Still sweet: Edelweiss by any other name?

November 22, 2016 by

Recently I attended the birthday of a close friend at the Queen Anne Beerhall here in Seattle, a proverbial stone’s throw from the Space Needle and a moderate walk from the Pike Place Market.  As I perused the menu among the chatter of mingling party-goers, I was gobsmacked by the inclusion of Almdudler tucked between the offerings of Portland IPAs, German ales, and Belgian lambics.  An Austrian soda with a mild apple tinge, Almdudler’s flavor is more akin to an An der schönen blauen Donau waltz than to the powerful Born in the USA rock and roll of Pepsi and Coca-Cola.  Although it is sold in a handful of European nations, it is a product so staunchly Austrian that its commercials, print advertisements, and taglines are almost entirely in the Austro-Bavarian dialect of German.

Aside from fomenting nostalgia for the years I spent in the birthplace of Mozart and the Sachertorte, re-living this bubbly cavalcade made me mull over the power of geography in brand identity.  Geographic exclusivity is nothing new –  Venetian glass, Chinese silks, and Persian rugs have buttressed the concept for centuries – and, today, Protected Designation of Origin and its merits have been championed by Champagne and reinforced by feta. In other instances, the geographic identity is appropriated for the values and qualities it affords, as the Mexican lager Dos Equis has demonstrated with its identification to the Spain of Hemmingway’s bravado-filled prime.

What I love most about Almdudler is that this sense of exclusivity is narrowed even further through language.  This type of exclusivity commonly conjures the mysterious exoticism of French, like the Chrysler LeBaron or in companies like LaCroix (of La Crosse, Wisconsin), with its grapefruit – pardon me – pamplemousse flavor, to endow a sense of sophisticated, old-world classiness.  Almdudler, however, commits itself to a niche dialect of a language that is virtually unintelligible to those who live outside its immediate geography. Of the 120 million native German speakers, only 13 million would hear Almdudler’s tagline of “Wenn de kan Oimdudla haum, geh’ i wieda ham!” and identify it as their own.*

Their motive was to capture in the product an identity of ‘being home’ (specifically, Heimat) in the most snow-capped-Alpen-mountain sense of the term.  Austrians are very proud of all things Austrian, from Vienna’s coffee and Klimt’s masterpieces to Graz’s Schwarzenegger and Salzburg’s Herminator, but they are fiercely proud of their language.  The identity of Almdudler is as Austrian as picking edelweiss with Sigmund Freud on a Tyrolian ski slope.

It is funny, though, how we perceive a brand’s geographic identity, whether it is authentic or not, and how we succumb to the identity that resonates.  In the case of Almdudler, its messaging was actually crafted by an English creative director, Simon North. Or, ‘Viennese coffee’ was inherited from the Ottoman Turks in 1683 (who in turn appropriated it from Yemen over a hundred years earlier).  This is the case with countless products and brands.  Then I look around toward my friends at the party (most of whom are not originally from here), the view of the Space Needle, the smell of the Puget Sound, and I know that it’s nice to be home.

*In English: If they don’t have Almdudler, I’m going back home!