DEATH OF A BRAND
That brand was a cult of personality.
It had charismatic appeal.
An iconic image.
Greatly anticipated speeches.
A consistent and unchanging public wardrobe.
A sordid family saga.
Yes, there's question is your head is asking right now...
IS THAT FIDEL CASTRO?
Or is it Steve Jobs?
And admittedly, nobody around here had ever considered the parallels.
Then we took a glance at the Fidel brand through the lens of El Caballo's demise last Saturday.
Whoa. Did you know that Fidel had at least 11 kids by various women?
(There could be more.)
Some of them live in the U.S. and are public opponents of Fidel's political legacy.
TALK ABOUT SORDID FAMILY SAGA
And in case you didn't know, the moniker El Caballo was bestowed upon Fidel by Cuban bandleader Benny Moré, a kind of real-life Ricky Ricardo.
Moré's nickname for Fidel (which means "The Horse,") is a reference to the great dictator's infamous philandering during the 1950s and 1960s--a time when Castro was a sex symbol in Cuba.
Yes, that's right: Fidel Castro, sex symbol. Sometimes a cigar is...well, never mind.
Any Freudian symbolism aside, it's safe to say that sordid-family man Steve Jobs never exactly enjoyed that kind of profligate, prodigal status.
Although, there is a video out of MIT called Steve Jobs, Secret Sex Symbol.
There's his long-disavowed daughter, Lisa. And Steve infamously wanted tantric sex in the garden shed with girlfriend Chrisann Brennan.
Anyway, stud nicknames and cigars aside, this is about something else.
NAMELY: BUILDING AN EMPIRE ON PERSONAL BRAND
It's safe to say that the Cuban empire is a threadbare utopia--a shattered dream through which 1950s American cars putter, and any concept of personal wealth was long ago laid waste.
Despite that, 1959 to present day is quite a tenure for a tyrant whose social and economic policies ranged from shaky to vicious.
The Cuban economy has long been a mess.
Intellectuals and artists who disagreed with Fidel were jailed and even tortured.
And despite the obvious socio-economic failures, the whole branded utopian miasma prevailed. Fidel was long regarded as The Dude in Havana.
In his Fidel biography, Political Science Professor Paul C. Sondrol from the University of Colorado uses a delightful and disturbing turn of phrase, calling Fidel "quintessentially totalitarian in his charismatic appeal."
For some, Fidel's speeches were greatly anticipated (much like Steve's). He'd go on for hours--without notes (also without PowerPoint)--and speak on a range of topics from agriculture and the military to filmmaking and chess strategies.
AND THEN, THERE'S THE OUTFIT
The olive drab fatigues.
Fidel's own version of the black mock turtleneck.
But unlike Steve, for whom the turtleneck was something of an accident, there was nothing accidental about Fidel's getup of the grunt.
In public, for 37 years, Fidel only ever wore the green fatigues. The message was clear: "I am and always will be the perpetual revolutionary."
There's a famous billboard in Cuba, featuring a drawing of Fidel in profile, wearing his uniform. The copy on the billboard says, "Luchar contra lo imposible y vencer."
Translation: "To fight against the impossible and win."
Seems a win in Fidel World is a different kind of victory.
CONTROLLING THE FLOW OF INFORMATION WITH AN IRON MUZZLE
Wait. Information control. Are we talking about Fidel now? Or Steve?
Castro's private life is little known, thanks to state-media censorship. (No girl & cigar, blue-dress media moments in Havana, that's for sure.) The Committee To Protect Journalists calls Cuba one of the "10 Most Censored Countries."
According to Human Rights Watch, "Cuba has developed a highly effective machinery of repression."
It's also reported that the Cuban Interior Ministry was trained by the dreaded East German Stasi.
Steve could be secretive and repressive, too. According to Inside Apple author Adam Lashinsky, Steve's company was notorious for "windowless offices, a neutering of egos and an ethos of fear with 'cultish' overtones."
"Staff members who have left the business live in fear of retribution."
