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Monday, December 19, 2016

Brand Everlasting

As we approach Christmas, and soon the Epiphany (the Christian celebration commemorating the revelation of God the Son as a human being in the Christ Child), we 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.

Jesus calls to Zacchaeus
Just in the company he kept, Jesus 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.

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. Although let's face it, Resurrection is major since that means death can be defeated, further reinforcing that afterlife thing. 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
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 during January 2012, with re-posts in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016)


Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Annual Return of that Hot Brand 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?

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.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

An Infamous Brand.

The burning hulk of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor.
“A day that will live in infamy…” Such words were spoken by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to describe the Sunday, December 7th bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. To this day, the event stands as a universal symbol of treachery and deceit. It is the singular icon of America’s entry into World War II, instantly recognizable and, for Americans, instantly evoking emotion. For many Japanese, it is a graphic reminder of past shames during a war of shames. But if the element of surprise is such a core tenant of military strategy, then what makes Pearl Harbor any more tragic than other attacks?

Well, a little background and context:

First, Pearl Harbor is itself is a lagoon of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. By 1941, Hawaii was a US territory in the Pacific, and host to one of the nation’s military outpost—a big one. President Roosevelt moved a massive chunk of the US Navy Pacific Fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor as a bristly warning for the Japanese to stop their conquest efforts throughout the Pacific islands and Asia. It was an act that only added to deteriorating relations between the US and Japan. The result was the now infamous surprise attack.

The attack itself was planned months ahead of the event with Japanese pilots rehearsing every detail of the raid. And this is key—preparations were in full swing while still in negotiations with the US. Indeed, six Japanese aircraft carriers and support craft secretly steamed for Hawaii a week and half before the attack. At about 7:48 am local time, waves of nearly four hundred planes descended on Pearl Harbor, dropping bombs and torpedoes, as well as strafing vehicles, aircraft and personnel on the ground. Because it was a Sunday, the American forces were literally caught sleeping.

Japanese scale model of Pearl Harbor used to plan Dec 7.
Although the primary targets of the planned attack were not in port, the US aircraft carriers, the 90-minute aerial assault inflicted heavy damages to the Pacific Fleet at anchor. This included four ships sunk, 15 vessels heavily damaged, along with 188 destroyed aircraft and another 159 damaged. Of those killed in the attack, 2,403 were American, not including 68 civilians. More than 1,100 were wounded.

By contrast, Imperial Japanese losses were a fraction of those suffered by the US. Four midget submarines were sunk with one captured. Only 29 Japanese aircraft were destroyed. Japanese killed in action during the attack totaled 64.

December 7th was a blow, to be sure. And while a fine stroke from a military perspective, Pearl Harbor did not have the decisive impact Japan hoped. The US did not sue for peace, nor was there irreparable damage sustained to most vessels. And for the most part, the Pearl Harbor facilities were left largely untouched.

Certainly the human toll, damages and havoc wrought by the attack is one attribute of the event. Witnesses and survivors know the horror of the experience—and horrific it was to those trapped in capsized ships, strafed in the water, or in and near explosions. Burning oil, mangled ships and planes, along with human carnage everywhere leaves an indelible image. The other, however, the one that stung most—and for some never permitted forgiveness—was the treachery of Japan's conduct. So awful in the whole event was the fact that it took place while Japanese diplomats were negotiating with the US government. No declaration of war, no formal diplomatic warning—nada. It was an intentional dupe into the possibility for peace. Part of the cause was from the time it took Japanese diplomats to decipher messages from Tokyo, and then to retype them for a meeting scheduled with the US Secretary of State Cordell Hull. The final part of a 14-part message was delivered more than hour late and read as follows:
Thus, the earnest hope of the Japanese Government to adjust Japanese-American relations and to preserve and promote the peace of the Pacific through cooperation with the American Government has finally been lost. 
The Japanese Government regrets to have to notify hereby the American Government that in view of the attitude of the American Government it cannot but consider that it is impossible to reach an agreement through further negotiations.
Despite transcription issues, the original intent was to time a hint of war only mere minutes before the attack. Japan, it turns out, never really wanted peace. Secretary Hull admonished the Japanese diplomats and dismissed them from his office. They would be taken to a nearby hotel and held until war’s end. But before the day was out, and within hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Japan also invaded the Philippine Islands, that itself had tragic and horrendous consequences for American and British forces there. However, it compounded the already unthinkable and wicked idea that Japan had attacked during negotiations to keep the peace.

