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Friday, November 11, 2022

Honored Brands

This is not the first use on this site of the Klingon saying, "The honor is to serve." But on such a day honoring veterans, it remains applicable because while stated by a fictitious character, it nicely sums up the spirit of the men and women who served in our armed forces—and very much those who have served and sacrificed in the defense of our nation. On this day, BIH highlights those who've honored our country with their service and, as well, those brands that are the source of many military traditions. A common thread among those who served, and those who currently serve, is a team united in cause and vision.

Submitted for your review...Honor Brands. 

Red Tails - The Tuskegee Airmen represent some of the most heroic and honor-bound men that have served our nation. Read their story and find national pride.

Flying Tigers - These were the tough guys, the streetfighers of World War II. They came, they saw, they kicked butt and chewed bubblegum.

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 a deep conviction for that which he fought.

Living in Infamy - Pearl Harbor was a watershed moment for the United States of America. Reminiscent of Hannibal's defeat of Rome at Cannae, Japan made the same errors and let loose a sleeping giant.

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.

Spartans are Beast: If you want a lesson in teamwork, then the Spartans should be on the coaching staff. Just 300 Spartans held off Persia's King Xerxes and his massive army for three days. Yeah, there were Greek brethren there too, but they scattered quickly. The Spartans stood their ground and gave the Persians a sound spanking before being overrun.

Samurai jacked: These are Japan's ancient warrior class. On arrival to the battlefield, they'd scare the Zen out of their opponents. All samurai lived and died by the Bushido—a code that bound them together in ferocity, devotion to duty and master, and an "all-in" willingness to die in battle. It just makes you want to see a match-up on Deadliest Warrior between 300 samurai and 300 Spartans. 

Note: Originally posted November 11, 2019.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

And darkness falls, yet again

 Once more unto the breach of fear and horror. It is that time of year when darkness falls across the land and 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.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Viva Villa—the Centaur lives on!

This is a throw back to a post from 11 years ago. As it's Hispanic Heritage Month, well, it seemed appropriate. Therefore, resubmitted for your approval:

Villa rides! He is Francisco "Pancho" Villa, the enduring brand as the iconic Mexican bandit to most Americans and Mexicans. To Americans, Villa is the quintessential Mexican bandit as characterized in films such as the Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Professionals, and Blazing Saddles. And to most Mexicans, Villa is a legendary folk hero along the vein of Robin Hood—fighting for not only Mexico's poor and downtrodden, but Mexico herself.

The reality of Villa was that in as much as he really was a bandit, and a ruthless killer, there was another side to his brand that cements his immortal status. Far more than a simple criminal is the amazing revolutionary who passionately fought for a constitutional government against the conspiring dictators like Porfiro Diaz.

To this day, Villa is remembered with immense pride by most Mexicans.  Rightly so, really. An effective leader, he is celebrated for having led the most important military campaigns of Mexico's revolution—and winning most of them. When speaking with Mexicans about Villa, especially those of the northern regions, do not underestimate the respect this brand still commands.

Villa was born circa 1878 as Doroteo Arango in San Juan del Río, Durango. The son of a sharecropper, his life was typical as a Mexican peasant.  He knew all too well the hard life of his class, and that too often peasants were little more than slaves.

Manhood came to Villa at the age of 15 when his father died, leaving him to work in the fields to support his mother and four siblings. Yet within a year, he would be set on the path dominating the rest of his life. Coming in from the fields, Villa found the landowner about to have sex with his 12-year old sister. Some historians record it as rape. Either way, Villa became incensed, grabbed a pistol and shot the offender. 

From here, there is a burrito supreme-wide gap in the "official" record for the next 4-years or so. We do know that within this time frame Arango changed his name to Francisco Villa. "Pancho", by the way, is a Spanish nickname for Francisco. And Pancho Villa rolls off the tongue. Of course, the whole idea of a name change was to confuse the law. It was also a major step in repositioning himself from sharecropper to, well, something else entirely.

We do know he worked here and there as a miner, a laborer, even as a wholesale meat-seller. Although the latter is in the official government biography, historians note that it is a metaphor, meaning  that Villa sold stolen cattle. But hey, the prices were wholesale!

Around the turn of the century, Villa discovered bank robbery and added it to his criminal repertoire of cattle rustling and murder. This is about the same time he established himself with a band of bandit followers and dug in somewhere in the sierras. That is, until Villa made his historical transition from bandit to revolutionary in 1910.

