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Thursday, December 3, 2020

An Old Brand to Ring in a New Year

Santa Claus is back to save us all from 2020! And thank Heaven he is. We need some good cheer and goodwill toward all. But how did this Yuletide renegade come to be? 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. We know him today a that plump, white-bearded toy broker soon to don his red coat with white collar and cuffs in preparation for another midnight 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). One must also ask: If Sanda 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--real ones, anyway.


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 inspiration to pull a little bit of magic out of ourselves.

Moving on.

What you may not know is that many 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 leaped 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 stockings by the chimney in homes. And would you believe this still survives in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands?

To zero back into 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 becomes 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, October 14, 2020

A Naughty but Skillful Brand

Gal Gadot may play Cleopatra.
There was a recent dust-up about actress Gal Gadot playing the infamous queen of Egypt—Cleopatra. Several tweets complained Gadot is not Egyptian or even African. I hate to break it to the misinformed social-media universe but, Cleopatra was not ethnically Egyptian nor African. So, to help clear things up, BIH dug into the archives to reboot one of its earliest posts. Digging wasn't tough because the entry on Cleopatra remains in the top five most popular posts since Brands in History debuted. Why? Keep reading and find out. 

Cleopatra was the naughty minx of Egypt who wasn't afraid to commit her assets to win an objective. When the original entry was prepared, it seemed only fitting as a follow up to a  prior entry on Caesar. After all, one of the men Cleopatra skillfully influenced with her brand experience was Gaius Julius Caesar. Not to mention the fact that she was simply one of history's deliciously bad girls who consciously and brilliantly cultivated her brand.

Kicking this off, we need to be accurate. Our Cleo was, in fact, one of seven Cleopatras. Formally she was Cleopatra VII Philopator, and pretty much accepted as the last effective pharaoh of Egypt. Now, this next bit might ordinarily be a who cares type of fact, but it later plays into how smart Cleopatra really was. As the last of the Ptolemaic dynasty, she descended from Ptolemy, a trusted general of Alexander the Great. So it's important to know that Cleopatra wasn't Egyptian, she was Greek, or to split hairs, Macedonian.

The short answer to how non-Egyptians came to rule Egypt is that Alexander died without naming an heir. His empire was sliced up and Egypt wound up in Ptolemy's piece of the pie. Throughout their reign, the Ptolemies only spoke Greek, refusing to speak Egyptian. However, our Cleo was kinda cool from an Egyptian perspective since she did learn to read and speak Egyptian. And, she embedded Egyptian culture into her personal brand.

But first, there's a little more backstory. Cleopatra was an amazing woman from early on. At the age of 14, she became a sort of co-regent with her father. Later she would share the throne with her two brothers–one of whom she married per Egyptian custom. But eventually, her skills would convince a Roman or two that she ought to be sole ruler of Egypt. One of those Romans was Julius Caesar. He arrived in Egypt while chasing down his rival, a guy named Pompey. While that's a whole other story, it did bring Caesar and Cleopatra together.

Cultural and temporal standards of beauty aside, Cleopatra was a major hottie in her day. Well, not aesthetically. Her beauty radiated from inside. She was said to actually be somewhat homely. Still, reports of her appeal abound in the works of Plutarch, Cicero, and Florus, as well as others. They also commented on her knowledge of the day's politics and workings of the world. And she was petite, proven by the fact she was smuggled into Caesar's bedchamber within the rolls of a rug or bedding.

While never compared to the beauty of, say, Helen of Troy, what floated the boats of the men around Cleopatra were her wit, charm, and "sweetness in the tones of her voice." Her intellect combined with youth, sensuality, and exuberance, made Cleopatra a force with which to contend.

Nowadays we call it the "it factor."

Even 100 years later, Cassius Dio wrote, "She also possessed a most charming voice and knowledge of how to make herself agreeable to everyone. Being brilliant to look upon and to listen to, with the power to subjugate every one, even a love-sated man already past his prime [Caesar], she thought that it would be in keeping with her role to meet Caesar, and she reposed in her beauty all her claims to the throne."

