The Power of Patterns.


The Power of Patterns

My friend and the lead guitar player for The Southbound Suspects, Phil Allen, put himself through law school at the University of Florida by singing and playing his guitar in bars around Gainesville. Years later Phil still wows audiences by performing his prodigious repertoire of songs.

People are amazed at all the tunes Phil knows and call him a human jukebox. After they request an obscure Crosby, Stills & Nash title, maybe, or something by Phil Ochs, they ask Phil how he’s memorized so many songs. But as Phil told me, he memorizes the lyrics, not the music. Phil knows what notes to play because he recognizes the patterns the songs follow.

Phil Allen, Mary Coreaux, Joe Arencebia, Andy Waks, Bruce Turkel

The Southbound Suspects — Phil Allen, Burt Bruton, Mary Coreaux, Joe Arencebia, Andy Waks, Bruce Turkel

My mother has a good friend who is a linguist. Although she speaks five or six languages, my mom’s friend says she can communicate with people in languages she doesn’t speak because most rudimentary conversations follow similar patterns. A server in a restaurant greets you, for example, and then asks what you’d like to drink.  After you’ve established your preference, the conversation usually moves on to what you’d like to eat. You don’t need to speak the server’s language to be able to let them know what you’d like. You just work within the natural pattern of the conversation.

Did you watch Bruno Mars perform the song Valerie on the Video Music Awards last year? I was watching with my wife and she was curious how the dancers all knew to move at the exact same time. Watch the performance once and see if you can tell. Click HERE or on the arrow in the video box below. Try not to be distracted by Katy Perry’s blockhead hat.

Could you tell how the performers knew exactly when to change steps? Was there someone cuing them from off stage or was Mars giving them a signal? No, it’s much simpler than that. The dancers were in sync because they were innately aware of the pattern of the rhythm of the song. Valerie is written in an 8-bar blues pattern, which simply means that the structure of the song is a repeating pattern of eight measures (or sections) of four beats each. When the dancers reach the seventh bar (four beats before the loop repeats itself), they count “one, two, three, four” and they know it’s the beginning of the pattern and time for them to spin.

Try it yourself. Watch the video again and count along to the beat. Start at the beginning of the song and count it this way: one, two, three, four. Two, two, three, four. Three, two, three, four, and so on until you get to seven, two, three, four. If you count properly, you’ll find that when you get to the fourth beat of seven, two, three, four, the dancers will magically change direction or steps. Really. Do it a few times and you’ll predict their moves without counting. You’ll just feel when it’s time for them to switch. To try it, click HERE or on the arrow in the video again.

That’s the power of patterns. Besides being a good way to coordinate dancers, it’s also a great way to build your brand value. Because that same confident knowledge that told you when the dancers would spin around is the same feeling your customers can have about what your brand means to them.

In my last book, Building Brand Value: Seven Simple Steps to Profitable Communications, point seven is Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It explains how repetition provides the comfortable framework that binds your customers closer to your brand by showing them exactly what to expect from you. Your repeated good behavior, dependable quality, and consistent messaging, all build a sense of trust between you and your clients that presages and reinforces the reasons they do business with you. That is, your customers know what to expect before they purchase from you and they feel comfortable that they got what they wanted after the transaction.

The dancers and musicians in Bruno Mars’ band can concentrate on what they’re doing because they know what to expect from the song and their front man: When they get to the fourth beat of the seventh measure it’ll be time for them to switch steps. The reliably repeated rhythms set up a predictable and comfortable environment within which they can operate to the best of their abilities.

What works for musicians such as Phil Allen and Bruno Mars, and for linguists, can work for you, too. Creating similarly trustworthy patterns is a simple yet increasingly significant way to build your brand and your business. Because just like the performers on Mars’ stage, your customers can purchase from you more comfortably, more reliably, and more often because they know exactly what to expect from you each and every time.

Posted on January 20th, 2014

Is Self Publishing The Ultimate Self Promotion?


What goes next in the following sequence? Skywriting, Calendar, Pen, T-Shirt, Super Bowl, Side Of A Barn, ____________ .

Give up? Don’t be too hard on yourself; even that smart kid in high school (you know the one I’m talking about) doesn’t know the answer.

Let’s review our fundamental understanding of advertising and branding and see if we can’t come up with an insight that will not only fill in the blank but also give you an idea about what your next incredibly powerful step will be to identify and promote your brand. This is a million dollar idea because as soon as you implement the strategy, you’ll be on your way to transforming your brand into an industry leader.

