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The name derives from the image of a white label on the packaging which can be filled in with the marketer's trade dress. Its origins can be traced to vinyl records. Before records were to be released to the public, often before official artwork was designed and printed, promotional copies were sent out in a white sleeve to DJs to solicit radio and nightclub play, in an effort to build hype and gauge public interest by the record labels, ultimately to better estimate manufacturing quantities. This created a situation where certain respected or well-connected DJs would have exclusive copies of material, immediately increasing demand on certain big records. Occasionally this term refers to records whose labels had been torn off or covered with a white label by competing DJs to conceal which records they were using.
The first use of a "White Label" affiliate system on the internet was in 2001. A well-known online mobile phone retailer, ukphoneshop.com, offered other companies a rebranded version of their own website. Companies could sign up and sell mobile phones and earn a commission using their own brand. The developer Chris Brodie from Ormskirk, United Kingdom, named the unique affiliate system "white label" after "white label records" as he was also working on a number of music-related projects at the time.
In 2002 Brodie won numerous awards for the innovation, the system he developed was replicated and is used worldwide by the majority of online retailers. In 2002 this was reported in Mobile News Magazine, a UK-based trade magazine, where Brodie's company website got 10 out of 10 for development and innovation.
White label production is often used for mass-produced generic products including electronics, consumer products, and software packages such as DVD players, televisions, and web applications. Some companies maintain a sub-brand for their goods, for example the same model of DVD player may be sold by Dixons as a Saisho and by Currys as a Matsui, which are brands exclusively used by those companies.
Some websites use white labels to enable a successful brand to offer a service without having to invest in creating the technology and infrastructure itself. Many IT and modern marketing companies outsource or use white-label companies and services to provide specialist services without having to invest in developing their own product.
Most supermarket private brand or store brand products are provided by companies that sell to multiple supermarkets, changing only the labels. In addition, some manufacturers create low-cost generic brand labels with only the name of the product ("Cola"). Richelieu Foods, for example, is a private label food manufacturing company producing frozen pizza, salad dressing, sauces, marinades, condiments and deli salads for other companies, including Hy-Vee, Aldi, Save-A-Lot, Sam's Club, Hannaford Brothers Co., BJ's Wholesale Club (Earth's Pride brand) and Shaw's Supermarkets (Culinary Circle brand).
Smaller banks sometimes outsource their credit-card or check processing operations to larger banks, which issues and processes the credit cards as white label cards, typically for a fee, allowing the smaller bank to brand the cards as their own without having to invest in the necessary infrastructure. A current example of this is Cuscal Limited providing white label card and transactional products to Credit Unions in Australia or Simple (formerly BankSimple) in the United States which issues bank accounts and debit cards operated by The Bancorp Bank.
In Southern California, City National Bank (CNB) is the largest check processor in that half of the state, because in addition to checks issued by its own customers, CNB processes checks for the customers of more than 60 smaller Southern California banks.
Many software companies offer white label software to agencies or other customers, including the possibility to resell the software under the customer’s brand. This typically requires functionalities such as the adaptation of the software’s visual appearance, multi-customer management and automatic billing to the end-customers based on usage parameters. Examples can be found in many domains including software for customer service, market research, games and email marketing.
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