There's "A taskforce called the Worldwide Loyalty Team, which some employees have referred to as 'the Apple Gestapo...' a group of moles tasked with spying in Apple headquarters and stores."
EXCEPT THAT, UNDER STEVE, APPLE DIDN'T JAIL ITS DISSIDENTS
Apple might have made their lives difficult.
A dissident Apple employee, instead of being thrown into a dank cell to rot for years, is more likely to go home and bitch to his wife about being fired without two weeks' notice.
Still, Steve was about total control. As was Fidel.
Says the Fidel biographer Peter Bourne, writing in Fidel: A Biography of Fidel Castro, "Fidel's domination of every aspect of the government and the society remains total. His personal need for absolute control seems to have changed little over the years."
Says the Steve biographer, Mr. Lashinsky, "A culture of fear and intimidation found roots throughout the organization," and quoting the Telegraph quoting Mr. Lashinsky, "a dictatorial CEO rules with an iron fist."
Apple's legal team was known for threatening reporters. Censorship is abundant in the App Store.
OH, COME ON: STEVE AND FIDEL ARE NOT THE SAME THING
No, they're not.
But in both cases, we're talking about a huge brand controlled by an enormous ego.
And lest you find a flaw in this thinking, consider what the Wall Street Journal says:
Marketing gurus tell us that
a successful brand functions
as a store of values. It encapsulates
a pool of attractive ideas that
satisfy customers' desire for
meaning. To encourage loyalty
to a brand, they say, the marketer
must cultivate a sense of belonging
and personal identification with
Well, THAT certainly sounds like someone here in this screed is trying to say the "death of a brand" assertion applies equally to a despot in green fatigues as one in a black turtleneck.
UNTIL YOU READ THE NEXT PARAGRAPH OF THE WSJ ARTICLE
Ready? (Remember, this is a quote not from your relentless screed, but Dow Jones & Company's great gray flimsy.)
For many within a core constituency
of left-leaning, relatively well-educated
people both inside and outside Cuba,
Castro's "revolution" achieved precisely
this. To this niche market, Cuba
evokes a set of magical buzz words
long-favored by the radical left:
"resistance," "social justice,"
"struggle." It represents an idealized,
selfless counterpoint to ruthless,
greedy capitalism. It is the alternative
to brand U.S.A.
The title of the WSJ article is "Brand Cuba." It was published on March 11, 2008. It's an indictment of the brand and the ongoing efforts to prop it up and make Fidel's core customer feel one way about the "business," as it were.
Yes, Steve Jobs might have been a petty tyrant with a personal "gestapo."
That's also insider hyperbole.
And nobody was ever forced to live and die beneath the Apple logo. They could come and go as they pleased. (Within reason, of course, depending upon their terms of employment and any non-compete clauses. Nobody was pilfering their stapler and the Scotch Tape dispenser on their way out of Cuba.)
LIVING AND DYING BENEATH THE BANNER OF FIDEL WAS A MANDATE
It still is, but we'll see how long that lasts. So-called "normalization" of relations with Cuba has been underway for a while.
But the point is this: anyone who wishes to, with any business of any size, has the power to build a brand.
That brand can make the core customer feel one way about the business.
That brand can "satisfy customers' desire for meaning."
That brand can even be enormously flawed, run by a spiteful, malicious, vindictive, nasty egomaniac with a charming public face.
That brand can be led a bespectacled man in a black turtleneck.
Or by a bearded man in green battle dress.
Yes, the U.S. brand is flawed these days. But its liberty and light still far outweigh the tropical darkness that reigns over Havana.
AS FOR YOUR BRAND, YOU ARE UNLIKELY DESPOT MATERIAL
Despots don't read the screed.
You are able to "satisfy customers' desire for meaning."
You can dress the part of your brand. (Many brand representatives do.)
You can even promote "social justice," "struggle," and "represent an idealized, selfless counterpoint" to whatever market evil you desire.