A lot of advertising is about exposing your clients to your brand time after time after time. Those who sell ad space and time (newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, online, etc.) are often more impressed with its value and validity then those who are tasked with deciding how to allocate their scarce advertising dollars in the first place. Most ad sales reps will agree that if one line of skywriting is good, then two airplanes spreading your message across the heavens is better.

Even a $4.3 million Super Bowl commercial might be talked about at the water cooler for a few days after the big game and then forgotten.

Let’s say my realtor friend sent me a calendar for the New Year. There’s a slim chance I would put it on my desk but 12 months later it’ll be outdated and wind up in the trash. A pen with her company’s logo on it is a useful gift and will remind me of her services but sooner or later I’ll lose it or it’ll run out of ink. And I might wear her T-shirt several times until it frays and I pick something newer to wear.

What’s the one item that I’ll happily accept from you that will remind me of your company? What’s the one item that will stay in my office for as long as I work there? What’s the one item that I’ll never throw away?

A book.

No one ever throws away a book. Especially one that’s been personally autographed by the author (that’s you!).

So now all you have to do is write one.

Before you say, “but I could never write a book,” think about that for a solid minute. Who knows more about your industry than you? Who knows more about what goes on at your company than you? Who knows more about what you do than you? The answer to all three questions is “no one!” it’s all you, all the time.

Remember that the purpose of your book is not to sell any specific product but to share information, demonstrate competence, and maybe even get a few laughs from your readers. Your purpose in writing your book is to set yourself up as a leader in your industry, the person who “wrote the book” on your area of expertise as it were.

Sure, writing a book will take some time. It took two years of hard work to produce our first book, Brain Darts. But it did get easier each time after that. Because writing, like most any other worthwhile activity, becomes easier the more you do it. And whether you get better at it or not, consistency rules. After all, a page a day equals a book a year.


Better yet, today you don’t even have to concern yourself with writing a proposal or selling a book agent on your idea. In 2013’s brave new world of self-publishing there doesn’t have to be a publisher to convince nor a publishing house to share royalties with. Because whether they like your book or not, Amazon’s Create Space will sell you as many copies of your book as you request for about five bucks apiece, postage included. And when you think of your book as an expensive business card, one that your potential clients and returning clients will be impressed by for years to come, five dollars buys you an awful lot of attention.

What about painting a billboard on the side of a barn instead? Sure that ad medium might allow your message to be viewed for a generation, even longer then the life of a book. But unless your potential buyers spend a lot of time driving country roads in farming communities, I’m pretty sure that getting a book in the hands of your customers is a better bet.

Of course, writing, designing, editing, and publishing your own book will take some time. But regardless of how long it will take, I’ll bet you can get the job done for less then the $4.3 million a 30-second Super Bowl ad will cost.

Posted on January 13th, 2014

The Difference Between Cooking and Baking.


At first glance, cooking and baking seem to be different sides of the same coin. They both require various edible ingredients. They both require skill and knowledge. They both call for cutting, chopping, mixing, and stirring. And they both can create good things to eat.

But the actual processes of cooking and baking are often very different, a point which is made abundantly clear if you read their respective recipes. Cooking tends to be more free form and open to interpretation and improvisation – asking for things such as “a handful of sliced almonds,” “season to taste,” or “occasional stirring.” Baking, on the other hand, is rigidly precise, demanding not just a cup of flour but one cup and one tablespoon of sifted white flour, for example. And while cooking allows for substitution, baking does not. Don’t have as many onions as the recipe calls for? Throw in some scallions. Short on shallots? Garlic will do nicely. But if you find you don’t have enough baking powder, baking soda’s just not going to do the job.

Cooking then, seems more like art; baking more like science. No wonder, too, that the different disciplines attract different types of people. While the uninitiated would think that good bakers would make good cooks and vice versa, that doesn’t usually tend to be the case. Instead, good cooks will usually say that they can’t bake and good bakers don’t brag about their cooking abilities. Different strokes for different folks.

It’s not just in restaurants that you find people with very different skills working together and contributing their different abilities to present superior products. In our office, for example, we have a number of people with very different skillsets and temperaments who understand that if we each do what we’re best at, the sum of our labors will be worth so much more than our individual contributions. We’ve got left-brain thinkers who are number and detail oriented and apply their abilities to tracking our projects, meeting our deadlines, and maintaining our computer system and our offices. We’ve got passionate people-oriented professionals who maintain our client relationships and get their satisfaction from satisfying others and keeping our clients satisfied too. We’ve got creative thinkers — artists, designers, and writers — who get their jollies from creating concepts, strategies, and visual solutions that have never been seen before but move our clients’ businesses forward. And we have hard-nosed analytical business thinkers who make sure that our clients — and our agency — stay proactive and profitable no matter how the world around us changes.