Joined by his men, Villa sided with the forces of Francisco Madero. Apart from how we perceive the man, Villa was reportedly very charismatic—at least enough to ably recruit an army of thousands, including American mercenaries.

Unfortunately for Villa, he was on the losing side of the revolution. Although Madero enjoyed a short-lived victory, he was assassinated. However, Villa so earned the respect and regard of his enemies that he and his forces were permitted to remain intact. Based in Chihuahua, Villa ruled over northern Mexico like a medieval warlord. He financed his army by stealing from the endless cattle herds in northern Mexico and selling them north of the border. Sometimes the sale was outright cash, other times Villa found willing American merchants to trade for guns and ammunition.

Villa sits to the left.
Perhaps out of the caricature of bandits, but worthy of note, is that Villa did not drink. He did love to dance and had an affinity for the ladies. In fact, he supposedly married 26 times. And here is something else out of mold. Villa was an avid swimmer and would run to stay in shape.  Huh, go figure.

Even though Madero was gone, and there were interim presidents/dictators, the revolution kept on. And as these things often go, a split formed among the revolutionary leaders. The result meant that Villa squared off against former allies, sort of, Obregón and Carranza. Of course, and despite that this was an internal affair, the U.S. got in the middle of it ... a couple of times and not on the same side twice. At this point in the mess, the U.S. supported of an opposition presidency. Understandably annoyed, Villa raided a few U.S. border towns, the most famous raid being on Columbus, New Mexico.

Villa's brand in the southwestern U.S. was pretty strong up to this point. But the raids dropped his stock significantly. On the flip side, Mexicans saw Villa as an "avenger" of American oppression. Apparently they'd forgotten Santa Anna.

At any rate, all this led to Villa's eventual defeat. The Mexican government accepted his surrender and, once again, let Villa live. He retired on a general's salary to Canutillo, Durango. The terms of his retirement prevented him from engaging in any politics. However, Villa couldn't help but be Villa. The result was his assassination in 1923. Still, in nearly a century, the bandit's brand lives on. Therefore, submitted for your approval...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
Villa was a daring tactician. He won 9 of 13 significant engagements during the revolution. Whether in battle or in negotiation (diplomacy would be too refined for some of the encounters with Villa), Villa knew how to turn the tide in his favor. He was forceful, convincing and successful—the strongest of all metrics.  In modern vernacular:
He came, he saw, he kicked butt!
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position.
A lot of Pancho Villa’s fame is due to his flamboyant personality which he deliberately cultivated. He used the budding Hollywood media by appearing as himself in several early movies. This reinforced the popular image of Pancho Villa as a fearless horseman battling the forces of injustice (Can you say Robin Hood or Zorro?).
3. Develop a focused brand personality that customers can use to recommend or introduce your company to others.
In reality, Villa's brand personality was unto himself—Villa. And that name said all that was necessary to convey personality, concept, and brand experience. Of course, there was "Viva Villa!" But Villa was enough to encapsulate the entire brand in just two syllables.
4. Establish graphic standards.
No one put their personal stamp on the American perception of the Mexican bandit more than Villa. And he wholly owned the style. He sported a bushy mustache, the sombrero and the bandolier full of bullets. Moreover, he was an accomplished horseman. He often made sure he was photographed or recorded in movies riding into battle, exhibiting superior equestrian and fighting skills. In fact, he had a nickname beyond Pancho. The Centaur of the North because of his abilities in horsemanship. Not bad, since it also gave a mythical quality to the man. 
5. Implement internal branding programs to reward employees for behaving in ways that are consistent with the brand personality.
Villa had a multi-pronged program to incentivize support for his brand. Faced with a stagnant economy, Villa issued his own money; if merchants refused to take it, they risked being shot. Executions, which Villa often ordered on a whim, were usually left to his friend Rodolfo Fierro, so the brutality wasn't directly on Villa himself. On a generous side, and in true Robin Hood style, he broke up vast land holdings of local landowners and parceled them out to the widows and orphans of his fallen soldiers.
6. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
Villa was persistent in his pursuit of a constitutional government for Mexico. He was further consistent in his tactics, his reward for service and his punishment for opposition. Yet he understood the benefit of a communications program, too.
At the height of Villa's popularity as a folk hero in the U.S, Hollywood filmmakers and U.S. newspaper photographers were on Villa like paparazzi. They captured his battle exploits, and others, many of which were staged for the benefit of the lens. And therefore, he put the best light on himself to target audiences outside his direct sphere of influence. It helped him gain support––political and financial.