I would love to always wear a seersucker suit and a Panama hat as I launch a market offensive against vocal fry and slack-jawed up-speak.
Not sure I see a lot of potential profit in that, but I would be applauded by throngs of people of a certain age.
And I certainly wouldn't be forcing anyone to live with me on that island.
Yes, your brand is an island.
It should a preserve, not a prison.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
IS THERE A NEW THANKSGIVING BRAND?
Let's face it.
There will be food.
There will be blood.
Thanksgiving is a holiday that is forever connected to food, more food, and even more food.
And this year, it'll also be connected to rampant intrafamily animosities about politics.
It is recommended that during the meal, all the family's firearms be kept locked in the gun safe, the combination changed to something only mother knows. (And no, she should not be allowed to carry her pink camo Lady Derringer under her apron.)
STILL, THERE WILL LIKELY BE MORE FOOD THAN GUNPLAY
Is anything more uniquely American than the consumption of mass quantities as celebrated in the late 1970s by the SNL's Beldar, Prymaat and Connie Conehead?
Force-feeding oneself mass quantities of turkey and carbs in the name of thanks and remembrance is the kind of thing that could happen only in the U.S.
And in part, that mass consumption is due to the cornucopia made possible by the 20th century food industrial complex.
About a year ago, Fortune magazine gave us an article on "The History of America's Favorite Thanksgiving Brands."
IT READS LIKE A WHO'S WHO OF CORPORATE FOOD GIANTS
The list represents a series of entrenched products that seem almost like a holiday menu cliché:
BECAUSE 100 YEARS AGO, EVERYONE WAS A LOCAVORE
They just didn't know it or have a silly portmanteau to describe it.
Or so we're told by locavore foodie Mark Bittman, who wants us to eat more locally, seasonally and sustainably.
I live in Utah and this time of year, I should be eating more poached sagebrush.
Mr. Bittman's position is that (in my likely wildly inaccurate Reader's Digest logline), by definition, food is something that must nourish and sustain--and most products in a supermarket fail that test.
Personally, as a sometimes junkavore, I find the nourishment and sustenance properties provided by Pringles and beer to be greatly underrated. Even if Pringles do not resemble anything found in nature. At least not since the disappearance of Idaho's great potato slurry swamps of the early 1800s. But I digress.
SO, IF EVERYONE IN THE EARLY 1900S WAS A LOCAVORE...
...what did a thanksgiving menu look like?
What To Have For Dinner, a 1905 Fannie Farmer cookbook, is good enough to provide a glimpse with this Thanksgiving menu:
And if you live in mountainous northern Utah, trust me: there are no oyster beds, cranberry bogs or chicken-pie farms. Locavorism is out the window.
THAT MENU ALSO SOUNDS AS EXPENSIVE AS IT DOES FESTIVE
This can't be what an average family was putting in the table a century ago. It must've been quite dear.
Not to mention turnips, or oyster anything, would have produced a high quotient of whining and grumbling in our house.
(Personally, I love oysters and turnips now. But like many of us, Blaine Parker version 1.0 was a product of the standard suburban American menu that eschews anything challenging the meat and potatoes paradigm.)
A 1900 issue of Good Housekeeping reigns it all in somewhat with this menu for a budget:
Well, even if the Good Housekeeping core customer was a locavore by default, this menu is starting to sound somewhat similar to that from Fortune magazine's Thanksgiving brand champions. Except that it seems unlikely that in 1900, any of the ingredients were processed.
BUT 21ST CENTURY ALT THANKSGIVING IS BEGINNING TO REAR ITS PIERCED AND TATTOOED HEAD
Not everyone likes turkey and stuffing.
The vegetarians and vegans among us will skewer the whole idea of turkey.
The self-diagnosed gluten intolerants proclaim a pox on bready stuffings.
Epicurious provides a glimpse into a crumbling tradition of turkey dinners.
One vegetarian family doesn't allow themselves sugary breakfasts, so they prepare a huge stack of pancakes.
