March 27, 2015

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet,” said Juliet, who argued that it does not matter that Romeo is named “Montague” from her family’s rival household. She loves him, despite his terrible name. Shakespeare’s often-referenced line is used to suggest that the names of things do not matter or affect who or what they really are.

I tend to disagree with the romanticized Juliet. I do, in fact, think the right name can be very powerful, particularly in the business of launching a product or building a brand.

The Honest Tea company was founded in the late 90s by Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff who “were thirsty” and looking for a better packaged drink option. They felt the choices on the market then were either too sweet or tasteless. So, they brewed, packaged and sold to local markets in Maryland their own tea, made from organic tea leaves and slightly sweetened with all-natural ingredients. They named the product “Honest Tea,” their idea of a perfect name for an “all-natural brand that would strive to create healthy and honest relationships with its customers, suppliers and the environment.”

Choosing this name was a high bar to set – to live up to it, Honest Tea achieves a level of corporate responsibility that is remarkable in our nation’s food and beverage industry. Thus far, the name “Honest Tea” remains appropriate for their beverage, which is: organic, fair-trade, hand-plucked, brewed and composted today just as it was when they started. It is a simple tea which honors the traditions, land and people that impact the product.

In 2011, The Coca-Cola Company purchased Honest Tea. Some consumers were frustrated and felt that Goldman and Nalebuff “sold out” on their promise to brew tea, honestly. But the founders have a different – perhaps, more accurate – perspective on that deal.

“We knew to make this a national brand, a powerful brand, an enduring brand, we needed to get distribution beyond where we were. Initially… we were in 15,000 stores. Today Honest Tea is in over 100,000 stores. I certainly understand why some consumers had perceptions that we had ‘sold out’ but I look at what we’re selling. We’re selling a product that’s organic. It was organic before, it’s organic now. We’re reaching millions more people than we were before.” ~ Goldman (in a NPR interview)

“When the social responsibility is literally steeped in the product, if you can go from selling 100 million bottles to a billion bottles, you’re really doing a much better job of achieving your mission.” ~ Nalebuff (in a NPR interview)

Frustratingly, there are many companies that are attempting to sway consumers’ buying choices by labeling things “organic, green, all-natural or wholesome,” despite a legitimate foundation for those claims. The difference between those and companies like Honest Tea is candor – a direct, respectful, and truthful approach to the product, brand and name.