Adding to our collective cringe at the thought of events during the attack at Pearl Harbor, is the fact that it is a living memory. This is not an incident with impact softened by centuries. Many of its victims are still alive today and can recount their experiences. While much of the wreckage at Pearl Harbor was removed, repaired or even left cloaked by water, the Arizona Memorial marks one of the greater tragedies of the attack—nearly an entire crew lost with the ship, accounting for almost half of all the deaths suffered during the attack. The US Navy continually pays homage to the fallen of the Arizona. Its decaying hulk is marked and protected. It is hallowed ground. And crowds come to view it every day. She represents what is considered an unprovoked attack at a time when deceptions of peace were used to mask murderous intent, marking a day that will live in infamy. 

An aerial view of the Arizona Memorial.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The POTUS Brand on a Day that Will Live in Infamy.

Now that the 2016 U.S. presidential election day is upon us, compare your favorite (or least loathed) candidate to these icons from American presidential history.

George Washington - No lie—George Washington was a man well prepared to lead our nation against the British. If there was one better, he never surfaced. Not only did he serve our budding nation with honor—his leadership demonstrated deep conviction for that which he fought.

Abe Lincoln - Just a little bigger —Abraham Lincoln was never a soldier, but he studied hard about military history and tactics while leading a nation through a divisive war. And for his duty, he gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Theodore Roosevelt—Some would argue that Teddy Roosevelt was the greatest U.S. president of the 20th Century, perhaps of all time. Few presidents have had as much impact on the evolution of American status, policy—both foreign and domestic, while influencing future presidents of both major parties. For this one, it took three entries to tell his story.
A bully brand        The bully pulpit         The old lion

Franklin Delano Roosevelt – FDR, as he was known, is held up as one of the greatest of the U.S. presidents. Elected to office four times, Roosevelt presided during the Great Depression and World War II, all while battling a crippling disease. Like his cousin, Teddy, Roosevelt has lasting influence on American politics, even today. Many of his Depression-era programs remain in effect, leaving his legacy both revered and reviled.
A new deal           A new deal for new hope 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Brand and Patriotism Seed the National 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 from 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.

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

Sometime 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 might 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

Note: Post originally appeared in February 2016.

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.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Boogieman Special

Darkness falls across the land, the midnight hour is close at hand. Creatures crawl in search of blood, to terrorize the neighborhood—and whosoever shall be found without the soul for getting down, must stand and face the hounds of hell. We bring the funk of forty thousand years, while grizzly ghouls from every tomb are closing in to seal your doom. Fight though you might to stay alive, your body starts to shiver. For no mere mortal can resist the evil of the ... thriller*!

The werewolf—found in ancient texts as far back as those by Herodotus, references to werewolves were not flights of fanciful horror. They were believed real and several accounts given by eyewitnesses. Indeed, it was reported that a Scythian tribe morphed into werewolves one each year, changing back after a few days. Here is more ancient evidence of the werewolf's curse.    

The mummy’s initial service in the horror genre began with The Mummy! Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century. This science fiction novel made mummies weird right from the start. Written in 1827, the odd twist was dropping an ancient mummy into the 22nd Century. It’s like a demented Buck Rogers. Of course, Bram Stoker (of Dracula fame) did his part to stoke the horror perceptions of the gift-wrapped demons. Together with other storytellers, Loudon and Stoker built the foundations for mummy awareness. Here is the answer to what spurred fascination with these mindless, stomping corpses of the past.

Dracula impaled victims made up of political opponents or Turks captured on the battlefield, and left them to slowly slide down a wooden spike in agony and without mercy, until they bled out. Death often took days. The near dead and corpses were left on the spikes as birds pecked and tore at their rotting flesh. Here are the answers to why Dracula scare invading Turks.

*Introduction unabashedly lifted from Michael Jackson's song, Thriller.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Howling Brand

A rumbling growl, a musty odor of wet fur, piercing eyes that glow in the dark, and a thirst for blood that rivals even Dracula—these are the classic signs of ... the werewolf! By definition, a werewolf is simply a human that transforms into a wolf or wolf-like creature. Depending on the story told, the transformation can either be intentional or the result of a curse. Another name for this beast is lycan (short for lycanthrope), made popular in the modern horror genre. But werewolves are ancient—more ancient than vampires and at least as old as mummies. Indeed, ancient texts reveal very real beliefs in werewolves.

Found in Histories, written by the ancient historian Herodotus, are references to a Scythian tribe that morphed into werewolves one each year, changing back after a few days. The Greek geographer Pausanias mentioned the tale of Lycaon, a man transformed into a wolf because he had ritually murdered a child. The Roman poet, Ovid also wrote of Lycaon in his epic, Metamorphoses. The wolf transformation was punishment for his crime. Ovid recounts other tales of men who roamed the woods of Greece in wolf form.