In his book Good to Great, author Jim Collins famously wrote about “getting the right people on the bus.” But he also talked about making sure that the right people were in the right seats on that bus.

Building Brand Value and Good To Great

My father used to say that “you can’t make jobs for people, you have to find the right people for the jobs.” This presents a real challenge as the world and our business evolves and changes. As we continuously reinvent ourselves — from a design firm to an ad agency to a brand management firm to a consultancy — we need to continue to provide opportunities to the people in our office who are also evolving and changing right along with us.

Over years of generously giving me great advice, my friend, client, and mentor Seth Werner has impressed upon me the critical practice of hiring for attitude. As Seth points out, you can teach skills but you can’t teach outlook. This too presents an ongoing challenge as we endeavor to keep the right people in the right seats (Jim Collins) in jobs that we created for the business opportunities and not the practitioners (Leonard Turkel) who have to have the right attitude (Seth Werner).

So as we all try out a sparkly new 2014 and plan for the future while we reflect on the past, it seems to me that there has never been a better time to seek out the best and most passionate cooks and bakers you can find and make doubly sure that your cooks are cooking and your bakers are baking.

THAT should help create a delicious new year for all of us.

Posted on January 6th, 2014

Reaching and Grasping in The New Year

(One Comment)

Rabbi Mitchell Chefitz told me a wonderful story about a presentation he made at a program for Jewish cub scouts.

Chefitz-FinalChefitz had all the boys sit around a circle with a big tom tom in the center. He would beat a particular rhythm on the drum and then ask the boys who wanted to try it themselves. Every hand in the room would shoot up.

“Before you try,” the rabbi asked the scouts, “Do you want me to tell you it’s hard or easy?”

“EASY!” they all yelled in unison.

“If I say it’s easy and you can’t do it, how would that make you feel? But if I say it’s hard and you can do just a little bit of it, how would THAT make you feel?”

“HARD!” the boys answered back without missing a beat.

Rabbi Chefitz went on to tell me that he uses the same technique when he teaches scripture.

“I start with hard passages and I let my students know that the passages are hard. This way they have to stretch themselves to learn. And when they stretch,” he illustrated his point by extending his arm over his head and reaching for an invisible object beyond his grasp, “They learn more than they would otherwise.” He rubbed his elbow for affect.

JFK-FinalPresident John F. Kennedy used this selfsame technique in 1961 when he promised that America would send a man to the Moon before the end of the decade.

Remembering the political events of the day is crucial for establishing context and Kennedy’s motives. At the time, Russia was winning the space race – first with Sputnik 1 in 1957 and then when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth in 1961. Plus, the Bay of Pigs fiasco had been dumped squarely on Kennedy’s shoulders.

Safely reaching the Moon required a yeoman’s effort not only by NASA but also by the educational, scientific, and political communities – a challenge considered as great in scope as the construction of the Panama Canal and the Manhattan Project.

Kennedy’s goal was finally realized on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong stepped off the lunar module’s ladder and onto the surface of the Moon. “One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

Browning-FinalIn the case of Chevitz’s students and NASA’s engineers, the meaning of goal setting becomes clear. Or as Robert Browning put it, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

The New Year celebration is a perfect time to look back on the past and plan for the future. As we watch the ball drop in Times Square and sing misty-eyed (and mispronounced) renditions of Auld Lang Syne, why not take a moment to think of what we want to accomplish in 2014? Just remember Rabbi Chefitz’s boy scouts and Kennedy’s astronauts and set a challenging goal for yourself.

After all, as the electrical engineer Nikola Tesla wrote, “Man’s grasp (should) exceed his nerve.”

Happy New Year.

Auld Lang Syne

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,

and never thought upon;

The flames of Love extinguished,

and fully past and gone:

Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,

that loving Breast of thine;

That thou canst never once reflect

On Old long syne.

On Old long syne my Jo,

On Old long syne,

That thou canst never once reflect,

On Old long syne.

Posted on December 31st, 2013

What the Duck?


A few weeks ago my wife and I were enjoying a quick vacation in the mountains of North Carolina. We needed a few things to feather our nest so we ducked into the local Walmart.

