Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Forever Brand

'Tis the Christmas season, which will soon give way to the new year and the Epiphany (the Christian celebration commemorating the revelation of God the Son as a human being in the Christ Child), which makes this the perfect time to explore the brand that is Christianity. Controversial, enduring, inspiring, and even misappropriated—Christianity is the faith in the life, teachings and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And for more than two millennia, this brand has persisted in its evolution and command of brand loyalty.

At the core of the Christian brand is Christ himself, Jesus of Nazareth and Son of God. Christians profess their faith that Jesus was born of a virgin, died for the forgiveness of human sin, rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven to later return for judgment day. Those are strong attributes—meaningful to the faithful then and now. And while being born of a virgin is not unique in the history of religious faiths, it provided Jesus with divine DNA from God the Father.

Strengthening this divine heritage is his very name, underscoring the mission for which prophecy says he was sent. Jesus is basically translated to mean "Yahweh rescues."  And according to the Gospels of both Luke and Matthew in the New Testament, the angel Gabriel tells Mary and Joseph to name their child Jesus. The reason given was "because he will save his people from their sins." Right from the start this lends a redemptive attribute to Christ. Of course the title of Christ translates from Greek to mean "the anointed" and also used to translate the Hebrew term for "Messiah" into Greek. Combined that set Jesus up to be the Anointed one to deliver salvation.

Jesus has a well-documented life in the New Testament. Christians obviously put a great deal of trust into the text and it is within these chronicles of Christ's life, and the very genesis of Christianity, that so much of the brand is found. Healing, miracles, firm resistance against human temptations, as well as the Crucifixion and Resurrection are hallmarks of Jesus' divine brand. But the more subtle of Christ's deeds seem to be those that have the most impact. Take, for instance, the company that Jesus kept. He didn't associate himself with the upper crust of society. Indeed, his affiliations with those of lesser status and questionable reputation made him a target.

Jesus calls to Zacchaeus
One example is the account of Zacchaeus from the Gospel of Luke. Simply put, Zacchaeus was a tax collector in Jericho—hated by everybody and in particular by other Jews who saw him as a traitor for working with Rome. On the day Jesus passed through town, he arrived early along the path Jesus would take, climbing a sycamore tree. Zacchaeus was a short man and would have difficulty seeing over the crowds. As Jesus passed, he looked up into the tree and called out to Zacchaeus by name and told him to come down. Jesus then announced he would visit his house, sending the crowd into shock that Jesus would associate himself such a low sort.

But so moved by the gift of Jesus' undeserved love and acceptance, Zacchaeus publicly repented and vowed to make restitution for them. This is chief among the attributes of Christ—forgiveness and embracing those who are not evil but outcast.  That's an unusual attitude for the time—one might argue even for today.

Adding to the desirability of forgiveness is the idea of an afterlife. Not all religions have a bright future for our souls. In some we are reincarnated, doomed to relive this life until we miraculously figure out how to behave in order to move on. In others there are several levels of Heaven or Hell—sounds more corporate than ethereal. And still others believe there is nothing beyond this life at all. So a Kingdom of Heaven can really resonate if you ain't tickled with the status quo.

But the deeds of Christ, including his Resurrection, were only the beginning of the Christian brand. Let's face it, Resurrection is a huge influencer since that suggests death can be defeated, further reinforcing the whole idea of an afterlife. Still, Christ's life was the foundation—the rock on which the church was built. From there it spread across the ancient western and near eastern worlds like the original social media.

Emperor Constantine c 302 AD
Christianity's brand advocates
There are two specific people deserving the lion's share of credit for Christianity's facebook-like success—Constantine and Charlemagne. Nothing can pull an underground movement out from the shadows like state endorsement. Constantine was an early 4th Century Roman emperor who was responsible for exactly that. Before his rein, Christians were a persecuted lot. After all Jesus was crucified for sedition, real or not. And most of the ancient Mediterranean was pagan, whereas Christianity required reneging on many naughty but potentially fun elements of paganism. Maybe that's why Constantine waited a very long time before being baptized.

On the other side of the condemnation coin was Judaism itself—Jews didn't care for Christians because most didn't hold that Jesus was the Messiah, not to mention the fact that Christ's teaching seemingly went against the Jewish mainstream current. Add to that the whole idea that gentiles were welcome in the new faith. In other words Jesus went outside the tribe and Jews didn't appreciate it.

Roman shield with Chi Rho
Anyway, just before a battle Constantine had a vision of the Christian symbol, Chi Rho, which convinced him the Christian God was on his side. His resulting victory in what was thought a hopeless battle inspired Constantine to lift the persecutions of Christians. And he would spend an enormous effort for the remainder of his rein in supporting and spreading the faith.

