Earlier this year a Swiss court ruled that Toblerone, that robust chocolate purchased almost exclusively it seems from airports, are no longer allowed to display the iconic Matterhorn mountain on its famous triangular packaging.
The reason? The country’s “Swissness” legislation, introduced in 2017, restricts the use of the national flag as well as other indicators of Swiss provenance that can be displayed by brands. The decision of the US owner, Mondēlez, to partially move production of the nougat bespeckled confectionery to Slovakia fell foul of these marketing restrictions.
It’s an interesting legal ruling against the brand ‘story telling’ that can operate in the grey area between authenticity and fiction. Switzerland obviously believe in the power of symbols more subtle than a flag or a simple “Made in” statement to represent the nation to consumers.
It made me wonder what other brands or products that wear a perceived nationhood on their sleeves would have a similar problem to Toblerone if other counties had similar laws to the Swiss. What else could be considered to be an “indicator of provenance”?
Can colours be national symbols? Would the iconic blue and yellow from IKEA’s logo, a direct reference to Sweden’s flag be an issue as their products are manufactured around the world. Likewise, Tommy Hilfiger, the epitome of the preppy east coast aesthetic, which proudly flies the Red, White and Blue of the USA flag.
Talking of flags. Mini proudly adopts the Union Jack in brake light form but deep down we all know a Mini is about as British as Currywurst. By which I mean, a bit (but that’s another story).
It’s not only flags but regional crests too can be used to imply a national belonging. ‘La Dolce Vita’ champions Bertolli feature an adaptation of the Tuscan coat of arms on their olive oil labels but is made from olives grown and pressed across the Mediterranean.
Would the Swiss law makers think a nation could be represented by an animal? Would they have an issue with either Le Coq Sportif or Moncler, both French sportswear brands that both feature the colours of Tricolour and the Gallic rooster, not making 100% of their products in France?
Can buildings can be signifiers of location? They certainly can if the countless American films that use an establishing shot of a red bus crossing Westminster Bridge with the Houses of Parliament in the background are anything to go by. It appears to be the go to option for letting cinema audiences know that they’re not in Kansas anymore.
And finally, if the Swiss can insist on Toblerone moving mountains you’d imagine they’d have an issue with HP Sauce. No, not for a preference for its red rival, but because it is named after the iconic home of the UK parliament, has the building adorning its label and spices up that most quintessential of British delicacies, the fry-up. After over a century of production in the Midlands the king of condiments is now made by an American company in the Netherlands.
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