While Gloria was searching for the Cuban coffee and other things she can’t live without, I busied myself looking at different products and brands I don’t see at home. I grabbed a bag of El Guapo dried peppers, snapped a picture of Pajama Jeans, and discovered an entire aisle dedicated to products emblazoned with a flock of men in camouflage sporting biblical age beards, the ZZ Top of the hunting set.

Guapo Peppers and Pajamajeans-Final

Of course, that was before I’d ever heard of Duck Dynasty – the show that was on everybody’s lips not 60 days later.

If you’ve spent the last two months visiting Uranus and are unaware of what happened, let me fill you in. Phil Robertson made some atrociously politically incorrect comments about gays and blacks in GQ Magazine. This matters mostly because Phil and his family are the stars of the most popular reality show on television, the A&E blockbuster called — you guessed it — Duck Dynasty.

ZZ Top? No, it’s Duck Dynasty.

Once various groups started complaining about what Phil said, A&E banished him indefinitely. And that’s when the craziness started. Religious groups, right-wingers, and Duck Dynasty fans were outraged and raised their voices in protest. But interestingly enough, they were joined by a number of groups on the left who rallied behind Robertson’s First Amendment rights. If you caught any of the daffiness on FOX, CNN or MSNBC it got harder and harder to figure out who supported whom and why – a virtual cluster duck.

This was about the time I got pulled into the dispute when I was invited to appear on Judge Jeanine Pirro’s show, Justice, alongside Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. Clearly the producer’s intention was that Perkins would defend the duck man’s biblical beliefs and I would take A&E’s side. You can watch the interview HERE.

Trouble is, both parties were well within their rights. Robertson can say whatever he wants, and A&E can run their business anyway they see fit. What I observe is a much bigger – and more significant – social movement occurring right under our beaks.

For A&E to suggest that they don’t pander to the very market that Robertson represents is easy to dispute simply by looking at their most popular programs, which include Storage Wars: Texas, American Hoggers, Rodeo Girls, and Crazy Hearts: Nashville. Also, notice that A&E didn’t take their fowl cash cow off the air – they simply removed Phil for an undetermined amount of time.

But please don’t try to convince me that ol’ Phil didn’t know exactly what he was doing when he told GQ that blacks were happy in slavery days or that gays won’t see the kingdom of heaven. The backwoods duck hunter is a self-made man who has built a personal fortune of over $180 million. He didn’t do that by being an idiot.

I’ve spent lots of time in this blog writing about our overly manufactured, overly marketed, overly digital society and how it distorts the truth. The truth in this situation is that Americans today are searching for authenticity and how they feel about who acted authentically dictated which side of the discussion they found themselves on.

Trouble is, neither side was being truly authentic – they just used their marketing tools in different ways and the market is now sorting out who was right. So just as the Bronze Age surrendered to the Iron Age and the Industrial Age finally yielded to the Information Age, it too is now being bested by the Brand Age where things are valued not by function but by perception. In other words, the marketers have finally taken over.

While the consistent difference between each age is the tools that define it, one thing that transcends all ages is that their tools are agnostic. A spear can be used to procure food or kill an innocent. A truck can take a child to the hospital or deliver a load of crack to an addict. A computer can do computations that produce medical miracles or perpetrate identity fraud. And branding can be used to sell products, raise money for charities, or put charlatans in power.

Think I’m being extreme? Tell me how many people would have tuned into Duck Dynasty if its hoary millionaire heroes still looked like they did in this picture…

Plucked Ducks

Posted on December 24th, 2013

My 15 Minutes of Hate.


Last Thursday I was a guest on the O’Reilly Factor on FOX News. The subject was “The War on Christmas” and the controversy over the Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center’s ad being rejected by ESPN.


If you’ve ever watched Bill O’Reilly’s show you can already figure on two things: 1) Bill and I didn’t agree on very much and 2) Bill didn’t let me talk very much. But I already expected that. What I didn’t expect was the amount of hate mail I’d receive after the show aired.

Peter-ShankmanCoincidentally, the other guest on the show, Peter Shankman, is a friend of mine. So a few minutes after we co-appeared with O’Reilly, Peter sent me an email titled, “Has the hate mail started yet?” When I told him no, Peter wrote back: “Seriously – I could go on CNN and call George Washington Adolph Hitler and it wouldn’t produce 1/10th of the amount of hate O’Reilly does. I’ve been told to rot in hell six times in the past five minutes. :)”

Moments later the venom started oozing in:

@TimHadsel wrote: “@BruceTurkel Anti-racist is a codeword (sic) for anti-White.”