Lycaon transformed.
These and other works probably helped fuel the werewolf in European folklore, which ultimately crept over to the colonies. Now here's a an interesting nibble—belief in werewolves developed in parallel to the belief in witches sometime in the Middle Ages. Like the witchcraft trials, there were trials of supposed werewolves during 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. Accusations of lycanthropy (transformation into a wolf) were mixed with accusations of wolf-riding or wolf-charming. "Wolf-charming" sounds like something from the 2011 film, Red Riding Hood, in which Amanda Seyfried did a fair job smoothing the beast's fur. The film, however, well illustrates the paranoia of Medieval times.

One of the leading attributes of the werewolf is it's drive to transform during a full moon. For the most part, that is a 20th Century development, and likely one associated with the idea that wolves (or hounds in general) howl at the moon. The first movie to feature the transformative effect of the full moon was the The Wolf Man in 1941. The werewolf character was played by famed horror actor, Lon Chaney, Jr. This was the movie launching the werewolf into public awareness. Chaney's character is bitten by a beast. It is later revealed that the animal was actually a werewolf, causing Chaney to ultimately transform into a wolf at the first full moon. Indeed, throughout the movie, villagers recite the following poem:  
Lon Chaney, Jr. as The Wolf Man (1941)
 Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his  prayers by night; May become a wolf when the  wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is  bright.
One of the common weaknesses of the werewolf, as everyone knows, is silver—particularly silver bullets. This actually appeared sometime during the 19th Century in German folklore. The idea was picked up by Bram Stoker in his Dracula and related works.

Werewolves were once tortured souls, unable to control their beastly tendencies or endured their condition due to being punished for some horrid offense. This theme was central to the 2004 film, Van Helsing. But in most contemporary werewolf rendistions, however, they are malevolent, such as those in the novel The Howling and its subsequent sequels and film adaptations, along with the Underworld film series. And this is where werewolves go from being beastly-looking men to actually becoming four-legged monsters with uber-aggressiveness, super-human speed and strength, as well as accelerated healing.

What's the takeaway? Pack silver in your clip, along with raw steak and plenty of Milk-Bones.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Cursed Brand

Boris Karloff as the mummified Imhotep in The Mummy (1932)
Tattered, moldy bandages, a partially decomposed body, hollow eye sockets, and a lipless, toothy face—along with a mindless stomp towards an almost primal goal—these are the hallmarks of the mummy. It is one of the original undead creatures that scare the bejeezus out of us. Well, actually, they’re very dead. After all, the vital organs of a mummy have been removed, and its body drained of its vital fluids. Even the brain has been drawn out through nasal passages. But Egyptian curses somehow enable the mummy to reanimate. And it is this nemesis of the Egyptian-dessert adventurer that has become a horrifying subject in novels and adventure stories, beginning in the early decades of the 19th Century. Its brand enjoyed further reincarnation in the form of black and white horror films throughout the first half of the 20th Century. Then, as if called by chants from the Book of the Dead, the mummy brand reawakened due to the popularity of films like the Brendan Frasier Mummy series. Now, the mummy brand is called to rise with the 2017 The Mummy remake with Tom Cruise.

Imhotep reanimates in the 1999 version of The Mummy
The mummy’s initial service in the horror genre began with The Mummy! Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century. This science fiction novel made mummies weird right from the start. Written in 1827, Jane C. Loudon added an odd twist, dropping an ancient mummy into the 22nd Century. It’s like a demented Buck Rogers. Of course, Bram Stoker (of Dracula fame) did his part to stoke the horror perceptions of the gift-wrapped demons. Together with other storytellers, Loudon and Stoker built the foundations for mummy awareness. But what spurred fascination with these mindless, stomping corpses of the past?

Carter examining Tutankhamun's remains (1922)
Archaeologist Howard Carter and Pharaoh Tutankhamun partnered up in 1922 in a way that brought mummies to the forefront. Carter and his team discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. But the earned academic notoriety of the find was unraveled by the weird stuff that began to happen to Carter and his team. One of the first things was that Carter dispatched a messenger on an errand to his house. En route, the messenger believed he heard a faint human cry. Once inside Carter’s house, the messenger saw a birdcage with a cobra inside. Cobras symbolize Egyptian royalty, and the fact that it ate Carter’s canary just fanned the flames of local rumors about a curse. Creepy, yes, and it gets better.

