Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Your John Hancock ain't enough

Thebian brand
Logos make not the brand. Marketers know this. Decision makers know this, or should. Yet a persistent misconception is that logo and brand are synonymous. They are not and for explanation sake, let's start with origins of the expression "branding". The term is taken from "firebrand"—using a red-hot stick or metal to burn a mark in something, including livestock. Most of us associate the latter
with the American west. Nah. Egyptians were doing it way back in the day. But regardless of whether you’re talking stockyards in Tanis or Tombstone, the idea is the same and based on a unique or distinctive symbol burned into the flesh of horses, cattle, sheep or whatever. That symbol differentiates one person's livestock from another's. But that symbol, which could be interpreted as a logo, has absolutely zero value if you know nothing about it. The cow, and the resulting meat or breading stock, could be quality or questionable. The symbol is meaningless without something of perceived value or experience associated with it.

The original John Hancock
Look at it another way. John Hancock's signature may be one of history’s more famous personal logos. It is the largest, most legible on the U.S. Declaration of Independence. In fact, it has evolved into a slang term for one’s signature, “put your John Hancock there…” But if asked, most are incapable of recalling anything more than he was a signatory to the Declaration. Indeed, historians argue over whom the man really was and the substance of his contribution to the birth of our nation. While an easily recognizable logo, John Hancock is a hollow personal brand—neither resulting in a coagulated idea nor resonant with the collective consciousness.
In contrast, consider a far smaller signature such as Benjamin Franklin’s. Franklin boasts a deep personal brand in the American psyche. Even now readers are picturing either or both a bespectacled caricature and a kite in a lightning storm. Say his name and expectations come to mind, which include at least a few of his contributions to the American national culture and scientific or industrial innovations. That is a strong brand—an immediate response to the mention of his name, built on decades of his prolific participation in society, politics, and science.
A logo is simply a way to identify a brand. Without reference or understanding of its value, like Hancock, a logo is just a curious, sometimes attractive graphic.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Blue Ghost

"The Blue Ghost" is a nickname given to the aircraft carrier Lexington (CV-16) during World War II. She earned it from her enemy, the Imperial Japanese, and it was popularized by the propagandist, Tokyo Rose. The reason was simple. The Lexington reappeared in battles following previous ones where she was reported sunk. And during her service late in the war, she was painted with the U.S. Navy's dark blue camouflage scheme, leading to the complete nickname, "The Blue Ghost." She'd even been rumored to have been scuttled. Scuttling is an act by a captain and officers to sink their own ship to prevent it from being taken a prize by an enemy. But that never happened. Actually, she is resting comfortably in Corpus Christie, Texas, where she serves as a museum.

From December 1943 to November 1944, the Lexington was involved in major engagements, including Kwajalein raid, the Battles of the Philippine Sea and of Leyte Gulf. Her first reported sinking was during the Kwajalein raid on 4 December 1943. Kwajalein is an atoll in the Marshall Islands. The battle was against a Japanese force that included several vessels and more than 30 aircraft. A torpedo struck her aft starboard side, damaging the steering system. Japanese forces left the battle area seeing the Lexington engulfed in smoke. This inspired the first occasion when Japan's Tokyo Rose broadcast that the carrier had been sunk. However, damage control crews managed to jerry-rig a hand-operated steering unit and sealed off the flooding compartments, allowing Lexington to return to Pearl Harbor for repairs a few days later.

On 5 November 1945 the "Blue Ghost" suffered another "sinking." It was on this date that the Lexington had her first taste of the kamikaze as a flaming Japanese plane impacted the flight deck near the island superstructure. Her fire crew was able to control the blaze so that air operations could resume. Four days after the battle, the Lexington found safe harbor to conduct repairs. As those repairs were made, Tokyo Rose reported the Lexington sunk.

Human DNA absolutely commands a symbiotic relationship between crews and their ships. Vessels aren't just things. They are ladies to be cared for and tended to. In return, they protects those who keep them afloat. The Lexington gave noble service during World War II, Korea and long after. Though torpedoes and the victim of kamikze, she never betrayed her crew--always bringnig them home. Her brand remains secure, even today she enjoys continuing service as a museum where visitors can explore the past in innovative ways, including opportunities to stay overnight in her crew compartments. As a result, the Lexington lives on and on, perhaps not as a ghost, but a grand dame of a victorious effort--a lady, the Lady Lex.

Sidebar: Tokyo Rose
Tokyo Rose was the World War II Allied nickname for at least one English-speaking female propagandist. There may have been others but the one most linked with the moniker is Iva Toguri, a former U.S. citizen (native to Los Angeles, California). She'd been visiting family in Japan when the war broke out, and so it was postulated that her role was one of having been forced. She was released from prison in 1956, and pardoned in 1977 for her "treason." 
Contrary to the intent of the broadcasts, Americans listened to Tokyo Rose to see what impact they were having on Japanese morale. Most of her reports were exaggerated or extremely slanted--revealing that the truth was likely opposite of what was broadcast. Sometimes, however, was that surprisingly accurate details were woven in, naming units and even individual servicemen.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Now that's a knife!

A classic style of Bowie Knife
A part of the last stand at the Alamo during the Texas war of independence from Mexico, James Bowie himself is a noted figure in history--a hero. Well before that, however, Bowie was a man of note, and not always for noble reasons. His trademark was the Bowie knife, a large blade with a curved tip--it has long been a symbol for frontiersmen, hunters, and survivalists, and a favorite of collectors and knife aficionados since the 1820s. The knife became famous because Bowie. And the man became famous because of the knife. Much like his massive blade, he could be counted on for certain degree of 'cutting." To understand the man and his legend, one must understand his roots.