@pinkroselady said: “@petershankman @BruceTurkel u both r a couple of self righteous pathetic jerks. Little kids get hope from these ads 4 well wishes. U suck.”

@wrdDixon opined: “@petershankman @BruceTurkel  well peter if u want to be an asshole so be it. You also bruth!”

Bruth? I haven’t been called that since elementary school. And at least then it was Bruthie.

@rnance1950 said: “@petershankman @BruceTurkel Just seen your POS interview on O’Reilly, I really believe you are in the same Mold (sic) as Al Sharpton, another POS!”

@davidthomas38 chimed in: “@petershankman @BruceTurkel Yes you are and you are a liberal and trying to destroy Christmas.”

@k47579 picked up on the fact that Shankman and Turkel might have been chosen for this segment on destroying Christmas based on their religion. Clever, @k47579.

“If you two TURDS were catholic (sic) you’d be in agreement with Bill.”

Then he added:

“And f**k these two assholes.”

Except @k47579 actually knew how to spell the word f**k without the asterisks. I’ll bet he didn’t learn THAT in church, Catholic or otherwise.

It’s not like I haven’t been on TV, or FOX, before. In fact, I’ve been on different FOX shows more than 78 times — weekly on Money with Melissa Francis, and also Varney & Co. and Cavuto on Business. But while I have received lots of follow-up tweets, emails, and Facebook posts, including some from people who’ve disagreed with what I’ve had to say, I’ve never received anything that was even vaguely hateful or offensive.

That changed on Thursday after appearing on the O’Reilly Factor.

Bill O’Reilly has said that he’s not a journalist — he’s a television host, author, syndicated columnist, and political commentator who sells a certain breed of vitriol to an angry and frustrated audience. That being said, a November 2008 Zogby poll found that O’Reilly was the country’s second most trusted news personality, following Rush Limbaugh.


So would I accept another invitation from the O’Reilly Factor? With pleasure. Being on O’Reilly’s show was a great opportunity to build my brand value in front of FOX News’ largest prime-time audience (2,106,000 that night, according to TV by the Numbers’ count). And despite the fact that I didn’t get to say very much, I truly enjoyed the experience and learned a lot. Besides, my Klout score (the measure of one’s online impact) jumped after the appearance and I know a lot of that had to do with all the hate mail I received.

Gotta love that!

By the way, if you’d like to see the interview, click HERE or on the image below.


Posted on December 16th, 2013

All New Media Is Porn.


All new media is porn. Whether it’s because of our endless fascination with sex or the media creators’ desire to monetize their inventions, each time there’s a new way to reach people, one of the first uses is distributing the pornography of the day.

Venus-FinalWay back in prehistory, cave paintings often depicted sex scenes. Sure, the history books we studied in high school showed stick figures of men chasing mastodons and bison with sharpened sticks, but that doesn’t mean that’s all that was all cave dwellers painted on their walls. In fact, one of the earliest known pieces of art – the Venus of Willendorf – is an early artist’s depiction of a fertile woman, swollen and ripe in her fecundity.

Tens of thousands of years later, muralists in ancient Rome festooned their villas with nearly always risqué images of orgies and sex acts. And Rome’s preeminent art form – sculpture – furnished the entire conquered world (and today’s art museums) with worshipfully carved nude human forms. The artists and calligraphers of ancient China also spent a significant amount of their output producing sexualized images, as did the painters of feudal Japan.

From the Renaissance onward throughout Europe, the great masters loved the naked form. And while the Roman Catholic Church did its best to discourage or downright prohibit prurient images, no study of classic art or observant walk through any great museum would be complete without extensive exposure to naked bodies.

Shortly after the first shots of the Civil War were fired in the United States, a new method of depiction and distribution of images was born – photography. And it wasn’t long before images of naked or scantily clad women were sold, collected, and passed around, albeit surreptitiously. Of course, many of those images look quaint by today’s standards but considering the mores of the time they were quite outrageous.

Photographic depiction of sexual topics increased significantly with the advent of modern printing technology. From the more mainstream magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse, to the less accepted publications sold in the back of newsstands and windowless stores with the letters “ADULT” stenciled on the side, pornography truly verified Marshall McLuhan’s words – “the medium is the message” – but in the case of sexualized images the message also created the medium.


It was the same when pictures were no longer static. With the invention of moving picture technology, a new world opened up to pornographers. And with each new development — talkies, color, eight millimeter, super eight — the distribution and popularity increased, climaxing with the VHS and then DVD recordings that made it ever easier for consumers to watch pornography in the privacy of their own homes.