Skip about 500 years to the end of the Dark Ages and we get Charlemagne. He was a conquering emperor—he was French, so go figure. Known then as Charles I, Charlemagne managed to unite much of Europe. In doing so, and as a good Medieval Christian (a somewhat disreputable time for the faith), he forced the Christianization of the Saxons, the Danes, and the Slavs, while banning their native paganism under threat of painful death. Charlemagne integrated all these people into his empire, while simultaneously integrating select pagan traditions into Christianity. This had the effect of easing brand acceptance by utilizing certain advantageous elements to further spread the faith.

Gold bust of Charlemagne
It is during the span of time between Constantine and Charlemagne that the cross really becomes the standard for Christianity—a reminder of Christ's sacrifice and Resurrection. By this time the Catholic Church established itself as the dominant authority on everything from western politics and society to science and medicine. The cross was on everything you could affix it to, draw it on, weave it into, or incorporate into its very making. Biblically speaking, the cross spread like locusts.

Christ is an everlasting brand. Even if you set aside the divinity of Jesus and look at him with a strict historical perspective, it is accepted fact that he existed. Jesus was a Rabbi … a teacher. And Roman records confirm that Pontius Pilate crucified him for sedition against the Empire. His impact is no less than profound. Jesus is even recognized by other faiths as being at the very least a prophet. These include Judaism, Islam, and the Bahá'í faiths. It may be an oxymoron, but Jesus was a conqueror whose weapon was ... forgiveness.

Therefore, submitted for your approval...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
Forgiveness and compassion are the leads here. In his life, Jesus was noted for consorting with social rejects—the unwashed, the tax collector, and those of questionable reputation. He professed not a God who favored the rich and powerful, but a Father who loved all His children and promised a place especially for the meek and the poor.
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position and develop a brand personality customers can use to introduce the brand.
He died for our sins ... enough said.
3. Establish graphic standards.

Early Christianity used more than a couple of symbols. Emperor Constantine saw a vision of the Chi Rho (the first two letters of Christ in Greek). which inspired him to take up God's standard and spread the church across the known world. The fish is a popular sign even today. But very early on it was code among a persecuted people. Eventually, Christianity settled on the cross as reminder to the faithful of Christ's sacrifice for all sins, and a death from which Jesus rose. This remains the most common Christian symbol today.

4. Implement internal branding programs to reward employees for behaving in ways that are consistent with the brand personality.
This is where things get sticky in Christianity. Early Christianity was more "advential" in that they truly believed the risen Jesus would return any moment. Plus there were the persecutions. So early Christians endured and sacrificed—walking paths not wholly dissimilar to Christ's. 
Then there is the less pleasant period of the Church when it becomes less about the divine and more about the corruption of power—the heretic trials, inquisitions, Crusades, and the suppression of knowledge. The reward for good behavior, as prescribed by church authority, was that you wouldn't be skinned alive, boiled, flogged, or some such unpleasant treatment. If so, then you were being purified for Heaven. You're welcome!
However, the real incentive for living a life in the footsteps of Jesus are in his root message: 
Heaven awaits those who follow in Christ's footsteps.
Stated another way: "The way to the Father is through me."
5. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
Christ was most certainly consistent in his behavior. And his message for following the brand was direct and simple: 
Love one another as I have loved you.

(Originally posted as Brand Everlasting during January 2012, with re-posts in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Soon comes another sortie from the North Pole!

Santa Claus is back! Otherwise known as Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, or just plain "Santa." Ole boss Claus has skillfully evolved and sustained his personal brand for more than two millennia—perhaps even longer. That plump, white-bearded toy broker is soon to don his red coat with white collar and cuffs in preparation for another yuletide run around the globe. His reindeer, with thick winter fur, are well fed and restless—ready to help Santa do his thing. The sleigh is polished up and nearly loaded with goodies for all (all that are good, that is). 

But if Santa is so good at covert gift giving ops, then how do we really know what he looks like? After all, he never lets out press photos. Well, there's a myth still lurking around that our image of Boss Claus, like the one to the right, was created by Coca Cola back in the early 1930s. False. Not true. No way. Nah. But it is a true statement that Coca Cola advertising of the era helped popularize this look and feel. So the cola company was a very helpful promoter, just not the creator. Nineteenth century cartoonist Thomas Nast gets the credit for capturing Santa's modern conceptual appearance.