Born in 1796 from tough Kentucky stock who liked to move around some, from Kentucky to Tennessee to Missouri. By 1801 they'd settled into Spanish territory, specifically what is now northeastern Louisiana not far from the town of Natchez. It was in Louisiana that Jim Bowie would grow into a man, and build his brand. Between 1809 and 1821, the family patriarch, Reason Bowie, became a plantation owner and significant slave trader. These are the years in wich the young Jim Bowie began to make his mark. To earn a livingh he floated lumber to market and invested in property. Family tradition holds that young Jim enjoyed hunting and fishing, and that he not only caught and rode wild horses, he rode alligators, too. And not unlike a man he would meet in 1836 (David Crocket), Bowie also trapped bears. He makes the Robertson family of Duck Dynasty look like cub scouts.

Bowie was very straightforward and tough enough to defend his opinions. And if angered, his reaction was swift and mean, which will come into play later and account for the fame of his knife.

In 1808, the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves took effect. It meant that no longer was it legal to import slaves into the United States. Unfortunately, that didn't stop the activity. Other nations continued the practice, so shipping of slaves thrived in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico--and those were stomping grounds for Jean Laffite. Known as the gentleman pirate because rarely did he kill his raiding victims, Laffite originally operated out of New Orleans with his brother, Pierre. But it was decided that Jean would move to Galveston, displacing another pirate, and headquarter there. New Orleans is where Bowie and Laffite met, and where they concocted their slave smuggling operation. Much of the route was along the upper Texas and Western Louisiana coasts, but also included a labyrinth of bayous, rivers and marshes between Galveston Bay in what is now southeast Texas and Vermillion Bay of Louisiana. Bowie quit slave trading sometime around 1829 when he and his brother had amassed $65,000.

The first style of Bowie knife. 
For the most part, Bowie was a well-liked personality, although he had a knack for sometimes rubbing people the wrong way--and they him. One was a local banker in Alexandria, Louisiana. His name was Norris Wright, and he happened to be the Rapides parish sheriff. As banker he declined a loan to young Jim Bowie in 1826. Bowie didn't much appreciate Wright's refusal and tempers flared. Wright fired a pistol point-blank at Bowie. Somehow the bullet was deflected. But it was this event that convinced Bowie's brother that Jim needed protection, and that protection was the gift of a big ole hunting knife. And it was a wise gift, because Bowie and Wright would square off again.

Jim Bowie is likely the only individual to ever survive bringing a knife to a gunfight. September 19, 1827 was the occasion of the Sandbar Fight. The Sandbar fight was just that--a fight that took place on a sandbar outside of Natchez, Mississippi, probably along the Mississippi river. This is what made Bowie and his knife globally famous. The whole magillah started as a pistol duel between Samuel Levi Wells III and Dr. Thomas Maddox. Neither man hit the other and they shook hands and declared the matter resolved with honor. But not their seconds, which is important to note that Bowie and Samuel Cuny had been supporters of Wells. Supporting Maddox was a man named Alexander Crain, who fired at Cuny and missed. His shot struck Bowie in the hip and knocked him to the ground. A firefight ensued, sort of, these were single shot or double barrel pistols. Still, Cuny and Crain exchanged fire, with Crain suffering a flesh wound in the arm and Cuny a fatal shot to the chest.

James Bowie and his natural look of irritation.
In the meantime, Bowie gets to his feet while drawing his knife. He charged Crain who walloped him on the skull so hard with an empty pistol it broke. The impact knocked Bowie to his knees once more and Norris Wright, Bowie's credit nemesis, saw an opportunity. Wright took a shot at Bowie but missed. He then drew a sword cane and stabbed Bowie in the chest. Now get this. The thin blade was deflected by Bowie's sternum, but it stuck in his chest. Wright struggled to pull the sword free when Bowie yanked Wright down by the shirt and pushed that massive hunting blade into the banker's chest. Wright died quickly. Bowie, on the other hand, stands up with the sword still embedded in his chest, was shot again and stabbed by yet another member of the group. Bowie pulled the sword cane from his chest as the Blanchard brothers fired at him, hitting Bowie in the arm. That's when Bowie spun and cut off part of Alfred Blanchard's forearm. Carey Blanchard defended his brother with a second shot that missed Bowie. The Blanchard boys ran for the hills.

Seriously, this beats any Hollywood action movie contrivance ever. 

The Sandbar Fight was a ten minute tussle that meant the end for Samuel Cuny and Norris Wright, and wounding Alfred Blanchard, Carey Blanchard, Robert Crain and Jim Bowie—wounded. But wait, there is a twist. Crain, the man who missed Cuny and hit Bowie, helped carry Bowie to receive medical help. Witnesses say Bowie thanked Crain, saying, "Col. Crain, I do not think, under the circumstances, you ought to have shot me." One doctor reputedly said, "How he [Bowie] lived is a mystery to me, but live he did."

Accounts of the battle and of Bowie's performance and his lethal blade captured public attention, even in Europe. This exploit made him known as the South's most formidable knife fighter. From then on through today, men asked blacksmiths and cutlers to make a knife like Jim Bowie's.

Now, that is one helluva knife, but it was wielded by one helluva man. Like him or hate him, he was the stuff of legend. Even without his participation a fews yeater at the Alamo, Bowie was destined for history.