Can the evolutionary strategy of fruit teach us something about branding?

For many ages, seed pods have fallen to the ground from trees – and the seeds inside them have become new trees. Over many generations, some trees gained an advantage: their pods contained a sweet, delicious flesh that humans carried with them, distributing their seeds to places far away from the original tree, where they had to fight their parent for sunlight. This advantage was so great that soon, fruits competed for desirability to animals.

But another problem arose. All seed pods looked vaguely alike: the bitter ones, the poisonous ones, and the sweet ones. From far away, they were indinguishable! Fruit trees had an offering, and when humans took advantage of it, humans would benefit – but so would the fruit tree’s genes, which would propagate more efficiently. An offering is useless, however, if it cannot be distinguished from others. That is when fruit trees discovered branding as an evolutionary strategy. (Of course, we are speaking metaphorically: evolution is a series of random mutations that either result in survival, or do not. It is not an act of agency.)

An orange, for instance, is… orange. A random mutation created a slightly brighter colored pod, which our ancestors noted was delicious. Over generations, this effect was maximized until an orange became orange. Our forebears would see it on trees, in the distance, and they would walk an extra distance to enjoy its fragrant flesh… and then carry the fruit with them back to their campsite. They recognized that an orange is not bitter, it’s not poisonous, it’s not unpleasant; it’s delicious, and its color tells you that it is. (Imagine a similar branding coup: if we looked at the sky and said its color was IBM!)

At IdeaRocket, we have glommed onto orange too, and for the same reason oranges did in evolutionary history. If you like our website and our work, and you see that our color is orange, we hope that when you come upon it again and recognize the orange, you will associate that color with the benefit we provide.

Let’s look at a different example of branding; different, because what is being signaled is not a benefit at all, but a deterrent. Imagine a skunk had no white stripe on its back. Let’s say a coyote (we’ll call him Wile E.) tried to attack a skunk and found himself sprayed. Perhaps he would just count himself unlucky. When Wile E. attacked a black squirrel or a black cat or a black raccoon before, he did not get sprayed. This time it attacked a small black animal, and got this unpleasant blowback. There’s not a strong reason for Wile E. to not attack a skunk again. Since there is no differentiation, the skunk’s deterrent has significantly less value.

But if the skunk has a white stripe, however, then Wile E. has a chance to wise up! Now he knows: don’t attack black animals with a white stripe down their back, it’s more grief than it’s worth. This is despite the fact that a high-contrast marking is the opposite of camouflage, and probably exposes the skunk to the predator’s notice more than otherwise.

Branding, apparently, is worth an investment!