Another anti-turkey contingent celebrates each year with a meal from a different nation. Their favorite theme is Mexican. "We usually start the meal with fresh Topolo margaritas and ceviche. For the main course we've made chile-bathed sweet potatoes; charcoal-grilled corn with cream, cheese, and chile; pork- and fruit-stuffed chiles in white walnut sauce; and braised short ribs with chiles de árbol, white beans, mushrooms, and beer. For dessert we make a version of a key-lime pie and chocolate flan."
WHOO, LOOKING FOR THAT DIGESTIF AGAIN
And maybe a Tums.
Now, if you subscribe to the Thanksgiving revisionism that's out there, maybe you believe it's a good idea to blow out the whole idea of turkey traditionalism in favor of something that offers nary a nod to the Pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation and their Native American turncoat buddy Squanto. A pox on turkey! Get the whole clan ratcheted to the gills on sugared-up tequila cocktails and then feed 'em beans!
Hello, a hangover full of farts.
Well, here's another fly in the cranberry ointment.
According to Wiki-So-It-Must-Be-True-Pedia, "The first documented thanksgiving services in territory currently belonging to the United States were conducted by Spaniards and the French in the 16th century."
Following the footnote citations provided therein, it becomes apparent that Spanish Catholics at St. Augustine and French Huguenots at Jacksonville both predated the pilgrim festival of thanks in Plymouth. (It also didn't snow there in Florida, and they probably had better college football games.)
AND THEN, OF COURSE, THERE'S THE POST-ELECTION THANKSGIVING HELL
It's still November and the pain is fresh.
Thanksgiving offers all kinds of fun when rolled up with the traditional family members who look askance at the contemporary non-traditional lifestyles.
The family homestead often doesn't provide designated safe zones.
Dad doesn't bother with trigger warnings.
And when his daughter's wife with the facial tattoos and forehead piercings brings along their newborn vegan baby of color, all bets are off for a peaceful meal that doesn't devolve into a festival of tears and bile.
Not that tears and bile are anything new at Thanksgiving.
It just comes with different issues, all shiny and new.
THE THANKSGIVING BRAND IS AS IT ALWAYS WAS
It is the single most popular and most traveled holiday of the year.
Regardless of how you celebrate it, it remains a festival of food and remembrance.
It also remains a time for families to air their drunken grievances over a hearty meal with a huge carbon footprint.
Yet somehow, we all continue to celebrate it with minimal trips to the emergency room and only a modicum of gunplay.
Traditionalist or revisionist, gourmet or not, however you choose to celebrate, have a fabulous feast .
We're thankful for the health of our family and friends. Our clients, too.
And we at the screed are also thankful for you, dear reader.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WHAT ARE YOU PEOPLE THINKING? OR ARE YOU?
There's a scourge sweeping this land of ours.
It has been fueled by reality TV.
It's prompting Americans to make foolish decisions.
Soon, the landscape will be dotted with the detritus left by this toxic trend.
Of course, you know of what we're speaking here.
AIEEE! TINY HOUSES!
The tiny-house movement is taking the country by storm!
Idealists and empty-nesters, weirdos and hipsters, artists and wannabes--all kinds of folks are flocking to the fold.
We're seeing it here where we live, outside of Park City, Utah.
Realtors we know are flooded with phone calls. Starry-eyed dreamers are asking, "If I buy property in X subdivision, can I put a tiny house there?"
There are even stories of an upper middle-class neighborhood near us where a nightmare tiny house is soiling the landscape.
OUR OWN NEIGHBORHOOD IS RURAL AND CHALLENGING
Where we live, we have dirt roads and no phone lines.
In the winter, you're welcome to try driving up here.
But if you don't have 4 x 4 and good snow tires or chains? They probably won't find your body until spring.
A real-estate-agent friend of ours routinely talks to starry-eyed Keebler-elf aspirants who ask if this mountain enclave is a place where they could buy a lot and park a tiny home.
Are you nuts?