What modern woman gets that kind of quality press? Few, really, if any. Therefore, submitted for your approval...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
Cleopatra had skills, she knew how to use them and she did so to whatever end she needed. Remember, at the age of 21 she had herself smuggled into Caesar's bedchamber for a meeting. This was a strategic encounter to, ahem, position herself in order meet her overall objectives. Nevertheless, our little Cleo became the 52-year old Caesar’s mistress, and nine months after their first meeting, in 47 BC, Cleopatra gave birth to their son.
Cleopatra was smart and ambitious, appealing and sultry, but in no way a tease. She delivered on her brand promise.
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate brand position.
Unlike most influencers—modern or ancient—Cleopatra saw no challenge in making her brand attributes into strengths within the culture and lore of Egypt. In fact, she was brilliant. The Ptolemies had long resisted speaking or writing in the Egyptian language. But not Cleopatra, she embraced the culture to the point of actually representing herself as the reincarnation of the Egyptian goddess, Isis. 
This was a powerful brand identity for her subjects. Isis was worshiped as the ideal mother and wife, and she was the goddess of nature and magic. And that is itself one of the keys to a successful brand—embedding culture into the brand 
Moreover, the real power of Isis is in the meaning of the name—"Throne." In depictions of Isis, her headdress is a throne. By association with Isis, Cleopatra made herself the personification of the throne. Thus Cleopatra would be a firm representation of a pharaoh's power. 
3. Develop a focused brand personality that customers can use to recommend or introduce your brand to others.
Isis provided a strong method for articulating the brand position as well as the brand personality. In modern terms, Isis was a popular patron saint. Everyone prayed to Isis, including slaves, sinners, artisans, and the downtrodden, and she heard the prayers of the wealthy, maidens, aristocrats, and rulers. 
We know that Cleopatra seriously took on this brand personality of motherhood, magic, and fertility.
The goddess Cleopatra -- mother of Egypt.
4. Establish graphic standards. 
Using Isis brought Cleopatra a wealth of imagery to communicate and reinforce her position. But her reputation as a standard of beauty for her time must still be acknowledged.  That said, there were represerntations of Cleopatra as Isis in statues, glyphs, etc. This simply engrained her in the hearts of her subjects as truly Egyptian and, of course, a goddess.  
Another symbol was the knot, which for Egyptians held magical properties, and a symbol of Isis was the knot. 
5. Implement internal branding programs to reward employees for behaving in ways that are consistent with the brand personality.
Yeah ... Cleo had rewarded those who did her bidding. 'Nuff said.
6. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
It's a tried and true strategy to secure one's position with an heir. And Cleopatra quickly put the spring back in Caesar's step as they became lovers during his stay in Egypt. The result was a son, Caesarian. 
After Caesar's assassination in 44 BC, Cleopatra hooked up with Marcus Antonius. We'll call him Mark Antony. Cleopatra was fertile. She and Mark had twins, followed by another son.
Cleopatra must have been one heck of a brand experience. In her time she convinced, perhaps beguiled two formidable men, Caesar and Anthony, to break with Roman conventions. She was the Delilah to their Sampsons. Her identification with Isis may have been the source of Caesar's later self-delusions of being a deity, which helped influence actions by the Roman senate.

She drove Anthony to abandon his legions during the final battles against Roman forces. In disgrace, Antony committed suicide. Not long after, and now famous in history, Cleopatra killed herself. Still, over the course of 18 years, Cleopatra held her position as the sole or primary ruler of Egypt.

Few women from the ancient world persist in drawing our cultural fascination like Cleopatra. Even the stunning Helen of Troy hasn't the power over us Cleopatra holds. A ten-year war raged over Helen, but that war and its characters overshadow her. Whereas Cleopatra, like the goddess she held herself to be, remains immortal—continuing her seductive rein into modern times, ever stirring controversy.