Pancho Villa was the poster child for Mexico's wild side. Rebel, thief, general of the Mexican Revolution, and invader of U.S. territory—Villa was a man as complex as his country, and despite his dark side, you have to have a sneaking admiration for his abilities. The fact that his brand is living long is proof—Viva Villa!


Wednesday, February 9, 2022

A Prickly Brand

A s the northern hemisphere emerges from cold temperatures,  we're again heating things up with love. Florists are thriving. Restaurants are packed. And even a few travel destinations are booked. And it's all due to this chubby little cherub that's one of the most ancient of brands—the mischievous little archer that makes an ass of many would-be lovers and gives others just the shot in the arse needed to win over a heart. Cupid is his name, which is Latin for "passionate desire". Ah, but the Romans don’t have sole claim over this nekkid troublemaker. Like much of its culture, Rome swiped its mythology from the Greeks, and Cupid is no different. He was known to ancient Hellas as Eros, the god of love. And since Greeks were a particularly randy lot back in the day, they portrayed him as a healthy young adult male—sort of a Magic Mike of the classical world. Eros makes his first literary appearance around 700 B.C. His origin story varies but ultimately he was dubbed the son of Aphrodite and Zeus.

Stringing his bow, original by Lysippos.
His job? To “incite an erection”—well, along with all the passion and devotion pursuant to amorous endeavors. However, our little angel can switch to demon in a heartbeat because he liked souring the love potion. You see, while the pierce of his golden arrow inspired love, Cupid also carried lead arrows. Those caused the struck victim to be repulsed by whoever pursued them. Apollo suffered this fate when hit by Cupid's golden arrow while the object of his affection, Daphne, was violated by a lead one.

Over time, Eros evolved from a hansom, human-like specimen to Rome’s Cupid, having wings. The arrow and quiver came into play here. Both the wings and the arrows would stick from then on, although as we passed through the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance, Cupid became a cherub or child-like angel. That’s not to say that Renaissance art doesn’t have a more Romanesque version. It does. But the dominant apparition to emerge by the 18th and 19th centuries is the chubby-cheeked, mischievous baby angel.

Whether Greek, Roman, Renaissance, or post-millennium, Cupid is a brand attribute, a position statement, and brand personality—an icon, really. Love and passion are central themes and define the brand attribute of Cupid. Those are, after all, the brand promises, as well. And nothing is more central to the human condition than love’s fulfillment of the heart and expressed in pleasures of the flesh. Our history is written by love and all that it implies. Indeed, Cupid’s motto dates back to the 1st century BC with the Augustan poet Vergil,

Omnia vincit Amor: et nos cedamus Amori.
Love conquers all, and so let us surrender ourselves to Love.

Therefore, my friends, Happy Valentine's Day.

Note: this is an updated version of a prior post. 

Friday, January 28, 2022

Ancient Marcom: More Like Today Than You Think

This is old but it's about to be new because I've received a few"asks" to make this current. Therefore, submitted for your approval:

Marketing communications (marcom) remains a game of strategy, the winning approach incorporating the right mix of the right message, the right brand, and the right audience, using whatever targeted tools are on hand at the moment of dissemination. Modern arsenals are loaded with channels of communication, but way back in the day, it was word of mouth that was king. But how did ancients ignite the verbal firestorm, the chatter that would spread your message as far as the frontiers of your nation-state, or beyond?

I know. Can one really talk about “ancient marcom,” especially in comparison with the hyper-digital age? Yes. The foundations are the same—it’s the tools that evolve. And just as a matter of opinion, though well-substantiated, every stride man has ever made began with a marketing pitch, an effort to convince someone of something—and that pitch didn’t have to be about commerce, but it was always about getting someone to buy-off on an idea. Always. So marcom was born with that first message needing to be sent in order to persuade someone to engage in some activity: a trade, building a fire, going on a hunt, family or tribal politics, or military action—even sexuality. Oh yes, it could be definitively said that sexuality was, and is, a primal driver of promo­tion and persuasion.