Let's forget that the HOA will not allow erection of a temporary structure for longer than six months. (After all, we do have CC&Rs. We are not total animals.)
Let's consider that the real estate market at large has been superheated by the Vail Resorts empire sweeping into town and creating the nation's largest ski resort.
LAND HERE IS NO KIND OF BARGAIN-BASEMENT VALUE
Do you really want to buy an unimproved lot for double the price of your microscopic mobile chalet so you can park it here and live without electric or water until you become hermetically sealed inside your bungalow box by the epic snowfalls of the Wasatch back--the same kinds of snows that engulfed the Donner party and drove them to cannibalism?
Again--they will not find your body until spring.
But let's forget the impracticalities of living in a house on wheels--a space whose layout is constrained by the limitations of the United States Department of Transportation.
CAN YOU REALLY LIVE IN THERE?
You and your partner?
In a space the size and shape of a well-decorated shipping container?
"Yes, it's small and has bad feng shui. But look at the cute drawer pulls in the kitchen! You can even see them from the bedroom!"
Do your house guests mind sleeping with their head in the oven and their feet in the composting toilet? ("It's green, ya know!")
As Austin-based freelance writer, Lauren Modery says in her "Dear People Who Live In Fancy Tiny Houses":
What the hell happens when your
tiny house partner farts Mexican
food farts, huh? Where do you
escape to? Nowhere. You have
nowhere to run. All you can do
is walk three feet to the other
end of the house and pray.
This pungent speculation helps smoke out one of the greater challenges with tiny living: the people who are doing it simply aren't considering the long-term logistical realities of the format.
BUT LET'S FORGET ABOUT FUNCTION VS. FRAGRANCE FOR A MOMENT
Let's look at the fiscal foolishness that's driving people over the horizon with elfen treehouse cookie bakeries strapped to their bumpers.
Let's look at the young dreamers driving into the sunset with "The house of our dreams!"
This epic foolishness was driven home recently with an episode of one of the plethora of tiny-house reality shows on that sinister and tiny-house titillater, HGTV.
A local couple, some kids who had been working in restaurant right here in Park City, were hunting for a tiny home.
THEY WANTED SOMETHING TO "CALL THEIR OWN"
These two aspiring chefs were planning a move to the Pacific northwest.
With a budget of $50,000, they were planning on ditching their "huge," 1,200 square-foot apartment and taking to the road with "something we own!"
The story line followed the model of all of these shows where people hunt for homes.
After looking at three tiny homes on wheels, they picked one.
After making their marks upon it, they drove away on Interstate 84 towards the land of seasonal affective disorder, presumably in search of abundant coffee, rain, and small amounts of marijuana for personal use only.
"AND WE OWN IT!"
Yes, you own it.
An uncomfortable, impractical, depreciating asset on wheels.
It's not like you kids bought actual real estate.
There's no hope of that diminutive domicile appreciating in value over time.
As you drive towards the rainforests of the great American northwest, see that cloud in your rearview mirror?
It's made up of dollar bills fluttering out the door of your mobile abode.
Do you even understand anything about investing?
A TINY-HOUSE IS A BLACK HOLE
You've just paid $50,000 for a box on wheels that requires you haul it with a full-size pickup truck.
If you had simply driven to Seattle, rented a tiny apartment for 750 bucks a month, found a job, and invested, say, $40,000 of your nest egg in a total markets index fund at roughly 6% return, in one year you'll have several thousand dollars more in your pocket (plus whatever you're making at your greasy kitchen job).
Or, if you'd spent $8,000 on a used travel trailer, you would have bought a living situation that holds its value fairly well, you'd still have $42,000 in your pocket, and also have exactly as much flexibility as living in the claustrophobic cabin of your wildest 20-something dreams.
Or, if you're industrious, you might even have been able to find a tiny condo, or a tiny house without wheels, and use your available cash as a down payment on actual real estate, which is an appreciating asset. (Hint: that typically means you make money instead of losing it.)
