What's In A Name?

by Kim Faulkner 7 January 2015

When I decided to name our fledgling brand consultancy, Activiste, in 2007 – a combination of the words ‘activist’ and ‘artiste’ – I was told that this would be a cause of confusion and even, alarm, amongst Asian clients.

“People here think of activists as strident, disruptive, naysayers…”

“Even the MNC’s here won’t understand what kind of consultancy Activiste is.”

“What about a name with the word BRAND in it? Isn’t that far better branding for a brand consultancy?”

You get the drift…but then, we were captivated by the idea that if brands did indeed have any leverage, they should be used to effect positive change – in business, institutions and societies.

In 2015, Activiste would be 8 years old.  Looking back, I am proud of the institutions and businesses which have made significant turnarounds… or become better understood and more well-liked:

Bank Danamon, Bank BTPN, Boardroom Limited, National University of Singapore, Singapore Mediation Centre, NETS; amongst others.

Bank BTPN went from being an unknown (even in Indonesia), small pension bank to being voted one of the Best Banks in Indonesia in 2013. In 2014, in a vote of confidence in this once “failed bank”, Sumitomo Mitsui Bank purchased a stake in the business for US$1.5 billion.

I would include in the line-up new brands which were borne out of rigorous consumer and trade interviews, envisioning workshops, and a good dose of inspiration:

Clarigo, Clermont Hotels, Amba Hotels, Families for Life, Spectra Secondary School, Kids Dental World, and Being Sattvaa Retreat.

Families for Life seeks to open discourse on the diverse forms and challenges which families today grapple with; Spectra Secondary School  caters to secondary school students seeking a holistic education pathway that is linked to industry, whilst Being Sattvaa Retreat will be the destination brand of a larger movement for corporate well-being through mindfulness and work-life balance, in Singapore and beyond.

Looking forward however, it would appear that whilst we did manage to develop brands which made, and continue to make, a difference; activism is no longer alien in the world of marketing. Indeed, according to an August 2014 article in the Financial Times, “Activism has become a marketing strategy” and not just in hedge fund circles.

Activism as a marketing strategy will be the topic of another article, but what of the Activiste name and vision?

Well, as we hand out our business cards, people don’t look at us enquiringly and ask “so, what do you do?” and our clients appreciate that activists are passionate about their beliefs, and this energy can be harnessed to change entrenched mindsets and behaviours in galvanising way.

Our clients  are realising that they can be the social conscience of the sectors they operate in, and that sustainability isn’t just about “doing good” if they “do well”; but that “doing good” extends their influence and emotional appeal– and this is really the only brand equity that counts.

At Activiste, we believe that “all good conspirators enjoy a meeting of minds”, and we can’t wait to see the brand conspiracies that will make their impact felt in the year ahead. 


Kim has over 30 years of branding, marketing and design experience in Asia and has lectured and written extensively on the subject of branding, strategy development, marketing and design across the region.