Saturday, July 18, 2015

Killer expectations

by Cecelia Ottenweller

“Any progress on BB?” This was the email I found in my inbox as I toyed with my phone one recent evening. I was drinking some water at the time and almost choked.


I’d forgotten I’d promised a blog entry on the brand of Edward Teach, AKA Blackbead, the notorious pirate.

Interestingly, the email interrupted my evening plans to relax by hanging out in my jammies and watching The Pirate with Judy Garland and the oh-so-sexy Gene Kelly for the umpteen thousandth time.

You may not know this delightful little piece of celluloid fun; it’s a Cole Porter musical that suffered greatly during filming from emotional drama behind the scenes. The plot is fun, though: Garland plays Manuela, a dreamy young woman living with her aunt and uncle in a small town in the interior of an unnamed Caribbean island. The family was once well off, but thanks to her uncle’s gambling debts, it is necessary to marry sweet Manuela off to an older man: the chubby, mustachioed Don Pedro Vargas, who also happened to be the very wealthy town mayor.

Manuela consents, but she’s secretly, madly in love with—and perpetually fantasizing about—Mack the Black Macoco, a notorious pirate who sails the Caribbean, capturing prizes, burning towns, and ravishing young maidens. He’s everything her young heart wants: dashing, fearless, handsome, willing to do anything it takes to get what he wants…

So, what happens next in The Pirate and what does it have to do with Blackbeard’s brand? Well actually, absolutely everything. 

Engraving of Edward Teach, c1736
First off, who was Blackbeard?
Blackbeard’s pirate career lasted only three very short years, but in that time he gained a reputation that has lasted literally hundreds of years. This is amazing: his story takes place during the Golden Age of Piracy and his peers included the notorious and bloodthirsty Charles Vane; the dashing Calico Jack Rackham; and pirate viragos Anne Bonney and Mary Reed. Of that class, however, Blackbeard has the most lasting legacy.

According to Captain Charles Johnson, author of the 1724 best seller, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, Blackbeard’s real name was Edward Teach a mariner from Bristol, England. He shipped aboard a privateer during Queen Anne’s war against France and Spain, from 1701 - 1714.

Privateers were a type of licensed piracy. Back then, paid navies were small, so governments at war gave private ships a letter of marque licensing them to attack enemy’s vessels during wartime. They legally raided and plundered as opposed to being full-blown pirates who illegally raided and plundered. Truly, this was a very fine line.

Privateering was what Teach knew: His career choices at the end of the war were very limited for men with his skill set. He could join the navy or a merchant ship as just another crewman with little chance of advancement, or he could ship with someone who had, let’s say, a more “entrepreneurial vision” as a pirate and rapidly climb the corporate ladder. Teach was 34 year old man with ample ambition and by all accounts he was quite intelligent. His choice must have seemed very simple.

He at first sailed with pirate Captain Hornigold before taking command of one of the band’s prizes. Hornigold became an honest man, however, and took advantage of the Royal Pardon offered by Woodes Rogers, the British governor of Port Royal. This left Teach to his own devices and he took advantage of the opportunity to captain his own ship.

The Birth of the Blackbeard Brand
A pirate’s career was notoriously short and Teach must have recognized that fact when developing—to use modern parlance—his overall business strategy. If he was going to be successful, it had to happen fast. There wasn’t much time to build his brand and command his niche before he’d be bumped off his pedestal.

Teach was a very smart man and he seemed to have the heart of a master marketer: He instinctively knew that a well-developed brand would do the bulk of his work, so he deliberately created Blackbeard the Pirate, the fearsome son of Satan who sailed the Caribbean, taking what he wanted, leaving only death and destruction in his path.

According to Captain Johnson (who writes like he knew the man personally), Teach took advantage of what he had, namely a tall, muscular stature and a “… large quantity of hair which, like a frightful meteor, covered his whole face and frightened America more than any comet that has appeared there a long time.”

A common depiction of Blackbeard, wide-eyed and mad.
That massive beard became the centerpiece of Teach’s Blackbeard brand graphic standards. Here’s a more complete description of this new persona:
“This beard was black, which he suffered to grown of an extravagant length; as to breadth, it came up to his eyes. He was accustomed to twist it with ribbons, in small tails, after the manner of our ramilies wigs, and turn them about his ears. In time of action, he wore a sling over his shoulders with three brace of pistols hanging in holsters like bandoliers, and stuck lighted matches under his hat, which, appearing on each side of his face, his eyes naturally looking fierce and wild, made him altogether such a figure, that imagination cannot form an idea of a fury, from hell, to look more frightful.”
Once created, Blackbeard then bolstered his brand by fueling rumors of his bloodthirsty nature. He plied this new persona at every possible opportunity. The more dramatic he appeared and behaved, the more wild the rumors.