As The Fabulous Honey Parker said just the other day, as we were driving past the Park City RV Park, "There's a tiny home in there. All the camping trailers and motorhomes are laughing at it."
KIDS, YOU BOUGHT INTO A DREAM DESTINED TO BRING YOU DOWN
You're young and unemployed in a job category that doesn't pay well.
You threw everything you have at a depreciating asset.
Parking and maintaining that depreciating asset will require some kind of monthly "rent."
The resale market for used tiny homes is a buyer's market, for sure--because nobody is buying the damned things.
People across the country are abandoning their dreams of tiny-home living, which have been dashed upon the rocks of financial reality.
But you own it! Wheeeeee!
BUT THANK YOU, REALITY TV
The reality is that they're selling a flawed dream to the uninformed and unsophisticated in the name of entertainment.
And those starry-eyed viewers are taking it all as some kind of gospel and chasing those dreams to possible financial insolvency.
Certainly, there are people who can make it work.
But if you look at the folks who build tiny homes on an actual plot of land, one of the first things you see them do is MAKE THEM BIGGER.
Reality TV is no basis for making real life decisions.
It is entertainment at best.
Following the lead of reality TV could mean entertaining ourselves to death.
Change the channel on that tiny brain, please. Make it bigger.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
AH, HOPE FOR TOMORROW...
"Your hopes have become my hopes and your dreams have become my dreams."
"We can give every parent the right to send their kids to the school of their choice, including millions of low-income African-American and Hispanic children who have been failed for generations..."
"It is time to cut our ties with the failed politicians of the past, and embrace a bright, new future for all of our people."
"I pledge to fight for the right of every child in America to grow up in safety and peace..."
"Real change also means draining the swamp of corruption in Washington."
OR, MAYBE SOME OTHER HOPE FOR THE FUTURE?
"We can build an economy that works for everyone..."
"We can come together to build a stronger, fairer America."
"We will put forward the biggest investment in new jobs since World War II. We'll invest in infrastructure and manufacturing to grow our economy for years to come."
"America, if you can dream it, you should be able to build it."
"We will introduce comprehensive immigration reform legislation."
"We need to get secret, unaccountable money out of our politics."
WHICH CANDIDATE PROFFERED WHICH BLATHER?
Does it even matter?
If you're interested, those are direct quotes from the presidential candidates' respective op-ed pieces in USA Today, published Monday. (Yesterday).
Both screeds are filled with grand promises that ring as hollow as an empty oil drum.
And the major difference between the two candidates' brands?
It seems that one is widely regarded as repulsive.
The other is widely regarded as, "At least we're not him."
The political consultants get paid money for this?
EVERYONE'S FED UP
Half of everyone is planning to leave the country.
An ad agency in Sweden is preparing to hire copywriters and art directors wishing to flee a Trump presidency.
Interestingly, as ugly as things have been for the last 11 months, it isn't the race of 1876.
Smithsonian calls that contest, "The ugliest, most contentious and most controversial presidential election in U.S. history."
Uglier than 2016?
Smithsonian continues, "Throughout the campaign, [his] opposition had called him everything from a briber to a thief to a drunken syphilitic."
Well, nobody in the 2016 campaign has trotted out that old chestnut.
"Suspicion of voter fraud in Republican-controlled states was rampant."
Hmm. Well, that's sounding more familiar.
In what ultimately became a truly ugly contest, the candidate whose presidency would have been a "national disaster" finally conceded.
Rutherford B. Hayes became president and oversaw Reconstruction, which begins a whole other series of historical question marks.
But back to today.
It's Election Day 2016.
"THE AMERICAN PEOPLE ARE HUNGRY FOR NEW IDEAS AND NEW VOICES"
You got that right.
That hunger is how a nobody came out of nowhere with his "I'm better than them" brand. He has taken some corners of the nation by storm--with barely a million dollars in donations. (Hillary has raised 687 times that figure. Trump has raised 250 times that, plus ostensibly throwing in his own pocket change from between the sofa cushions.)
