Any other business

Five brand names that might or might not be based on real people

4 min read

06 November 2015

They’re as familiar to us as those of our family and friends. Some of their faces are also almost as well known. Developing a brand around a person is as old as business itself but which of these brands is based on a real person and which are simply the invention of the marketing people?

(1) Colonel Sanders – REAL

In 1896, when his father died and his mother was forced to go to work, six year-old Harland Sanders ended up cooking for his younger brother and sister.

After working as a soldier, an insurance salesman and a steamboat ferry captain, Sanders began to manage a service station in Kentucky where he would cook for customers – including his secret recipe fried chicken. His food was so popular that he opened a restaurant and in 1935 was made a Kentucky Colonel in recognition of his contributions to the state’s cuisine. Eventually Sanders sold his KFC business for $2m, but continued as an ambassador the company – travelling more than 250,000 miles a year until he died in 1980.

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(2) Mr Kipling – FICTIONAL

His cakes might be exceedingly good but don’t ask Mr Kipling for the recipes, as the kindly old gentleman with the floury hands doesn’t exist. 

He was invented in the 1960s by a group of executives from the advertising agency JWT who were looking to create a personality to promote their products – and they needed a name that conjured up the image of a traditional British baker. Kipling may well have been a reference to poet and author Rudyard Kipling.

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(3) Dorothy Perkins – FICTIONAL

Charles Perkins of Jackson & Perkins, who sold plants and seeds, created a variety of rambling rose at the start of the last century and called it Dorothy Perkins in honour of his granddaughter.

When the bosses of Ladies Hosiery and Underwear Limited, creators of the five shilling blouse, were looking to change their name to something catchier in 1939, they came across the idea of basing it on the Dorothy Perkins – which was very popular with gardeners at the time.

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(4) Ted Baker – FICTIONAL

When Ray Kelvin decided to open his first clothes shop back in 1988 in Glasgow, he didn’t want his own name above the door. If it failed, he reckoned, then someone would be associated with the collapsed venture.  

On the other hand, if it did work, then Kelvin could enjoy relative anonymity. As a result of this thinking, his “alter ego” Ted Baker was born. 

The name came from a friend who had been working as a salesman in America and was told to change his name to something more catchy.

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(5) Estée Lauder – REAL

Josephine Esther Mentzer was born in Queens, outside New York, probably in 1906. Her parents had a pet name for their daughter – Esty, later to become Estée.

It was her uncle, a chemist, who developed her interest in beauty and she began to sell the products he developed to local beauty salons and hotels. In 1930, Estée married Joseph Lauder, who became her partner in the business and the name Estée Lauder was born. Lauder was a great believer in giving away free samples – “Tell-A-Phone, Tell-A-Graph, Tell-A-Woman,” she would say.

By the time she died in 2004 her company was worth around $5bn worldwide.