Map of Ocracoke Inlet. 1775
This is important: there were far more successful pirates of his time in that they made oodles more money than Blackbeard. But, go ahead and ask the question: how many people did Blackbeard actually kill? Well, to tell the truth—outside of the battle at Ocracoke Inlet where he was finally done in—none. Blackbeard successfully leveraged this fearsome persona to achieve fast surrender by his targets with minimal damage to his assets.

Truly, of the pirates that who sailed during the Golden Age of Piracy, Blackbeard was the most skillful at leveraging his brand to get what he wanted with minimum effort. His name immediately communicated ruthlessness and it struck terror in the hearts of honest men throughout the Caribbean and English colonies. He literally became a legend in a very short period of time. And that legend paid off in spades: more often than not, captains quickly surrendered when they saw Blackbeard’s flag flying on the mast of an approaching ship. They reasoned it was better to do that than to suffer the torments rumored from previous conquests.

Let’s not be mistaken, however: even though he didn’t kill many people, this was not a nice guy. He burned ships and marooned people, and he was astoundingly atrocious in his marital relationships (he went to the altar fourteen times). Blackbeard did, however, shoot one of his sailors, Israel Hands, in the kneecap without provocation, claiming, “that if he did not now and then kill one of them, they would forget who he was.” So, let’s all agree he was somewhat unbalanced and leave it at that. (Incidentally, Hands made out decently in the end; of the men who were captured after Blackbeard was killed, Hands was one of two pirates who were acquitted while the rest hanged.)

Blackbeard's flag: A skeleton toasting Satan and stabbing a heart.
Here’s one of the best examples of how he successfully leveraged his notorious brand: With a gargantuan crew of nearly 300 deployed on his three ships—the Revenge, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and Adventure—Blackbeard blockaded the port town of Charleston. He easily captured ships coming into and out of the harbor with barely a shot fired; he simply hoisted his flag, showed his face surrounded by smoldering firecrackers tied to his beard, and everyone turned their hands up. He took several hostages during the blockade and threatened to hang them – men, women, and children—unless the town delivered a large chest full of medicines to his flagship. Frightened out of their wits, Charleston gave in to his demands and Blackbeard happily released his hostages after, of course, fleecing them for all they had, including clothing. They reportedly walked onto the quay in their underwear or were outright naked.

When a Good Brand Goes Bad…
Blackbeard’s fearsome brand, combined with his innate recklessness, ultimately did him in. If he had been a quieter sort, less interested in the limelight, less ambitious, he might have slipped away and led a quiet retirement with his fourteenth wife but no. Because he was “the notorious Blackbeard” he became a prime and visible target. He flaunted his cozy relationship with the Governor of North Carolina and
Capture of Blackbeard, 1718, Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1920
set up a hangout on the Virginia border. Fed up with the pirate’s predations, Virginia governor Alexander Spotswood took it upon himself to place a one hundred English pound price on Blackbeard’s head, dead or alive…preferably dead.

Lieutenant Maynard of the British Royal Navy very quickly took chase after the bounty was set, cornering Blackbeard in Ocracoke Inlet on the shore of North Carolina on November 22nd, 1718. It took 25 saber and gunshot wounds to finally bring Blackbeard down. Maynard cut the head off and hung it from the yardarm of his sloop, the notorious black beard saturated and dripping with the pirate’s blood.

Move over Coke: Pirates have a Killer Brand
When he looked into the mirror and made the decision to capitalize on that full beard of black hair, Edward Teach created something much bigger than anything he could possibly have imagined in that moment. The Blackbeard brand is a timeless representative of not just ruthlessness and danger, but also boldness, daring, lawlessness, and adventure. (Basically, the male gender run amok.) In essence, Blackbeard’s legacy has become, in many ways, the establishment of the overall “pirate” brand.