"And so marcom was born with that first message needing to be sent in order to persuade someone to engage in some activity..."

Early channels of communication started with something as simple as a face-to-face pitch grunted at the mouth of a cave and then included public oration with animated-arm move­ments around the campfire. Beating rhythms on a hollow log ex­tended audience reach across valleys or along vast plains. Regard­less of however primitive intended exchanges may have been, their common purpose was to convince someone of something’s value, or to share a vision or objective with the family, the tribe, nearby tribes, perhaps even nomads. Civilization was evolving because of communication. Controlling fire was a great development, but it was the ability to relay an idea that fanned the flames of progress and established Homo Erectus as the species to contend with.

Along with man’s progression into organized communities—camps, hamlets, villages, towns, and then the inevitable metropolitan city-state—marcom evolved in parallel. Campfire storytellers evolved into heralds, standing at town centers to cry out news, official announcements, and, sometimes gossip. And this is where the Babylonians enter the picture by introducing the street barkers. 

Barkers are a simple concept. Pay someone willing to stand in public and yell out a message, repeatedly to passersby—whether it was public decrees by leadership, a sale, or an event. During the rise of the Greco-Roman eras, barkers evolved into orators. Orators were actually trained in delivering messages with the objective of persuasion. Even when hired to regularly “broadcast” news at specific times of day in specific centers of the city, it was never done so with journalistic objectivity. Just like today, the message was not to be confused by the facts.

By the time of Julius Caesar, Rome had even introduced social media and innovated public relations. Romans were notorious for employing an ancient version of Twitter, which was the hiring of professional “gossips” to spread the word on various subjects. These could be good or bad, but always juicy details—true or not—about politicians and policy, patrician celebrities, military leaders, or just something big coming, such as entertainment spectacles, gladiatorial combats, executions, or even market sales and particular product availability. Gossips worked the streets, eating establishments, social gatherings, the halls and anterooms of the Senate, etc. 

"Romans were notorious for employing an ancient version of Twitter."

Many gossips and her­alds mined their fodder from Julius Caesar, himself an adept public-relations hound. While on his Gallic conquests, he sent dispatches back to Rome, highlighting his exploits and victories, as well as providing a detailed accounting of the spoils of war, which he won for distribu­tion among Roman citizens, thus earning their admiration. Individually, these were exciting press releases from the front. Ultimately, they would be assembled in what is called, The Gallic War: Seven Commentaries on the Gallic Wars, Caesar’s version of The Audacity of Hope. 

"Writing with a marcom purpose first appeared around 1800 BC."

Writing, however, did not originate from Rome. That honor goes back to ancient Persia—mainly within Babylonia, hovering around 2500 BC. But writing with a marcom purpose first appeared around 1800 BC in the form of a clay cone. While this artifact now resides in Paris’ Musée du Louvre, it was once passed around the citizens of Sippar, a town near ancient Babylonia. Its cuneiform inscription dates back to the time of King Hammurabi, the author of the famous Code of Hammurabi, which are decrees remarkably similar to the Ten Commandments but predates the Commandments by 200-years. Nevertheless, the takeaway is that the “cone” was a keepsake, of sorts. It commemorated Hammurabi’s building of city walls to protect Sippar during the first half of the 18th century BC.

It was almost a thousand years later when another Babylonian icon gave us more evidence of his culture’s marcom innovations. Cyrus the Great ruled over Neo-Babylonia, more commonly called the vast Persian Empire, between 559 and 530 BC. To put this into perspective, it was during Cyrus’ time that tensions between Athens and Persia began, culminating in the Battle at Marathon, and later at Thermopylae, which made Sparta’s 300 so famous. And while Athens was somewhat irritated with Cyrus, the reality is that he was a pretty tolerant leader—and considered a very progressive thinking one. We get this from the Cyrus Cylinder.

The Cyrus Cylinder is just that, a terracotta cylinder with a lot of cuneiform writing all over it. The author was a master at writing to fit. In just 45 lines of text, the content is reminiscent of either a State of the Union speech or an annual report—perhaps both. Subject matter includes an in­troduction reviling Cyrus’ predecessor while associating Cyrus with a popular deity, including a prayer on behalf of Cyrus. It further details Cyrus’s royal titles and genealogy, and his peaceful entry to Babylon. The author also commends Cyrus’s policy of restoring Babylon and declares that Cyrus improved the lives of citizens, enabled the people to live in peace, repatriated displaced peoples, restored temples and cult sanctuaries, as well as increased the offerings made to the gods. Finally, it lists and details the Babylonian public-works activi­ties ordered by Cyrus.

