I grew up in a Village where if you passed wind someone down the other end of the village would open the window. It was a small place. Everyone knew everyone else’s business. You were exposed to generations of ideals, trivia, insignificances, curtain twitching, do-gooders and sinners all in one tiny space. There was a single bus in the morning, a single bus in the evening and a train service just as sparse that hooted its horn at 8:00am in the morning – a sensible time to start a commute, and 6:00pm in the evening. Until you reached the age to travel alone, or to drive, you were pretty much stuck.
Now I think about how my kids would be in that same environment – I know they would find it claustrophobic with no computer games, no wi-fi, but I loved it – the people in my life were like my favourite and my not so favourite brands. There were a couple of people in my life that I would have to describe as the Heinz Baked Beans on the shelf of people around me. For me it was my parents. Now for others it may be a friend or a relative, but there is that connection that you have that is so similar to your favourite brands.
I began to ask myself does this analogy fit and to explore that I did have to think back quite a while. And it did fit. It would be very easy to think that I am recalling the past with rose coloured glasses however let me get this straight now – I grew up at a time when it was the done thing to give a kid – like myself a smack on the Arse when I had done something wrong – and I wasn’t a saint so I had a few good hidings.
In particular I want to talk about my dad. He was 6ft 1in and had been a heavyweight amateur boxing champion when he was younger. He was a great tennis player, cricketer, footballer, swimmer and a bit of a mischief maker and was known as Big John. He was a gentle giant like the song, “Broad at the shoulder, narrow at the hip and everyone knew you never gave no lip to Big John”. That was unless you happened to be one of his kids. Lord knows how he managed with my mum to put up with three of us kids.
My dad was in many respects a typical dad, very often embarrassing. I recall mayday celebrations, every year they would come around and in the 70’s we would as children all be sat in the playground waiting to dance for the parents. Parents that had taken time from work or parenting to come and sit and watch and encourage. Many of the parents from the “New Estate” who worked in the nearby city of Oxford and would turn up in shirts and ties, shiny shoes and sit quietly as their children did their thing and clap at the right moments. My dad however would be there is his white tennis Dunlops’, no socks, a cheese cloth shirt with the top buttons undone, sleeve cuffs turned up, and a smile for everyone and a hello for anyone. He wouldn’t think twice about getting up and doing the unthinkable and heading my way to take photos of myself, my dance partner and mates.
At the time I recall wishing for him to sit down and be a bit more like the other parents.
Other times my dad would take us to the playground where the 70’s swings and roundabouts were as dangerous as can be. This however did not stop my dad from pushing us higher than the other dads would dare, but when my dad pushed the roundabout all the other kids would flock to jump on. My dad being my dad would make it go faster and it would seem to carry on spinning forever. And my friends thought he was “ACE”.
If I wanted to make a parachute he wouldn’t ask Why? He would just say – “I’ll get some flex for the strings.” When my ActionMan parachute was tangled he would untangle it. If I wanted to make a huge poster and had no paper he would appear with a bed sheet. Cool I wasn’t going to ask where it came from – “Don’t tell your mum” became a familiar expression.
When I was caught by a friend’s mum drawing naked ladies copied from a soft porn magazine that my friend and I had found, he told me off, however, he always recognised talent when he saw it and suggested that I change the way I was shading so that I had some backlighting in the bosoms… “Don’t tell your mum”.
We would walk in Pinsley Wood, talk about my interests, listen to my music, hear my problems, solve my problems. Occasionally I would feel let down but only occasionally. They were rare times when I had expectations that I had not communicated – like the time I thought that I might get a banjo for my birthday – instead I got art materials – which were great – just not a banjo. We would go and sit on the beach and throw stones at old washed up tin cans past dusk into the dark when I should have been in bed. We would talk about my interests once gain.
My dad would advocate sporting endeavours, my chemical experiments, manage the local football side with a friend, build a super cool beach buggy, organise events, be a taxi, be supportive and still find time to attend to all of us as a family.
When I was too old for playgrounds, friends would come over to the house, I recall one time when a particularly mouthy 16 year old friend who was a bit of a know-it-all challenged my dad – my dad.
My friend’s challenge was that he could throw a tennis ball and that my dad would not be able to hit it – with a baseball bat. Now I knew my dad had good hand eye co-ordination but I thought this would be hard. My dad however spat on his hands. Took the baseball bat, “Ready when you are”. My friend wound up his arm, did a few fake starts to try and put off my dad. Finally he let the ball go and it was fast. Without missing a beat my dad swung the bat and the ball just appeared to go on for an eternity. Over the house which I now know to be 60m away from where he was standing.
For a moment My friend and I just stood standing, watching as the ball sank between the terraced houses near the playing field out of view. My friend erupted into shouts of amazement. I was amazed. I was proud. My dad was and had always been cool.
And it is as a parent that I see so many of the challenges of being a parent that are similar to being a leading brand, and its difficult. Knowing what you are doing, delivering on your promises, being an authority, advocating ideas grand and small, supporting, guiding, responding and listening. Understanding that it is not about you, its about what you give to others and how you are perceived by others. The actions you take, the ripples that you leave behind. Are they good? Are they indifferent?
My favourite brand of bakes beans have been with me for as long as I can recall. They were the only thing I would eat when as a 5 year old in hospital with Meningitis. They literally kept me alive. They are my comfort food, they are “healthy”, they give me energy, they make me feel good.
And isn’t that what we all want our brands to do – to make people feel good.
My dad passed away when I was 19. I have lived longer without him that I did with him but the connection and relationships he made with not only me but with my siblings and those around me has never diminished. His legacy is something that I believe worthy of the effort of any brand and that any brand would be more than happy to achieve. It is something that I believe should underpin why your brand exists.
His legacy is that he enriched the lives of those that he knew.
Have a think. What brand has enriched your life in the same way a person has? And what key emotional trigger are flipped when you engage with that brand?