How so? Let’s do the list:

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute:
Blackbeard set the standard for the proper pirate as a complete desperado, living totally outside the boundaries of acceptable society. His entire purpose in life was to take what he wanted by any means while laughing in the face of likely death. Here is an individual who does not value convention and who is not afraid of what his mother might think of his behavior.
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position.
He is the devil incarnate, a larger than life inhuman demon risen from the depths of hell, with fireworks bursting from his hideous black beard and a mad piggy glint in his bulging eyes. Better hand over your ship/town/purse/girlfriend or he’ll haul your soul down to hell with him.
3. Develop a brand personality that customers can use to introduce the brand.
Blackbeard the pirate.
4. Establish identity standards
  • Bushy, nappy beard with ribbons, set a-flame with firecrackers
  • Brace of pistols crisscrossed over his chest
  • Full brocaded coat with many gold buttons, likely taken off some poor guy who gave it to him just before being stripped of all his goods and sent home in an empty ship
  • Loud bellowing laugh, emitted just before brandishing one of aforesaid pistols and a long curved saber while throwing someone’s girlfriend over his shoulder
  • Big cockaded hat. (He likely had it reblocked in Tortuga during his last weekend off.)
6. Consistent and unique execution of the branding program:
Cannon recovered from wreck of Queen Anne's Revenge
Throughout his brand building process, Edward Teach was very consistent, with no historical reports of his straying from his established standards. In fact, he frequently solidified the overall “pirate” brand position with very creative marketing efforts, including:
  • Marooning 17 men on a desert island
  • Deliberately running two of his ships ashore in order to divide his crew and run off with most of the loot
  • Marrying a 16 year old girl as his fourteenth wife
  • Being in cahoots with the governor of North Carolina and paying him ample bribes to support Blackbeard’s business operations
  • Taking a royal pardon as a “shelter” until he got a good rest, then went out pirating again
  • Having a notorious sunken pirate ship, which was then found hundreds of years later and became the cornerstone of a museum to Blackbeard’s legacy

Meanwhile, back in Hollywood…
So, let’s go back to The Pirate and Manuela’s impending nuptials to Don Pedro.

Gene Kelly plays Seraphim, the star of a traveling troop of actors. He happens to see the sweet Manuela when she’s traveling to pick up her wedding dress at port and it’s love/lust at first sight. He accidentally finds out about her passionate fantasies about Mack the Black Macoco and what happens next is pure deliciousness as only Hollywood can dish it out.

I won’t spoil the plot, but let’s just say Kelly successfully adopts all of the power of the “Pirate Brand” to get what he wants. There’s even a fabulous interpretive pirate dance, just in case you miss the point. And, the movie does a nice job of juxtaposing the brand against the real human that lies behind it… but that’s all I’ll say. You’ll just have to put on your jammies, make a batch of popcorn, and find out for yourself.


Cecelia Ottenweller is based in Houston and her resume reads like the mad wanderings of a moonstruck calf. A variety of adventures have prepared Cecelia for her current job, including a 7-year stint as on-air traffic announcer "Ann Parker" on Houston's news talk stations, and a career as a museum educator at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. She's parlayed this varied experience into a decade-long career as a business communication consultant and Creative Director for HexaGroup Creative in Houston, Texas. She loves travel and currently splits her time between her work as an independent consultant and storyteller in Houston, and gallivanting around the globe.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A new deal for new hope

Roosevelt the outdoorsman
Part Two: By 1932, Roosevelt was poised for national office. He'd slugged it out on a state level with the Tammany Hill political establishment—he won some and lost some. And he learned that a certain locality was necessary even on a national stage. So he made sure to mend fences with his former political nemesis. Fate had also dealt blows to Roosevelt, with the first two being typhus and the 1918 Flu. While the last blow was polio, this may have been the one that helped his fighting spirit emerge. This may also have been spurred by his competitive nature. Roosevelt was a very active young man, having learned shooting, rowing, polo and golf, not to mention sailing. Competition and sportsmanship were attributes that added to a quiver of already inherent presidential qualities.

The DNA of Roosevelt includes genuine Americanism. He is from Dutch stock that came to the New World in time to fight for independence, making FDR a Son of the American Revolution. His great grandfather, Isaac Roosevelt, not only fought, he was steeped in politics as well. He served in the New York state assembly and was also a member of the state Constitutional Convention. That was the Roosevelt side. His maternal grandfather was the foundation of the family wealth earned from his China trade activities—importing opium and tea to be specific. The family wealth afforded FDR education by travel. Many visits to Europe allowed him to hone his conversational skills in both French and German, obviously serving him down the road. To be sure, Roosevelt went to elite schools. In fact one of his headmasters was a great influence, suggesting that students not only help the less fortunate, but also enter public life. And for public life, Roosevelt had more than one role model. 