"Cyrus was extolling his brand in quite a sophisticated manner—this cylinder was essentially his value proposition to the people of Babylon." 

Cyrus was extolling his brand in quite a sophisticated manner—this cylinder was essentially his value proposition to the people of Babylon. No doubt that Cyrus the Great was a peach of a king, but the Cyrus Cylinder is a gem of propaganda. The British Museum, where the cylinder is housed, describes it as an artifact of Mesopotamian “propaganda that reflects a long tradition in Mesopotamia where, from as early as the third millennium BC, kings began their reigns with declarations of reforms.”

The Cyrus Cylinder also reveals another Babylonian marcom innovation, “sponsorships.” We think of corporate logos plastered all over stadiums and skyscrapers, but the whole idea was born out of Babylon. Sponsorships allowed kings to stencil their names on the public works they’d constructed—temples, bridges, gates, stat­ues, or obelisks. Not just their names, mind you, but their deeds were carved or etched into stone, extolling their awesomeness. In effect, they put their stamp on something seen by everyone who either lived in their territory or visited it.

The modern evolution of sponsorships was already evident by the time of the Colosseum in Rome. Senators and other influencers purchase box seats at the arena—not unlike having season tickets and suites at today’s stadiums. They carved their name or message on the stone facing the center of the stadium so that citizens attending the games or event, would get a messaging “touch.” This tactic has not changed.

"But their deeds were literally carved     or etched into stone, praising their awesomeness."

Modern communicators like to think they are clever—espe­cially the gorilla marketers. But even then, the ancients were way ahead. Besides directly displaying their obvious charms to potential clients, prostitutes of the ancient world used a very clever chan­nel. The soles of their sandals were carved so they left an imprint that read, follow me on the ground as they walked. Talk about tracking your results.

Along one of the main roads in the ancient Greek port of Ephesus, there are well-worn cement blocks. In the lower corner of many of these pavers is the etching of a woman, presumably Aphro­dite. Beside her is an impression of a left foot, which supposedly tells one to look on the left side of the street. There are other images carved into the stone, but according to guides, these stones are early adver­tisements, essentially saying that “If you walk straight along this road, you will find women on the left side of the street. They will give you love for a price.” In other words, this was an ad for a local brothel.

"Marks identifying a particular brothel engraved into paver stones denoted some level quality..."

Similar stones can be found in other ancient port cities. Marks identifying a particular brothel engraved into paver stones denoted some level quality, be­cause if the house could afford the stones or craftsmen to engrave them, then they must be of quality—or at least popularity. Very often, such marks were akin to logos, symbols used to convey identity. They were a referent for those unable to read or, at least, unfamiliar with the written language of the land that they were in. In the ancient world, logos were a quick conveyance of what something was or what one might have gotten out of it.

It's understandable to a degree that a persistent misconception is that logo and brand are synonymous. They are not. And for explanation's sake, let's start with the 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. While most of us associate the latter with the American west, the Egyptians were doing it well before the Christian era. Regardless of whether you’re describing 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 breeding stock, could be quality or questionable. The symbol is meaningless without something of perceived value or experience associated with it. And value—real or perceived—is where branding comes in. Indeed, that is what defines a brand.

"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."

Branding is about reputation, and reputation is the brand—what a prospective buyer or even the receiver of a simple message expects from the seller or the message bearer. Word gets around when a merchant sells junk or treats customers poorly. We know (or should) which information sources are about fluff or intentional misdirection. Even in personal branding, there are those people whose opinions are trusted, and others less so. All of that equals what marcom professionals refer to as "expectation." Then as now, the successful cultivation of expectation included the contemporary concept of "user experience," which is defined as a whole slew of things between a customer finding a merchant or service provider, to satisfaction after the sale. The essence of it all was the same as today, but especially crucial in the ancient world. The intended or desired public perception of one's brand depended on getting the word out—which meant using the channels of the day, including but not limited to gossips, orators, and clay cylinders—all firing up the Twitter of the ancient world, known as word of mouth.