A modern testament to Cleopatra's brand endurance is the dozens of films with her character. Classic beauties and talents have portrayed this ancient icon of appeal and womanliness—Monica Bellucci,  the Redgrave sisters, Katherine Hepburn, Sophia Loren, and Elizabeth Taylor to name just a few. My personal favorites are Elizabeth Taylor and Monica Bellucci.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Dark Brands

 That time of year has come 'round, yet again. 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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The French Connection (répéter)

Bastille Day (July 14, 1790) commemorates the flashpoint igniting the French Revolution. Located in Paris, France, the Bastille was a medieval fortress that served as both armory and prison for political dissidents. It represented royal authority and symbolized abuses by the monarchy. When the public thought Louis XVI had fired a representative of the people, Frenchmen revolted and stormed the Bastille, touching off a powder keg.

French politics of the era were complex—which is an understatement. France's future would have to navigate a tumult of foreign monarchial interests, Papal meddling, and noble family protectionism, all amidst a boil of conflicting anti-royal factions—some pro-Republican, others consisting of various sub-factions of moderates, constitutionalists, and labor interests. There were even fascist-like groups. Revolts dusted up even before the storming of the Bastille. But it was that moment historians mark as the beginning of the French Revolution, the outcome of which defines the country we know today.     

Dating back to ancient times, this region has contributed so much to history. Each of the entries below is either directly connected to France, or at the very least, a link with a detour. They explore the Celts, contributions to Christianity, global communications, and, of course, Napoleon.

Par conséquent, soumis pour votre approbation...

Horde of expectations − Celts 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. Yeah, these were the barbarians.

Brand everlasting − At the end of the Dark Ages we get Charlemagne. He played a significant role in Christianity and with it, united much of Europe. He did so by integrating a lot of "tribes" into his empire, while simultaneously integrating select pagan traditions into Christianity.

Forged by fire − Joan of Arc is perhaps the toughest woman in history. And if there is one heroine that burns in the psyche of western civilization, it would be her divine brand.

The Napoleon complex − Napoléon is a name imbued with no small amount of brand attributes. Both celebrated and criticized, he rose to power amidst the French Revolution, and so successful were his military campaigns that he became emperor in 1804—and held it until 1814. These entries below walk you through the evolution of the Napoléon brand.

     § A brand apart

     § Rise of the little corporal

     § The return of Caesar

     § Emperor of the republic

     § A complex Napoleon

A wing and a prayer  Something big started in 1851 when Paul Julius Reuter moved to Paris.

Baseball and the Rosetta Stone − What in Babe Ruth’s name does baseball have in common with France and an ancient stone bearing Egyptian and Greek text? Read and find out.

Note: Originally posted in 2017.

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Lone Star Brand

March and April are big months in the Lone Star State. March represents the epic struggles between freedom fighters and despotism—the fall of valiant forces hopelessly outnumbered. Even into the month of April, a provisional government was on the run ahead of a massive army. Few non-Texans may realize that on the night before the great battle at San Jacinto, Mexican forces nearly captured the president of Texas, who narrowly escaped by canoe along the Buffalo Bayou, reaching an old riverboat to chug him toward a fortified Galveston. Even fewer realize that Texas forces were bracing for a slaughter. But it was an odd turn of events on a prairie near Brays Bayou that revealed Santa Anna's strategy—and his error in thinking. That moment turned the tide for Texas, setting the stage for an epic victory on the 21st of April, 1836.

Below are icons of that struggle that have become brands of history in their rights. The Alamo, Sam Houston, and Jim Bowie. Why, even Texas herself is a brand all her own. These entries hint at what makes the Lone Star State so unique, not only in the minds of her citizens, but also around the world. And why, when someone utters the word, Texas, the mind swirls in a torrent of expectation. 

Therefore, submitted for your approval...Texas!

Remembering the Alamo - As Thermopylae is to most Greeks, so is the Alamo to most Texans. And while the Alamo is one of two defining moments which helped establish the Texas brand identity, the Alamo is its own stand alone brand. Click here to understand how.

Sam—I am no Wellington - Sam Houston lived many lives, but it was in Texas that he met his destiny as a commander, and as president. Click to learn more about this unusual hero.

Now that's a knife - Jim Bowie earned his legendary reputation with his signature knife long before the Alamo. Click to find out why he may be the toughtest man in history.

Celebrating a really big brand - Texas! The very sound of that word evokes an expectation. Click to learn what makes the Lone Star State such a big brand.