Some members of Carter’s team suffered what were considered untimely or mysterious deaths. Lord Carnarvon was the first, having died from an infected mosquito bite. Just before this happened, a letter was published in a magazine that quoted an obscure book, stating that "dire punishment" follows any breach of a sealed tomb. The letter was largely ignored until Carnarvon’s death, and then the media went nuts, exaggerating the story with reports that a curse had been found in the Tutankhamun’s tomb. While untrue, more weird stuff happened, such as the home of Carter’s friend, Sir Bruce Ingham, twice burning down. The theory was that the fires were the result of Ingham having had a paperweight made of a mummified hand recovered from the tomb. An unfortunate personal tragedy, yes, but the reality is that only eight of the 58-team members died unusual deaths after opening Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Boris Karloff as Imhotep (1932)
Despite the lack of any real correlation to opening the pharaoh’s tomb, the story gave a budding Hollywood all kinds of inspiration, really sealing the brand awareness and attributes for mummies. And much of that is owed to an early 20th Century actor named Boris Karloff. He starred as Imhotep in the 1932 film The Mummy, which inspired the Frasier remake in 1999. Vintage movie fans talk about how Karloff really created the image and set the expectation for reanimated mummies well into today. The camera holds on Karloff, lying still in his crypt, then, an eye slowly opens. His hands begin to move with the resistance of a 3700-year slumber. It's barely a glimpse of the creature before the camera follows bandages dragged on the floor, as if they are trailing behind the lumbering zombie. In 1932, that could scare the hell out of an audience. This single portrayal led the way for a series of films featuring the immortal corpses. Audiences dug it, and still do—hence Tom Cruise willing to get behind a remake.

The reality of mummification was that it was designed to prepare the mortal body for the afterlife—not reanimation in this world. Additionally, it was an understandable extension of natural mummification that ancient Egyptians observed from the dessert conditions of their environment. They just built on it, adding tradition, custom and ceremony around it. In some cases there were curses, which were used to scare off grave robbers and tomb raiders seeking riches. Although, those curse really don’t distinguish thieves from archaeology. Still, curses didn’t involve mummies reanimating and stalking those who violated their resting place.

The realities of Egyptian culture aside, the use of mummies in the horror genre have wrapped the brand in a supernatural veneer, and preserved its ghoulish equity. Mummies are part of the pre-zombie, pre-slasher horror triad. Triggered by full moons, they rule the night with vampires and werewolves, challenging our courage and resolve when alone, sitting in front of a flickering screen, hearing the floorboards creak, and catching a faint, moldy scent in the room.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Brand that Sucks

The black cape; a thick, eastern European accent; one inch, needle sharp fangs, and a mad, hypnotic glare—unmistakably, these are elements of the look and feel of a horrifying medieval terror, the thief of souls, the Prince of Darkness ... Count Dracula.

Little about this character remains unwritten, unstudied, untold. Bram Stoker was not the first to write about vampires, nor will he be the last, but he was the first to tell the tale of Count Dracula, as well as develop specifics to the modern vampire brand. According to Stoker, Dracula is at the core of what the vampire brand is all about. And what he began with was not fantasy, but a very real character from history. His name was Prince Vlad III. Popular history knows him as Vlad the Impaler. He was a 15th-century Romanian general and, believe it or not, a once celebrated defender of the Christian faith against the invading forces of the Islamic Ottoman Empire. The question is: how did a defender of the faith turn into a terrifying brand of the dark side?

Vlad was born in 1431, the son of Vlad II, a nobleman. Suffice it to say that Vlad's family lines were loaded with quality, homegrown blood from the Transylvania region, which is in today's Romania. Because his father was called, "Dracul," Vlad was called "Dracula," meaning "son of Dracul." According to David Johnson, who wrote an educational piece for titled, The Terrifying Truth About Dracula, both men were a part of the Order of the Dragon, a militaristic society of nobles with the expressed purpose of defeating anti-Christians, but mostly the Ottoman Turks.  Johnson writes, 
"Dracula" is Romanian for "son of Dracul." Therefore young Vlad was "son of the dragon" or "son of the devil." Scholars believe this was the beginning of the legend that Dracula was a vampire.
Johnson also writes that Dracula's life as a noble was not all bonbons and caviar. Indeed, his homeland lay between the Ottoman Empire and the Austrian-Hungarian Hapsburgs, meaning that political strain was always a thing, along with an irritatingly persistent threat of war, if not a state of war. Not so different than Caesar, Dracula found himself imprisoned more than once. The Turks humiliated him by hauling Dracula off in chains. And then again by the Hungarians, who murdered his father and blinded his brother before burying him alive.

Having your family slaughtered in gruesome fashion is not so much a justification, but at least some reasoning behind Vlad's transformation into a bloodthirsty ghoul on the battlefield. 

