Howard Johnson as a character

In my previous post I began to discuss the ways to consider your brand as if it were a person, a fully developed or “rounded” character that you might find in a book or movie.

It’s worth the exercise because those brands become more than just household names, they become part of our culture.

From the outside it looked like any ordinary 1964 Cadillac limousine.  In the expensive space between the driver and the passengers, where some installed bars, or even bathrooms, Mr. Howard Johnson kept a tidy ice cream freezer in which there were always at least eighteen flavors on hand, though Mr. Johnson ate only vanilla.

So starts the novella The Oranging of America by Max Apple.  It was first published in American Review and then as the title story in Apple’s first short story collection.  Howard Johnson is more than just a name or a label, he is the main character in this wonderful story.  A fully realized example.  And a lesson to everyone who considers themselves a branding expert.

The richness of observation and insight bring Howard Johnson closer to us than any advertising brief could.  We read this delightful story and understand the man, understand the brand.  Yes, it is fiction. But a wonderfully realized fiction.  And, after all, isn’t that really what a brand is all about?  Being as live in our minds as the most powerful characters in literature…or movies…or plays.

I was first introduced to that story by the writer and cultural critic John Leonard.  It was one of the stories that had a staying power.  It burned brightly in my memory long after I put down my copy of the book.  So I highly recommend it — for a variety of reasons.

Another example: In the mid 1990s I was working on the Kellogg’s advertising account at J. Walter Thompson.  Before one of my frequent trips to Battle Creek, Michigan, a friend sent me galley proofs of The Road to Wellville by T. C. Boyle.  It was a novel about William Kellogg himself.  Not far from my hotel room was the real building where the fictional Kellogg was starting his empire.

I strongly recommend any marketer to read these stories and books.  They are immensely enjoyable.  And they are enlightening on the power of a brand, the myth of a company’s founding, to make a true human connection between the company and the customer.

No positioning statement can do that.

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