This unknown candidate spent 10 years of his career "spearheading counterterrorism and intelligence operations in some of the most dangerous places on earth."
He's now working for the Investment Banking Division at Goldman Sachs in San Francisco, and has been a senior advisor to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
His vice-presidential candidate is a "Tech Titan" and founded "a non-profit working to expand and diversify the conversation on feminism and women's equality."
She has worked at Twitter "heading up strategic partnerships in Washington, D.C." Her work "focuses on technology's impact on politics and democracy, and she has built tools and programs to empower individuals to organize and shape policy."
WOW! WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE?!
It'll never happen, of course.
They'll never be elected.
And to many punditing away in the punditsphere, the Evan McMullin & Mindy Finn ticket--despite the "new ideas/new voices" brand--really has nothing new to offer anyone in any way that matters.
The most you can say for them is that, by splitting conservative votes in the state, they'll possibly throw Utah to Hillary.
We are not here to prognosticate or to even suggest who's worth voting for.
Both the Trump brand and the Hillary brand are problematic at best.
And their brands, in turn, are thrusting the American brand into a jaundiced light for our friends abroad.
WHAT'S A VOTER TO DO?
Once it's all over tonight, get up off the floor.
Dust yourself off.
Wipe away whatever that is on your chin.
Put the empty liquor bottles into the recycling bin.
And continue pushing your own brand forward.
Rugged individualism has been the persevering brand of the American Dream.
And with any luck, the rugged individuals can overcome whatever absurdities await in D.C.
IT'S HAPPENED BEFORE
We'll do it again.
In the meantime, we can look to Mark Twain for his reminder that, "All Congresses and Parliaments have a kindly feeling for idiots, and a compassion for them, on account of personal experience and heredity."
Here's to four years of prosperity through brand!
Oh, and by the way: the USA Today quotes from the beginning of the screed?
The first group of quotes is from Trump.
The second group of quotes is from Hillary.
If you care.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
LOUSY BRANDING, BIG MONEY
Here's the topline version of Dan and Penny's story: they turned a single food truck into minor franchise empire.
How does a fan of small-business branding not immediately want to know more?
Plus, you already know how your relentless scribe's brain works.
Small-business brand made good!
Husband & wife couplepreneur team make it big!
A screed AND a story for CoupleCo!
NOT SO FAST
If this is a husband & wife business, then someone is required to gouge out their own eyes.
Penny and Dan are mother and son.
Oedipal potential notwithstanding, they've built what one of the nation's "top emerging franchise opportunities." (Source: Franchise Gator.)
And to be completely candid, their branding elements are awful.
But what the business lacks in image finesse, they make up for in other brand elements that are too often lacking:
- The right attitude well honed;
- A clear identification of the core customer;
- A smart business model delivered consistently.
ABOUT THAT FOOD TRUCK...
Once upon a time, Penny had a business slinging calzones.
She did it from a food truck that debuted at an enormous state fair in New England.
After four years of mom popping cheesy-hot pocket pies out a window, Penny's son Dan decided to open a physical, brick & mortar location in the college town of Amherst, Mass.
Dan is no dummy.
The population of Amherst is just over 30,000. And the student body at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is just under 30,000.
Amherst has a lot of students.
And a college town with a lot of students always has a screaming need for a very specific kind of food.
HELLO, LATE-NIGHT DRUNK FOOD!
Doughy cheesy tomato-saucy late-night goodness.
As the brand likes to say of themselves, they are the "pizza alternative."
Think about how much more convenient a calzone is than a pizza.
It's small, whereas pizzas take up a lot of space.
Pizzas get cold, while calzone filling stays hot.
The calzone is made in a single-serving size.
And making the calzones available until 4am daily?
If you read the reviews of their stores, you're going to find 1) a lot of praise heaped upon them by students who've been drunk and needed a fix, and 2) a lot of fond memories from former students who loved their late-night calzones and packed on 40 pounds freshman year.