Dracula's preferred method of torture was to impale victims made up of political opponents or those captured on the battlefield, and leave them to slowly slide down a wooden spike in agony and without mercy, until they bled out—hence the nickname, "Vlad the impaler." Death often took days. The near dead and corpses were left on the spikes as birds pecked and tore at their rotting flesh. It was a ghastly site intended to have impact. And it did. Once a Turkish advance was thwarted because the foul stench was too much for the sultan.

Dracula's earthly rein over Transylvania lasted from 1448 until his death in 1476. Twice his rule was challenged and twice he reclaimed his throne. While the Vatican disapproved of his methods, it did praise Dracula for defending Christianity. And his methods were intense.

Now, things really start to take creepy shape with one report stating that Dracula ate a meal amidst hundreds of impaled victims, having actually dipped his bread in human blood. But the demonic brand transformation doesn't stop there. When the Turks defeated Dracula and his forces in 1476, they severed his head and displayed in Constantinople. His body was buried in a monastery near Bucharest. It was in 1931 that archaeologists rediscovered the site and found a casket, presumably Dracula's. Among the adornments of the skeleton, was a faded silk brocade, similar to a shirt depicted in an old painting of Dracula. But the kicker is this, those remains have since disappeared without a trace, leaving the whereabouts of Dracula unknown.

Much of this, except for Dracula's vanishing skeleton, weave into Stokers lore of the vampire. Count Dracula was very passionate about his warrior heritage, emotionally proclaiming his pride. And he was primal and predatory in his views, as you might expect the real Dracula to be, given the conditions in which he lived. It is interesting that Stoker writes Dracula as pitying of us ordinary humans for our revulsion of our darker impulses. Vlad certainly embraced dark methodology in his efforts.

There are some interesting ironies to the Dracula brand. One is that he can only be killed by decapitation preceded by impalement through the heart with a wooden stake. Dracula was decapitated, and perhaps it is symbolic that it is a wooden stake, an ode to Vlad's many impaled victims, that is needed to kill the demon. And then there is blood. All that Dracula needs to survive is fresh blood, which rejuvenates him, but isn't required frequently. 

Watch any Dracula or vampire horror flick and the vampire brand will quickly reveal itself. Indeed, I leave it to Abraham Van Helsing for detailing the attributes of Count Dracula, along with Buffy Summers and teams of others to wage their nocturnal wars against the Prince of Darkness and his horde.

Originally posted 21 October 2015. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

BIH Presidential Debate Special

As the U.S. presidential election heats up with the first national debate, compare your favorite (or least loathed) candidate to these icons from American presidential history.

George Washington - No lie—George Washington was a man well prepared to lead our nation against the British. If there was one better, he never surfaced. Not only did he serve our budding nation with honor—his leadership demonstrated deep conviction for that which he fought.

Abe Lincoln - Just a little bigger —Abraham Lincoln was never a soldier, but he studied hard about military history and tactics while leading a nation through a divisive war. And for his duty, he gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Theodore Roosevelt—Some would argue that Teddy Roosevelt was the greatest U.S. president of the 20th Century, perhaps of all time. Few presidents have had as much impact on the evolution of American status, policy—both foreign and domestic, while influencing future presidents of both major parties. For this one, it took three entries to tell his story.
A bully brand        The bully pulpit         The old lion

Franklin Delano Roosevelt – FDR, as he was known, is held up as one of the greatest of the U.S. presidents. Elected to office four times, Roosevelt presided during the Great Depression and World War II, all while battling a crippling disease. Like his cousin, Teddy, Roosevelt has lasting influence on American politics, even today. Many of his Depression-era programs remain in effect, leaving his legacy both revered and reviled.
A new deal           A new deal for new hope 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Happy Constitution Day!

Below is the Preamble, click the first three words to see the full text of the document. 

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

This painting depicts the signing of the Constitution on 17 September, 1787.
[From] - The U.S. Constitution established America’s national government and fundamental laws, and guaranteed certain basic rights for its citizens. It was signed on September 17, 1787, by delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, presided over by George Washington. Under America’s first governing document, the Articles of Confederation, the national government was weak and states operated like independent countries. At the 1787 convention, delegates devised a plan for a stronger federal government with three branches–executive, legislative and judicial–along with a system of checks and balances to ensure no single branch would have too much power. The Bill of Rights—10 amendments guaranteeing basic individual protections such as freedom of speech and religion—became part of the Constitution in 1791. To date, there have been a total of 27 constitutional amendments.

A notable tidbit: The US Constitution is the oldest still in effect and, the shorted one. 


Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Wrath of Mom...

Queen Boudicca is a cult favorite in England and among many feminists with good reason. Around 60 or 61 AD, she led a pretty sizeable revolt against the occupying Roman army. Her force consisted of something on the order of 100,000 against four or so Roman Legions, which means she had Rome outnumbered 4 to 1, if it is assumed that the normal headcount for the time was 5,000 men per legion. Now, it must also be noted that the whole history of Boudicca’s revolt is not found in native literature from the British Isle. She is documented in various Roman histories, so the odds may have been inflated to make the Romans look as both underdog and additionally triumphant. And with no local accounts, well, we never hear the British side.

Boudicca herself is a bit of fog. For instance, the spelling of her name is inconsistent. You can find her name as Boudica, Boudicca, Boadicea or even Buddug. And then there are Bunduca, and Voadicia. The ancients can give you a headache with their variations. But because we get accounts of her from the only primary sources of the time, the Romans Tacitus and Dio, we will go with Boudicca. According to Kenneth Jackson, a linguist who specialized in Celtic languages, Boudicca’s name is rooted in the Celtic expression for “victorious.” That suggests that she may have had a birth name, although that remains a mystery.

What else we know of Boudicca is limited, but we do know is that she was considered royalty. She was married to a tribal king, Prasutagus. He ruled over the Iceni whose territory was approximately the Norfolk area of the farthest eastern point of modern day England. By the mid first century AD, we’re talking a blend of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon blood. This is evident in how Roman historians and scribes describe Boudicca. She was tall, and was a dishwater blonde—Romans used “tawny”—with locks falling below her hips. Boudicca did not have a soft, feminine voice. Dio remarked that it was “harsh.” And she was reported to have a glare that would scare the bejeezus out of an opponent. Underscoring her imposing, fierce-looking presence is the fact that she was very intelligent, and from time-to-time she would wield a spear as she spoke. Tacitus and Dio record Boudicca as giving rousing and intense speeches to rally ally tribesmen to her cause. She spoke not as mimicking a man, or as woman to men, but as leader who also suffered the wrongs imposed by the Romans, rallying men, women, even children to her forces.

Imagine just what it was that earned her wrath. Knowing Romans, it wouldn’t be difficult—the local occupying Roman authority wound up behaving as Romans—and then some.

Boudicca and daughters.
Her husband lived well. Southern Americans would say he lived high on the hog—and way beyond his means. So part of what befell Boudicca is on her husband. But that fed, even taunted the Roman role in this. Essentially, Prasutagus ruled a small kingdom, which was a voluntary ally to Rome. This likely came about as a negotiation with Roman emissaries who bore news of impending Roman conquest. The deal was that the Iceni leadership and patrician class would remain intact, but under Roman guidance. Usually when the negotiating monarch died, the whole territory, people, livestock and such came under Roman rule and ownership. Indeed, Rome was mentioned in Prasutagus’ will, although sharing the kingdom jointly with his wife and two daughters. And there’s the rub. Roman law is patriarchal and in no gender equal. It only allows for inheritance through the male line. When Prosutagus died without a male heir, Rome proceeded according to custom and annexed the Iceni tribe and territories. As if that weren’t bad enough, Roman forces flogged Boudicca, raped her virgin daughters, and stripped the king’s relatives of holdings and position, then sold them into slavery. The plunder of Iceni was so complete and so grievous that even Roman slaves took booty from the house of Prasutagus.

Any one of those individual offenses would have been enough to spark outrage, but together … here comes the wrath of mom.

Fury was let upon the Roman colony of Camulodunum, which was destroyed by Boudicca and her army in two days. Next was Londinium, and then Verulamium. These are modern cities of Colchester, London and St. Albans. Boudiccan forces slaughtered anything in their path that was anything Roman or akin to Roman. Although numbers are in question, Dio cites around 230,000 troops for Boudicca against an estimated 10,000 for the final battle. Even if you boost Roman numbers and slash Boudicca’s by half, the Romans are well outnumbered. So it is no wonder that Suetonius, the governor of the area, picked for his last stand a very narrow gorge with a thick forest behind him. No doubt he’s read his Greek history and pulled from the pages of King Leonidas I and his 300 Spartans.

Whether 10,000 against 230,000 or only 100,000 Boudiccans, “their numbers counted for nothing.” In a narrow field of battle, Boudicca would not be able to flank Suetonius, or hardly even maneuver her forces. Indeed, she wound up pinned against her supporting wagons and encampments. Romans repaid the slaughter of their three cities. The rebellion ended in some undesignated place along the Waitling Street, a long road bisecting the island, but probably somewhere in the center regions.