Of course, it’s the Internet that has really brought pornography to the masses. Today, it is estimated that 30% of World Wide Web usage is dedicated to the distribution of pornography. Forbes magazine reports that in 2010, 42,337 of the one million most trafficked websites were sex-related (4%) and that 13% of all searches were for sex-related content, with 2.5% of all searches going to one site alone! What’s more, Nielsen Online says that one-quarter of all employees surf pornography while they’re at work.

Regardless of which numbers are correct, it should be pretty clear that online pornography is not a billion-dollar business because a hardcore group of 100 enthusiasts are spending ten million dollars apiece. Like every other new media throughout history, the distribution of sexually explicit material is used by new media developers to build their businesses. According to Wikipedia, pornography is regarded by some as one of the driving forces behind the expansion of the World Wide Web, like the camcorder, VCR, and cable television before it.

In case it wasn’t obvious before, sex does indeed sell.

Posted on December 10th, 2013

Yo Ho Ho And A Bottle Of Brand.


There’s an old joke that says, “The key to relationships is honesty and sincerity… and if you can fake that, the rest is easy.”

Paraphrasing slightly, many companies believe that the key to branding is authenticity… and if they can fake THAT, then the rest is easy.

Today’s younger consumers, the choice 18 – 29-year old audience that almost every marketer covets, is demonstrating a real desire to inject some authenticity into their otherwise manufactured, marketed, and digitally manipulated lives. And like so many generations before them, they’re using their purchasing power to express that desire — in this case, keeping it real.

That partially explains their penchant for Converse All-Star sneakers, tattoos and piercings, Jeep Wranglers, and Ray-Ban sunglasses. If the products they buy tell the world who they are, they’re going to use those items point out their authenticity. Even if it’s borrowed.


Of course the companies who sell products to these buyers are well aware of their customers’ practices. And so they’re busy developing products and narratives to scratch their audiences’ itch.

Case in point? Rum. A concoction first invented to help preserve sugar cane and ship the agricultural wealth of the West Indies back to Europe, rum has been mostly relegated to the fluorescent umbrella punches and Cuba Libres that are a far cry from the original seafarers’ grog. Because of that, rum has become the drink you might order on vacation in the Caribbean or Mexico but not what you drink when you get home and shift back to your more urbane vodka, Scotch or red wine.

Obviously, rum manufacturers would like to change that and they want to do so by attracting legal drinking age (LDA) consumers while the young drinkers are busy establishing the brand preferences that might last them a lifetime. How? Authenticity.

Captain Morgan, namesake of his eponymous spiced rum, is a flamboyantly fey pirate who supposedly swilled his liquor of choice as he plundered the Seven Seas. A fascinating story, perhaps, but one dreamt up in the distiller’s marketing department, not history books.

William Grant & Sons also created (or rather, appropriated) a colorful character to represent their rum – Norman Keith Collins, a Beat Generation tattoo artist nicknamed Sailor Jerry. In his case, the character may have actually existed but his connection to the liquor brand doesn’t go much further than the name and graphics on the label.


Little wonder then that the leader in the segment, Bacardi, would also play the authenticity card to move their inventory. But in their case, the company actually has a narrative worth repeating and a family name that still graces the business cards of the company’s top executives.


As their new commercial explains, the company has weathered earthquakes and fires and was kicked out of Cuba during the revolution. Whether or not those experiences changed the liquid inside the bottle is beside the point; Bacardi is a real brand with an authentic history and a story of hardship and triumph.

So why does this matter to the LDA consumer? Besides the compelling romance of the company’s history, Bacardi’s new brand attributes now include authenticity and resilience, things that young consumers are thirsty for. This marketing alchemy serves to endow Bacardi-drinking consumers with the romance and resilience of the brand itself – at least in their hearts and minds, and perhaps the eyes of those around them. After all, while we used to say, “You are what you eat (and drink)” today we say, “You are what you consume.”

Before you scoff, think about your prized Mercedes-Benz that tells the world that you too are well-engineered and impressive; or the Nike running shoes that announce your athletic prowess; or the Patagonia backpack that signals what an able outdoorsman you are. Consumers believe that through some weird retail transmutation the attributes of the brands they purchase and use become their own attributes.

As the world continues to become more and more manufactured and more and more digital, look to more and more products to mine their histories for stories of strength, romance, ruggedness, and improvisational derring-do. Because as products — and the people who buy them — become more similar and generic, brand stories will become more singular and exclusive.

Posted on December 2nd, 2013