Teddy Roosevelt campaign pin
Interestingly, young Roosevelt had met President Grover Cleveland, even spoke with him. Cleveland he whispered to the boy that he hoped he'd never be president, implying that it was a burden—perhaps even a curse. And then there was cousin Theodore Roosevelt, who'd served as president from 1901 to 1909. He had a profound political impact on FDR, despite being a Republican. Theodore was a reformist and his leadership style was anything but passive. Franklin Roosevelt admired these things about his cousin. It should be noted that Franklin Roosevelt followed a similar office ascension as Theodore Roosevelt. Both men served in the New York state legislature, were appointed as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and, of course, served as presidents. Additionally, Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal" was not altogether dissimilar in spirit and some goals as Theodore Roosevelt's less famous but equally progressive "Square Deal" policies from a few decades earlier. Both sought to rein in business and protect the American people. It is politically intriguing that the iconic personification of the Democratic Party was so inspired by and borrowed significantly from a Republican president. 

Ultimately however, two things define Roosevelt going into the election of 1932, and they were the Great Depression and polio. Polio made him human, rather than an elitist. Roosevelt had established an institute to help those with the disease. Add this to his progressive views on just about everything, which were very popular during the depression, and the stage was set to catapult the man into branding history. 

Therefore, submitted for your approval... 

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute. 
Roosevelt developed and packaged a formula to relieve the out-of-work masses, which included recovery programs and reforms to hopefully prevent future similar economic collapses. And its implementation meant a huge expansion in the government's role in the US economy. This was his pitch to America, but it was built on the support of those masses from which he cobbled together a substantial political coalition—united labor unions, big city machines, white ethnics, blacks, and rural white Southerners. He'd learned to work with them during his days in the state assembly and as governor. In contemporary terms, these were people who felt abandoned by the system and pushed aside by the man. Assembling this coalition, Roosevelt wholly realigned American politics after 1932, defining American liberalism for the next thirty years and beyond. 
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand 
The value proposition in Roosevelt's program to battle the Great Depression was hope and optimism for all. Just as he was while editor-in-chief of The Harvard Crimson daily newspaper, Roosevelt was ambitious in his aims, energetic in his activities, and persistently optimistic about a positive outcome and to renew the national spirit and hope for the future. Understanding that he needed to recharge American pride, he made his attitude and determination the the embodiment of his new deal. 

A new deal for hope
3. Develop a personality by which to identify the brand
Roosevelt - for a new deal 

4. Establish graphic standards. 
In terms of look, Roosevelt made it a standard to not be seen as weak. So, rarely was he photographed in a wheelchair and great care was taken to minimize the appearance of his leg braces. In fact there are only three images ever with him seen in a wheelchair. He was always photographed as energetic and confident, or serious and thoughtful.
5. Consistently execute the branding program. 
When taking office after his first election, Roosevelt was intent on making his first hundred days in office count. He kicked off the New Deal with every intent to quickly relieve those worst affected by the depression. But results were not immediate. There was a second new deal in 1936 and in all, included government jobs for the unemployed, policies designed to foster economic growth, and regulation of Wall Street, banks and transportation. Various programs benefitted the unemployed and farmers, and supported labor unions while restricting business and finance. Of note is the fact that much the regulations on business remained in effect until 1985. Still in existence today are the Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Social SecurityAdministration.
America struggled to climb out of the depression. While the New Deal certainly provided relief and political confidence, it remains arguable whether the programs actually "pulled" the US economy up. Given that Europe and Asia were building up for war, it could be argued that those are the coals that fired the global economy. It must also be said that as World War II approached, and despite Roosevelt's efforts to remain officially neutral, his goal of making America the "Arsenal of Democracy" by supplying material support to the Allies, aided industrial recovery. Once the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was endured, the rest of the Roosevelt presidency became history. During the war, unemployment dropped to 2%, relief programs largely ended, and the industrial economy exploded as millions moved to wartime factory jobs or entered military service. After the war, his concept of a United Nations took hold and is an international forum, although not quite the solution to conflict he'd hoped. 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt died after winning a record four terms in office. Some scholars consider him one of the top three U.S. Presidents, along with Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. That is open for debate. But undeniably, FDR burned his mark into the fabric of American politics, global relations, and in history with incredible feats of energy, vision, and persistence. He was a new deal that continues to impact the United States and the world.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A new deal

Campaign pin.
Part One:  President of the United States of America—itself is but an office and not a brand because it is who holds the office that at any moment in history that places their individual stamp on the position. And one such presidential brand is Franklin Delano Roosevelt, otherwise known as FDR. He served as the 32nd elected president. And he is noted for three things—that he won a record four terms as president, took over the presidency during the Great Depression, and led America through most of World War II. He is also the architect of the New Deal, which continues to influence US politics today. He is both revered and reviled.