To the Scrooges out there about to pop off an email sharing their opinion on Santa ... don't. This is strictly about brand. And whatever one believes about Santa Claus, one has to admit to two undeniable value propositions ... good cheer and an inspiration to pull a little bit of magic out of ourselves.

Moving on.

What you may not know is that much of Santa's brand attributes are Gallic, Scandinavian and Byzantine. The earliest Clausian characteristics are traced back to the Norse and Germanic god, Odin. Yep, Thor's daddy. During the pagan Yule, or Yuletide, which was the Germanic winter holiday, Odin was believed to lead a hunting party through the skies. Very old Icelandic poems described him riding an eight-legged horse that leapt a very long way—not unlike our modern Santa's reindeer. Some traditions have children leaving their boots next to the fireplace and filled with carrots or straw for Odin's horse. Here's where the direct corollary comes in—albeit a bit quid pro quo. For their kindness to his horse, apparently Odin rewarded those children by replacing the food with gifts or treats.

This is possibly the proto-tradition of hanging of stockings by the chimney in homes. And would you believe this still survives in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands?

Sinterklaas
To zero back in to the Gallic traditions, Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicholas, originally did the gift drop around a celebration of his feast in early December. That was up until the 1500s or 1600s when it aligned more with Christmas Eve. Sinterklaas also marks the introduction of a book that contains notes on all children and whether they've been naughty or nice. And the nice ones received the yummy shtuff like chocolate or spice nuts. Along with this new brand experience we get Saint Nicholas riding a horse over rooftops at night, delivering gifts down the chimney to all those good children. This, too, is where the naughty are threatened, but instead of coal and ashes the misbehaved feared being tied up and whipped.

Part of the realignment for Sinterklaas was also due to Protestants believing the true gift giver should be the Christ Child, or Christkindl, and the date for giving gifts changed to the celebration of his coming birth on Christmas Eve.

Not to overlook the Byzantine division of the Claus brand architecture, who some say hugely influenced attributes of Sinterklaas, was Saint Nicholas of Myra. He dates back to the 4th century. Saint Nick was a bishop in what is now Turkey, and widely known for his generosity to the poor. Even today he is revered and characterized by his canonical robes.

Enter the early 19th and 20th centuries where Santa's brand awareness really snowballs. Clement Clarke Moore's 1822 poem, Twas the night before Christmas, lit up Santa's brand like a Christmas tree, defining much of the modern attributes for Santa Claus. Not long after, it is revealed he lives at the North Pole and helped by an army of magical elves with a herd of flying reindeer. By 1934 there is a pop culture blizzard, including the introduction of the well-known song, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town". Santa thus become an icon. Everybody knows him and that he's makin' his list and checking it twice—all to find out who's naughty or nice.

Therefore, submitted for your approval (and yours, Santa)...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
Santa Claus works all year long without complaint to make sure that good boys and girls are given a gift. Santa looks out to see who is naughty and nice. Okay, so you might be a touch mischievous—he still leaves a gift. And on that special night, once a year, he makes good on his promise of spreading Christmas cheer.
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position and develop a brand personality that customers can use to introduce the brand.
He is jolly ole Saint Nick—always cheerful, happy and generous, asking nothing in return (well, except for a nibble of some cookies and a sip of milk). 
 Jolly ole Saint Nick 
 His mantra: Ho Ho Ho ... Merry Christmas!
 3. Establish graphic standards.
A red arctic suit, white beard, a smile on red cheeks with a twinkle in his eye ... what more does he need. 
4. Implement internal branding programs to reward employees for behaving in ways that are consistent with the brand personality.
The naughty or nice list is the single greatest management tool ever devised.
"You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout I'm tellin' you why ... Santa Claus is comin' to town..." 
5. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
Throughout his brand building process, Santa has consistently been attentive to children, returning each year with the promise of a gift, be it a toy, a treat, or perhaps a wish come true. He is never less than expected, and sometimes more. He lives the ChristKindl spirit of giving of himself without reward or repayment.
NOTE: Click here to send letters to Santa via email, and here for the official NORAD Santa tracking network.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Branded pastime

by Cliff Gillock

Vintage 1880s baseball.
Ask any one who invented baseball and if they have any answer at all, chances are they will mention Abner Doubleday and maybe Cooperstown, New York. After all, isn’t that the location of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum? Yes.

And no. 

For many years, Abner Doubleday was credited with having invented The Game out of whole cloth, right there at Cooperstown in 1839. The rest is history.

Well, not exactly. In fact, not at all.

