literary Branding

Hoping to nourish the next generation of writers, the brand has even initiated a writing contest for students ages 13 to 18 “about a time when food created a memory.” Like their established counterparts, the winning entrants will see their short essays showcased on Chipotle packaging in 2016. Even better, they will receive a $20,000 college scholarship.

While Chipotle offers an extreme example, it follows a tradition of marketing principles. As consumers, we seek out things that make us feel good. So even if a target market hasn’t cracked a classic since high school, featuring books or other traditionally highbrow elements in a branding strategy makes people feel smarter.

And though some may be less than enthusiastic about using literature, particularly canonical literature, to sell goods and services, I respectfully disagree. Anything that kindles an interest in reading and writing quality fiction and nonfiction is to be commended, not criticized.

Margaret Wolfson is the Founder and Chief Creative of River + Wolf, a New York City-based brand naming and brand writing firm. In addition to running River + Wolf, she is a professional storyteller who performs myths and epics around the world.


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