Excerpts from Chapter 5: Story-Telling Creates Even Bigger Brands

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Stories can form a strong emotional connection between a consumer and a product or service. This method of connectivity creates messages that are remembered, and brand recall translates as brand loyalty. In our public relations practice, we advocate creating a “brand personality,” but through authentic stories about real people and companies.

When a talent agent named Wally Amos, formerly with the William Morris Agency, started a cookie company, promoting the cookie as he did the musical acts that he represented, he gave the new company a persona and created a captivating and true story around it. In our contemporary society, which is shaped by the entertainment industry, this insightful, authentic and progressive marketing strategy eventually sparked a trend among food companies—and later thousands of consumer product companies, from custom motorcycles to beauty products. Today, many successful brands utilize this strategy, which includes telling an interesting, memorable and authentic story.

Consumers react positively to stories of real people who stand behind their brands. Orville Redenbacher, the botanist and businessman who created the popcorn that bears his name, was one, and so too was Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Another excellent example of a businessperson who became his own spokesman and who developed an extraordinarily positive relationship with consumers was Dave Thomas. The founder and chief executive officer of Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers, he is known for having appeared personally in more than 600 commercials for his restaurant chain, more than any other person in television history. And who can forget Victor Kiam, the president of Remington Products, the maker of razors and small appliances? Kiam appeared in ads for Remington razors saying that “I liked it so much, I bought the company!”

Meanwhile, the use of well-known celebrities, such as sports figures, with no integral connection with the company or product often backfires, particularly when they endorse several products, which consumers recognize and resent. A classic case is that of Hertz using a record-setting football player who won the Heisman Trophy as a running back for the University of Southern California, and who later played with the Buffalo Bills. His name was O.J. Simpson. He was a paid endorser who had nothing whatsoever to do with Hertz as a company. Professional public speakers often use this manipulation technique as well, though often with fabricated, unauthentic stories.
Other examples of faux spokespersons who are in stark contrast to Harland Sanders or Wally Amos are people such as Betty Crocker, the fictional female spokesmodel created in 1921 by the Washburn Crosby Company (later General Mills) to answer mail that they received about baking with Gold Medal Flour, and Aunt Jemima, the fictional woman with a big smile who began promoting the products of the Davis Milling Company in the 1890s.
While many people still believe that Betty Crocker and Aunt Jemima were actually real, other companies have chosen spokesmodels that are more easily identified as fictitious. These range from the Campbell Soup Kids and the Chicken of the Sea Mermaid, to the Jolly Green Giant, Mr. Clean and Ronald McDonald.

There was also the lonely Maytag Repairman, who appeared in countless television commercials between 1967 and 1988. He was actually an actor named Jesse White who was hired by the Leo Burnett Advertising Agency in Chicago. And who can forget Mr. Whipple, the persnickety storekeeper who admonished ladies not to squeeze the Charmin’ toilet paper from 1965 to 1989? In a 1979 poll, Mr. Whipple was the third most recognized man in America, but that wasn’t even his own name or identity. In fact, Mr. Whipple was really actor Dick Wilson—who earned a spot in the Guinness Book of Records for the longest commercial run in history—but who had nothing to do with the product or the company.

While these characters captured the attention of consumers at a time when television commercials were viewed as genuine representations of reality, today’s smart, ultra-busy consumer views television advertising with a healthy dose of skepticism—a compelling reason to create and develop more genuine spokespersons and brands.
Characters such as Dave Thomas and Wally Amos are much more compelling, because they have both charming personalities and stories that really are authentic. When Wally Amos founded his chocolate chip cookie brand and became “Famous” Amos, he actually baked the cookies.

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