TODAY, THERE ARE MORE THAN TWO-DOZEN OF THESE STORES ACROSS THE NATION
And to a store, they are all in college towns.
And as the brilliant-red neon sign in the store window says, each of them is "OPEN CRAZY LATE!"
Whether they've consciously developed a customer avatar or not, it's pretty simple to name their core customer: Drunk Student!
And the management obviously understands how to motivate their employees and keep them customer-focused. The customer reviews reflect the good attitude inside each store.
Moreover, if you read the workplace reviews from employees, you see lots of sentiment similar to this: "an awesome team that really buys into the idea of teamwork. The pay isn't great, and the hours really aren't much fun, but the people there are incredible."
SO, WHAT'S THE NAME OF THIS GENIUS FAST-FOOD MODEL?
Well, this is where it starts to get dicey. Ready?
Yep. That's the name of one of the nation's top emerging franchise opportunities.
If your brand is the one way the core customer should feel about your business, here's the one way I feel about that name: Blech! Get that dough off my teeth!
The "D.P." part is from "Dan" and "Penny."
The "dough" part refers to the medium from which a calzone crust is made.
Does it make you cringe? Makes me cringe.
And their logo is equally challenging.
"OOH, LOOK! CLIP ART AND FONTS! YAY!"
There's a cartoon drawing of a running chef holding out a paper bag.
The name of the company is spelled out in a dated-looking, unsophisticated font. (At least they didn't use Comic Sans.)
And the overall color scheme is red, white and black. (Granted, so is Jimmy John's. But relatively speaking, Jimmy John's is far more refined--if you can believe that.)
Now, in defense of the graphic designer who created the current logo, he was presented with serious limitations. He did the best he could with what he was given, i.e. an even clunkier image that could be refined only, not dumped entirely. He has far better work in his portfolio, and D.P. Dough had a problem that could be solved only within limited parameters.
That said, it all started in a really unappetizing place and has remained there.
I AM NOT DRUNK STUDENT!
I am not the core customer. I am not 20 and wearing beer goggles and looking for a meat, cheese & carb fix at 2:00 in the morning.
Though sometimes, you might wonder.
That aside, here's the thing...
It's a business being shepherded by people who understand their core customer.
They understand how to motivate their employees.
They understand what they're selling and how they're selling it.
They understand consistency of voice.
They understand the customer experience.
And the entire operation's growth has been engineered by a fellow who figures he ate over 100 calzones during his college years, and joined D.P. Dough after retiring as a Vice President at a powerhouse brand: Verizon Wireless.
FOCUS IS EVERYTHING
The D.P. Dough brand image is cheezy and artless.
But how upscale do you need to look when your core customer is Drunk Student?
"Yay, I'm broke and this place is as unsophisticated as I am! Woo hoo!"
Seriously: if you visit D.P. Dough's own YouTube channel, there is low-grade video, shot outside a gas station late at night, featuring Drunk Students chewing with their mouths open, and blathering about how much they love these calzones and can't believe they never tried them before.
Now I just feel unclean.
This is the point where we should be talking about how potent the brand is despite the obvious shortcomings of the image system.
But now, I'm mired in the molten cheese and sauce of The Decline Of Western Civilization.
DON'T WORRY, I WILL NOT START TALKING ABOUT THE ELECTION
I understand my core customer here.
And the reader of the screed is a) too refined to discuss politics or religion in polite company, and b) is not someone who would stand outside a gas station late at night, drunk and drooling at a video camera while shoving a calzone into your maw.
Anyway, D.P. Dough is not the cause of our culture circling the drain.
But they do understand the person to whom they're speaking, and who might be symptomatic of that decline.
You, dear reader, are someone else. You hold yourself to a higher standard.
And we can only hope Drunk Student might eventually get there.
In the meantime, remember: no matter your brand, if you understand your core customer, dedicate yourself to serving that person consistently and well, you can overcome a whole bunch of shortcomings.
Long live artisan pizza and good wine.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.