Tacitus says that Boudicca committed suicide, but neither Tacitus nor Dio mentions the fate of her daughters. Nobody came out on top, really. Boudicca was dead, Rome was in disgrace, even to the point then Emperor Nero considered pulling out of Briton. Legion commanders who’d been defeated earlier, fled to Gaul in cowardice. A few commanders did not rally to Suetonius’ call to arms, and overall, Roman behavior was less than honorable.

Ultimately the whole affair was disastrous. But what shines through is that Boudicca didn't accept defeat. She stood her ground, endured, and then sought to rally the locals against an occupation army that was, in effect, looting their country. She went down, yes, but she took a piece of Rome with her.

Therefore, submitted for your approval…

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
According to Tacitus, Boudicca said this,
 It is not as a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that I am avenging lost freedom, my scourged body, the outraged chastity of my daughters. Roman lust has gone so far that not our very persons, nor even age or virginity, are left unpolluted. But Heaven is on the side of a righteous vengeance;
Boudicca was avenging the wrongs imposed her with the fury of woman. And while she somewhat tried to set aside her nobility, she actually was using it as reason for deserved leadership, but reinforced it with the fact that she was wronged just as the people were wronged—perhaps more so.
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position and develop a brand personality that customers can use to introduce the brand.
Boudicca was the avenging queen, the lady warrior…
Warrior Queen
3. Establish graphic standards.
Boudicca’s physical description is enough to make a statement, but the symbolism of her leadership and justification of her cause was wholly wrapped up in the fact that she led from a chariot, attended by her two “outraged” daughters. Remember that Boudicca herself had been flogged, but it was her virgin daughters that had been brutally raped.
4. Implement internal branding programs to reward employees for behaving in ways that are consistent with the brand personality.
The root message from Boudicca was simply, fight or be slaves. Essentially she was saying, be you woman, man or child, your fate is tied to your willingness to battle against Rome—an oppressive enemy bent on discarding Britons, regardless of tribe or standing, and make of them slaves.
5. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
Boudicca did not have long to firmly establish her brand. She was defeated after only three main attacks against Roman cities. But she incited fear into the colonial Roman forces. Her legacy was disgrace to Rome, regardless of its ultimate victory, and her name stands forever as a symbol of an avenger.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Horde of Expectations

Gauls, Huns, Mongols, Vandals and Visigoths—these and other unnamed hordes were beyond scary to ancient civilizations, they were petrifying. Even armies perceived them as wild-eyed, animal-like masses, seemingly unruly and hellbent on mauling victims. And when facing an army of them, some imagined horrifying and slow torturous death was sometimes enough to make foot soldiers either bury their heads in the sand, or urinate where they stood. These were—the barbarians.

Barbarian is more of a categorization than it is a brand. Still, there are generalized attributes that come to mind on its mere mention—brutish, bloodthirsty, primitive and savage. Those are common descriptors we've long used to define those that are outside our idea of being civilized, cultivated or polished. To many benefactors of the tireless efforts of humankind to create a benign and safe society—at least on the surface—barbarians are a direct threat to peace and prosperity. But that's all just a bad rap that evolved over time. The truth is that early usage of the term didn't mean what it does today. To a Greek, it is conceivable that a Roman was a barbarian. So, although one might be a barbarian, it was still possible to conduct one's self within the bounds of good taste.
Barbarian, yes, but all in good taste.
Clip from 1994 film "The Shadow" - see footnotes for copyright information.

The whole concept of barbarians as a group originated with the ancient Greeks. The root word is barbaros, and it was meant to point out people from cultures different from Greek, or at the very least, non-Greek-speaking people. However, Greeks sometimes used it to insult competing city-states. This was especially true of Athens, who might deride, say, Sparta. It was similar to how New Yorkers might demean Houston, or any US city that isn't New York. Much of ancient Greece ultimately adopted the word as a pejorative reference to Persia, which might be understandable, given the Greco-Persian conflicts during the reigns of the Persian rulers, Cyrus and Xerxes. But in the beginning, there was nothing dark or nefarious, well, until Rome evolved the word.

Roman opinion was that pretty much everyone but Roman citizens were barbarians, and therefore inferior. This didn't just apply to some of the more tribal societies like the Celts and Gauls, and later the nomadic Goths and Huns. Rome not fond of competing advanced civilizations, such as Egypt or Carthage, but those are different stories. There was some exception given to the Greeks only because a large portion of Roman culture was derived from the Hellenistic period, including elements of language. Thus, we get the Latin derivative, barbarus. And it was from attack after repeated attacks on Rome by various barbarian opponents, and the city's repeated sackings during the first millennia that were the transformative forces on the meaning of the word.
The Visigoths sack Rom in 410 AD.

