How the Founder Can Enhance Your Brand

How the Founder Can Enhance Your Brand

James Martin-Harper |

We live in a celebrity-obsessed world. The media is fascinated with the lives of the rich and famous. Even ordinary people can become celebrities as long as they are infamous. The most successful magazine in America is not a news magazine, a sports magazine or a financial magazine... it’s a celebrity magazine - People, which carries more advertising pages than any other magazine.

Don’t blame the media. It's consumers who buy the fan magazines and flock to the television shows like Celebrity Appearance or Keeping up with the Kardashians that should get the credit, or the blame, for our obsession with celebrities. Even business tycoons are getting their share of publicity. It’s surprising how many corporate CEO’s are getting to be as famous as their companies.

The founder of a company benefits from celebrity worship in two ways:

(1) Everyone wants to know something about the person who runs a company. (2) Everyone assumes the products and services of that company reflect the values of the founder.

When you are both, as Steve Jobs was, the PR potential is doubled. Celebrity worship is a relatively new development; founder worship is not. Legitimacy is especially important in industries that sell “invisible” products. What do you get when you buy a life insurance policy? You might spend thousands of pounds and have nothing to show for your money except a pile of paper. The legitimacy and financial stability of the insurance company are important aspects of your purchase.   

The name “Yuengling,” an anglicized version of the German term for “young man” is a weak brand name. And unfortunately, the name doesn’t sound German. Nor in English does it connote much of anything or sound nice. The verbal nail “America’s oldest brewery” has potential, but the brand would need a strong visual hammer to realise that potential.

In 2010, President Barack Obama sent a case of Yuengling to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to cover a friendly wager on the outcome of the Winter Olympic hockey final.  That’s the kind of endorsement and PR the brand is going to need to pump up sales. But it’s not going to be easy when you have a name like Yuengling and no visual hammer. If Yuengling beer is a bad name, how about John Schnatter’s pizza? Fortunately, Mr Schnatter chose a different name. He called his chain, “Papa John’s” in order to compete with Pizza Hut and Dominos.

Papa John’s went upscale with a verbal nail it has used consistently for decades. “Better ingredients. Better pizza. Papa John’s.” But the visual hammer in the television commercials is the real secret to Papa John’s success. With a name like Papa John, you would expect to see an older, Italian-looking man with grey hair and a handlebar moustache. What you don’t expect to see is John Schnatter, who looks like a clean-shaven college student with a rah-rah enthusiasm for his brand.  That’s what creates the visual shock that hammers in the verbal nail: “Better ingredients. Better pizza.”

Whenever you have a choice, it’s always better to select the claim that is visually different even though it’s not verbally better. Visuals are more powerful than words. No person can live forever, but a founder hammer can exist for several lifetimes. So how does a brand make the transition from a live founder to a dead historical figure? One thing that is helpful is using a stylized cartoon drawing of the founder rather than a photograph. Cartoons don’t usually work on TV, but on signs, on the Internet and in print, they work very well. Another thing that is helpful is a difference in clothing (white suit & black string for Colonel Sanders) or a difference in facial hair (moustache & goatee for Jack Daniels).