Candidate Roosevelt began his political career early, at the age of 28. In 1910, he won a seat in the New York state senate, and re-election in 1912. This is where the Roosevelt brand sprouted. He didn't like the status quo of the Democratic political machine in New York—embodied in what was referred to as the Tammany Hill machine. Without spinning off onto insufferable detail, suffice it to say that the machine was akin to a political mafia with the neck of New York politics in its clutches. A young idealist like Roosevelt hated such a thing, so he and other mutineers bucked the system. The result was that they were successful in putting their candidate in the US Senate (voters did not elect US Senators until after the 17th Amendment was adopted by Congress May 13 1913). 

The New York senate was a forge that formed the steel of Roosevelt. He learned from political machinations and backroom negotiations. In his second term with the state senate, he wound up chairing the Agriculture Committee, introducing him to the politics of the people. And he found success. Roosevelt was becoming more progressive, supporting labor and social welfare programs for women and children. 

Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of the Navy
Roosevelt moved up the political ladder with the election of Woodrow Wilson in 1912. Once again, swimming against the Tammany current, Roosevelt threw his support behind Wilson, and the reward was being appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Roosevelt was never content just to skate by; he wanted to have an impact. And interestingly, he knew that the budding use of planes would become essential weapons. He butted heads with older officers who scoffed at the idea of the navy having any use for aviation. Roosevelt negotiated with congressional leaders and other government departments to get budgets approved for the Navy Aviation Division. Later, during the close of World War I, Roosevelt proposed leasing weapons to the merchant marine in order to arm them against the Germans in the Atlantic. Weapon sales were illegal at the time, so this set up the idea of lend-lease down the road.

A relationship with labor began at this phase in the Roosevelt career. Around this time the theories of a Frederick W Taylor were weaving their ways into the management practices of heavy industry. The essence of his ideas included process improvement and efficiencies. At the core of it was breaking down specific tasks within the overall process as well as having measured outcomes tied to labor's compensation. And as we all know, success metrics and accountability are not attributes that labor unions value.  Shipbuilding managers embraced Taylor, but Roosevelt, having a soft spot for unions in his heart and campaign coffers, opposed the system. Right or wrong, these issues allowed Roosevelt to jump feat first into labor issues, as well as resource management during war since his service as Assistant Secretary of the Navy lasted through World War I.

Cox/Roosevelt Campaign 
Roosevelt began to site the presidency in his planning scope pretty early on. He needed to jump out on the national stage as a candidate—but he did so prematurely. He actually got is backside whipped in a 1914 run for the US Senate. This is where the Tammany machine got some revenge. Then president Woodrow was after re-election and the local political machine was needed to secure the valuable New York vote. What this taught Roosevelt was that strong local political organizations were a part of the tactical arsenal even in federal elections. Another run on the national stage had the same outcome. He ran as the VP on the 1920 with James M. Cox. They lost to Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. 

Supports gave the illusion of recovery. 
An undeniable link to the FDR brand is the man in his wheelchair, which was due to his having contracted polio in 1921. Even before, Roosevelt was somewhat sickly. He suffered from typhoid fever in 1912, and then was once of the near half a billion victims of the 1918 Flu Pandemic that killed somewhere between 50 and 100 million people. His third strike was polio. He lived with the disease for  almost a quarter century before he died. But the immediate cost was the use of his legs and retreat from political life.

Recovery was really an illusion, although treatment had some positive affect. Still, he crafted an image of healing and valiant effort against the disease—which the public largely bought into. Few really knew just how severe the disease physically disabled Roosevelt. And by the 1924 National Democratic Convention, he was back in the game. A few years later, Roosevelt was elected Governor of New York, serving from 1929 to 1932—amidst the worst economic upheaval in global history, and one that would tee up another crisis, swallowing the planet in military conflict for six years.

NOTE: Coming soon - part two, which will conclude discovery and complete the brand analysis.