The sackings of Rome were transformative in our evolving idea of barbarians.
The fall of Rome was a painful process, lasting hundreds of years at the hands of all those barbarians that Rome once conquered, or at least irritated. The Dark ages followed the fall of Rome and the western empire—a period of horrific human suffering across all of Europe and into parts of Asia Minor. Much of this time inspires the modern notions of anti-heroes, such as of Conan the Barbarian. His motivations were personal, vengeful, and left a bloody wake across the land in which he travelled.

By the time of the Renaissance, the concept of barbarian was no longer pigeonholing an outlander as perhaps an undesirable or inferior cast in the city-state. Historians will say that barbarian transformed from such usage to become an adjective classifying acts or behavior. The 16th-century philosopher,  Michel de Montaigne, used the barbarous to characterize the dichotomous, bloodthirsty actions of Conquistadors, representing the civilized culture of Europe. He wrote that this was in contrast to the godless, tribal savages who supposedly needed to be civilized, but were the innocents and often peaceful. 

Barbarous, barbaric, and barbarism are how we now associate violent, heinous, or atrocious acts. This isn't being bad. Barbaric, or any derivative, is about being savage and bloody—it is aligned with being wantonly vicious, cruel, almost inhuman. A murderer. 

 When first impressions count...
Clip from Star Trek (Original Series): A Taste of Armageddon - 
see footnotes for copyright information.

Yet, and with a protracted but ...  because it is an undeniable truth that we humans have a barbarous streak in us as long as a DNA strand, part of us holds a sneaking admiration for our barbarian ancestors. Denying it is being less than honest. After all, most people on this planet, at least in the civilized nations, share DNA from invading barbarian savages, such as Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, the Huns, and hordes of Viking warriors that pillaged the British isles and much of coastal Europe. 

Even in ancient times there was regard for the noble savage—although that expression is more often associated with the native plainsmen of North America. Still, even the Greeks gave their barbarian enemies their due, which is evident in a reproduction of a 3rd century BC sculpture. The original was commissioned by a king to commemorate his victory over the Gauls. It represents a dying Celt warrior, a barbarian, resting on his shield, barely able to hold himself up. It implies his struggle against death, symbolizing the resolve, determination and bravery of worthy adversaries. Art historian H. W. Janson interpreted the message as, "they knew how to die, barbarians that they were."

The Dying Galatian, Capitoline Museums, Rome

A sneaking admiration for a worthy adversary, "they knew how to die, barbarians that they were."

Romans had a fascination with Barbarians, as well. Gladiators were often prisoners, those barbarians captured during combat. In the games, they were pitted against other barbarians or prisoners in violent contests that were sometimes recreations of battles Rome fought against Celts, Gauls, and others. Much of our impressions about gladiators come from Hollywood. Watching cable shows like Spartacus or movies like Pompeii postulate the idea of pimping gladiators to Rome's more randy women of society. There is not a lot of evidence for this, but historians acknowledge that some women certainly found gladiators sexually attractive. No doubt there were clandestine sexual hook-ups between high-caste spectators and their heroes of the arena. But a woman of status cavorting with a gladiator—a barbarian—was very inappropriate. And as wildly wicked as Romans could be in private, their public personas were immensely important to them. So if something like an affair with a gladiator got out—it was bad. 

Brand expectation for barbarians evolved considerably. Initially, they were simply foreigners—people who perhaps struggled with the language and customs of the place they were visiting. Depending on the extent of the transgression, being called a barbarian could be a simple label or an insult. Either way, barbarians were outsiders and deserving of wary attention. Rome really had the impact on the term. It's encounters with the Germanic tribes of Europe, and then suffering so many violent, penetrative invasions, barbarian grew to express a wholly different expectation. Barbarians grew to become manbeasts, ready to destroy civilization. 

An Additional tidbit
Barbara is a derivative of barbarian—yes, it is. It was originally meant as, "a woman barbarian." Likely it was not complimentary. 

1 H. W. Janson, "History of Art: A survey of the major visual arts from the dawn of history to the present day", p. 141. 
  H. N. Abrams, 1977
The Shadow - Copyright CondeNast; 1994 Film Universal Pictures and Bregman Baer Productions; DVD release MCA/Univeral Home Video (USA).
Start Trek (The Original Series) - A Taste of Armageddon, Copyrights:
   Desilu Productions (1966-1967)
   Paramount Television (1968-1969)

   CBS Digital (remastering)
   CBS Television (2007 - present)