Abner Doubleday was a U. S. Army officer who later distinguished himself at Gettysburg in the Civil War. In 1839, however, he was still a cadet at West Point. There is no evidence of his ever visiting Cooperstown in any capacity. He certainly had no time or inclination to “invent” a game or even witness such an event. It is not known if he ever saw a baseball game; it was popularized and spread by the soldiers playing during the war, so it’s possible.

So how did this enduring myth become the popular notion about the origin of the game? And what’s up with Cooperstown?

Until around 1905, little thought was given to baseball’s origin. By then a former player, manager, club owner and astute businessman had become a giant in the sporting goods business. Albert G. Spalding imagined, in a typically American way, that given the now popularity of baseball, it might be good for business if baseball could be shown to be a uniquely American game.

Spalding had for some time had a running conversation with an associate about the subject. The friend believed, correctly, that the game was not “invented” per se, but evolved from a number of stick-and-ball games such as Cricket and Rounders, and other games popular among boys in England.

Abner Doubleday
Spalding decided to settle the controversy once and for all. He organized a commission to investigate baseball’s origin. His opinion was somewhat skewed by some vague information he had received in a letter form an old, old man, a native of Cooperstown, who reminisced about memories of a schoolmate –Doubleday– who, the man claimed, had written and drawn up the game one afternoon right there in Cooperstown.

This scenario fit perfectly into Spalding’s plan, and with his encouragement (not to mention coercion) to the commission, it was determined that “according to the best evidence obtainable to date, baseball was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown.” Said and done.

Beginning well before the Civil War, baseball had been played in towns and cities, vacant lots, school yards, and streets all over America by boys, men, even girls according to their own local rules, which varied greatly.

Some time around 1842, baseball began to get organized. A group of young men in Manhattan began to gather regularly to form loose knit teams to play each other in one form of the game or another. Finally, in 1845, a young entrepreneur named Alexander Cartwright organized twenty-eight of these men to become the New York Knickerbockers Base Ball Club. The players came from many walks of life; their primary requirement was “to be at liberty after 3 o’clock in the afternoon”.

Cartwright and some of his associates had endeavored to codify the rules of baseball to bring consistency to the way the game was to be played. Those rules became the basis of baseball as we know it and is played today.

Image of a game in the 1880s - notice no glove!
Now the game began to take hold. Scheduled games were now drawing sizable crowds. Even so, for many years in New York, baseball remained rigidly a gentleman’s game and strictly amateur.

But as the game spread it became decidedly less gentile and amateurism ultimately began to recede. In 1869, the first openly professional ball club took the field: the Cincinnati Red Stockings. With the realization that patrons would actually pay to see such a team the floodgates opened. American enterprise took charge. Baseball became our game…and our business.

Move ahead to 1936. The “100th Anniversary “ of baseball would be observed in three years.

In Cooperstown, a local resident thought an exhibition of a collection of baseball artifacts night generate some interest. After all Cooperstown had been “officially” declared the home of the “invention” of baseball by Abner Doubleday in 1839.

The idea took hold. With significant backing from wealthy local resources, it was decided to establish a National Baseball Museum “for the purpose of collecting and preserving pictures and relics reflecting the development of the National Game from the time of its inception, through the ingenuity of Major General Abner Doubleday in 1839 to the present.”

The first nine - first team ever.
Ford Frick, the president of the National League, expanded the idea: “create a permanent National Hall of Fame to be built and dedicated on the now recognized centennial of America’s Game.” A commission selected the first five members: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, and Christy Mathewson.

Now The National Pastime–the brand, if you will–was secured. Through depression, wartime, good times and bad, baseball became inextricably woven into the fabric of American life. Even today, 177 years after Abner, it remains so.

Perhaps, at least on the professional level, baseball has been eclipsed by football and television and the spectacle of the Super Bowl. Even so, millions of children, from age six on, play baseball. Spectator attendance in sparkling state-of the-art stadiums is at an all-time high. Revenues are in the billions of dollars. It’s organized, polished and maybe overly supervised. But baseball is still a vital part of our lives. Part myth. Part legend.

And All-American.


References: Ken Burns Baseball-An Illustrated History
Baseball As America: Seeing ourselves through our National Game



Cliff Gillock is a prominent figure in the marcom world, having advised epic brands, including Exxon, Shell and Gulf Oil. He twice served as chair of the AAF-Houston President’s Council, won a national ADDY and received an AAF-Houston Silver Medal in 2007. Gillock was also a curator for the AAF-Houston legacy exhibit. Learn more about Cliff and other contributors on the Knights of the Round Table page.

Originally posted in 2015 as The American Game: How a myth became a legend, and then became a brand.