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What is the difference between a marque and a brand? For example, why would one use the expression "car marques" instead of "car brands"?

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For perspective, 'marque' is entirely unused in the US. –  Mitch Jun 26 '13 at 10:56
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6 Answers

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Semantically in OP's context the two words have the same basic meaning. They both identify either the actual manufacturer or a specific product range from that manufacturer.

However, there is a subtle difference perceived by at least some advertisers, and implied by dictionary.com's definition which gives luxury or racing car as likely things to which marque may be applied...

The word marque (perhaps because of its 'exotic' French origin and associations) is generally understood to be a slightly more 'upmarket' term. Asda/Walmart sell their 'own brand' products, but I think many of us would feel it was pretentious in the extreme if these were to be promoted as being under their marque.

Marque is primarily associated with 'quality' automobiles, but it also commonly occurs with other luxury brands such as Dunhill smoker's paraphernalia, and Christian Dior in the world of haute couture.

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A marque is synonymous to a brand or model. See this excerpt from the Wikipedia entry for brand:

In the automotive industry, brands were originally called marques, and marque is still often used as a synonym for brand in reference to motor vehicles.

And thefreedictionary.com claims that they are synonymous:

Marque: n: A model or brand of a manufactured product, especially an automobile.

However, marque is less common, as this Ngram illustrates:

This is due, at least in part, to the more refined usage of marque, for upper-class or luxury products. This usage most likely evolved because marque looks and sounds more refined than brand or model, and hence came to be used of more sophisticated products.

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Is this US usage? In the UK, one would tend to say a "make" of car, and use "brand" for things like breakfast cereal where perceptually, there's less of a "manufacturing production line" involved (even though I'm sure there is really for doing things like removing nutrients and adding sugar). –  Neil Coffey Jul 9 '11 at 13:22
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@Neil: I was about to ask whether this was British usage, I know the term, but in my experience, this is virtually never used in the US. We use "make" and "brand" in the same way you do. –  Peter Shor Jul 10 '11 at 15:45
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I am a graphic designer and as an industry we use the word 'Marque' to describe the logo and the word 'Brand' when talking about the visual identity as a whole, the logo, the colours, the typography, image style, graphic elements, tone of voice etc.

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The NOAD reports that one of the meanings of marque is "a make of car, as distinct from a specific model."
The same dictionary reports that one of the meaning of brand is:

A type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name.
• a brand name
• a particular type or kind of something

The Collins English Dictionary reports that two of the meanings of marque are:

  1. a brand of a product, especially a car
  2. an emblem or nameplate used to identify a product, especially a car

The same dictionary reports the following meanings for brand (among others):

  1. a particular product or a characteristic that serves to identify a particular product
  2. a trade name or trademark
  3. a particular kind or variety
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This practice most definitely has a luxury market history or element. It is used where a stamp or badge would be used to indicate the brand, as opposed to just the name itself of a brand, hence the association with cars and luxury goods, such as "Gucci/LVMH" Rolls Royce Mercedes.

That is my understanding of the difference. Of course these days in a more visual world and with the www, many companies now have logos and the difference is a bit blurred.

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So it sounds like brand can mean several things, only one of which is synonymous with marque:

  • If you say marque, there’s less ambiguity because you’re talking about the name of the manufacturer or the badge or logo.

  • If you say brand, the meaning depends on the context.

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