Brand Envy



Get this episode from Under The Influence:Brand Envy (Season 1, Episode 19) - EP - CBC Radio

This is my annual celebration of the brands I envy. They aren't necessarily the most hip or most current. They don't even have to be a product or service, it could be a location, a person or an animal. But they must be unique, revolutionary or counter-intuitive. And they must have survived. This year, I tip my hat to a street that symbolizes glamour, a company that helps people move their lives, a city that became known as the mecca for country music, a company that created an empire out of leftovers, and an athlete who overcame a raging temper to become the most calm, revered champion in his sport.

See all the visual elements that complement this week's episode below:

The street is only three blocks long.

It has been called the most outlandish street of retailers in America.

But the mere mention of its name conjures up immediate images of expensive clothes, Rolls-Royces and celebrities.

It is Rodeo Drive.

In the 1950s and 60s, Rodeo Drive was Beverly Hill's main shopping district, but it was unknown outside Hollywood. But in the 70s, exclusive brands like Gucci and Cartier opened up locations there, and other blockbuster labels followed.

Rodeo Drive is more than just a street, it's a brand. The definition of a brand is an idea that has been attached to a product or place that has acquired a secondary meaning.

When you hear the words "Rodeo Drive," you don't think of a thoroughfare - you immediately think of wealth, exclusive shops and celebrities.

That is the imagery that makes Rodeo Drive so famous. It is an amazing brand.

This is my annual look at brands that I admire. They could be on my list because of their power, or because they revolutionized our lives, or maybe just because they've survived. They aren't necessarily hip or current or even number one in their category.

A brand, by my definition, doesn't have to be a product that you can hold in your hand. It could be a person, an animal or even a city street, like Rodeo.

I only have one real criterion.

Whatever it is, it has to give me Brand Envy...

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Discharged from the Navy in 1945, 29-year-old Sam Shoen tried to rent a utility trailer so he and his wife Anna Mary could move their possessions from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon.

But they had no luck. No one rented trailers for moving.

As Sam later said, "No one, at that time, seemed ready or willing to serve that need."

The Shoens figured there were a lot of families like them that needed a short-term trailer rental that could be rented here and left there.

So they drove north to Portland with only what they could fit into their 1937 Ford.

During the drive, they rolled the idea of a new business around in their heads.

They came up with a name - U-Haul - and outlined the business model of what would become the U-Haul Trailer Rental System.

Within two weeks of arriving in Portland, the first U-Haul trailer was parked on a gas station lot and offered for rent.

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By the end of that first year, in 1945, the Shoens had thirty 4 by 7 foot open trailers available for rent in Portland, Vancouver and Seattle, Washington.

Sam and Anna Shoen were also good marketers. Not only had they recognized a business opportunity, but they instinctively knew how to create an image for their company.

First, the trailers were painted a bright orange.

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Second, they used the trailers as moving ads. Messages like "Rental Trailers" and "One Way Rentals" and "Two Dollars Per Day" were splashed across the units for all to see as the trailers roamed the highways of the nation. And third, the business model was unique, as well. The trailers were all rented from gas stations, and a commission system for dealers was set up.

U-Haul wasn't an overnight success. The early trailers were built from the frames of scrapped automobiles, and broke down repeatedly. But like all great entrepreneurs, Sam and Anna Shoen were convinced their business was viable - even though they went broke a few years after starting it.

By the end of 1949, with perseverance and a belief in their vision, the Shoens had established a U-Haul network right across the United States, and by 1955, right across Canada.

Today, U-Haul has close to 16,000 locations, and has become the leader in the do-it-yourself moving industry.

I admire the U-Haul brand for several reasons. First and foremost, because it has survived for nearly 70 years. It has a unique business model and it's basic product and service has been consistent.

Malcolm Gladwell once noted the one trait all great entrepreneurs share in common isn't an appetite for risk, it's the ability to spot a sure thing. And what an opportunity Sam and Anna Shoen saw:

One out of five people move every year.

The average person moves 11 times in their life.

Three-quarters of all movers are do-it-yourselfers.

And if you added up the annual mileage of North American U-Haul trucks and trailers, it would be enough to travel around the Earth 194 times a day, every day of the year.

I bet, over the years, a lot of those U-Haul trailers headed for Nashville, Tennessee.

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Thousands have headed there in search of fame and fortune as Nashville is the mecca for country music. But I've often wondered why Nashville became the country music capital of the world?

Well, as it is with many things, it all started with marketing.

In the early 1900s, there was an business in Nashville called the National Life & Accident Insurance Company.

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National Life, as it was called, was doing well, and needed to invest some money from all the premiums it was collecting. The company looked at their options, and decided to start a radio station, since radio was the hot new thing in the 1920s. More importantly, it would be a way to advertise its services.

So in 1925, National Life started 650 AM, calling it WSM - which stood for its motto: "We Shield Millions." It played jazz, classical and gospel music. About the only thing it didn't play... was country.

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One day, Uncle Jimmy Thompson, a 77-year old championship fiddler, made an impromptu debut on WSM, playing old-time fiddle tunes for over an hour.

Source: YouTube

The listener response was overwhelming, and it prompted the station director, George D. Hay, to schedule a regular Saturday night show of down home country music. He named the show, "The Barn Dance."

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In 1927, the phrase "Grand Ole Opry" was uttered by Hay for the first time. That night, Barn Dance followed the NBC Network's Music Appreciation Hour, which featured classical music selections from the Grand Opera.

It prompted George Hay to say, "For the past hour, we have been listening to music taken largely from the Grand Opera. From now on, we will present the 'Grand Ole Opry'."

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Then he introduced harmonica wizard DeFord Bailey, who stepped up to the mike and played the "Pan American Blues" - inspired by the L&R Railroad passenger train.

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The freight train that was the Grand Ole Opry was set in motion that night for all time. WSM built recording studios, and Eddy Arnold was the first star to record there. Not long after, the first million-selling song was recorded in Nashville - it was called "Near You" and was performed by bandleader Francis Craig:

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That success lured the major labels to begin opening offices in Nashville. As the live audiences for the Grand Ole Opry kept growing, National Life's radio venue became too small to accommodate the hordes of fans.

After moving to several different locations, the Opry settled in the revered Ryman Auditorium in 1943. The Ryman has been called the "Mother Church of Country Music" - and its remarkable acoustics are world famous.

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In 1974, The Opry moved to the Grand Ole Opry House at the Opryland USA theme park, nine miles east.

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Together, the Grand Ole Opry and Nashville have launched the careers of hundreds of country stars, and it all started with a marketing idea to promote insurance on a radio station.

Source: YouTube

I admire another brand called Roger Federer.

While it's easy to admire his astonishing tennis accomplishments, like his 285 weeks at number one, his 73 singles titles and 16 Grand Slam titles, I admire Federer because of what he overcame to achieve all this.

It may be hard to believe, but Federer once had a lot in common with John McEnroe.

He threw his racquets, cried and had temper tantrums. He screamed and commentated at every shot.

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Then, after losing another match one day in 2001, Federer came to the conclusion he had to change. "I just decided I cannot continue to act like an idiot on the court," he explained, "I had to change."

Two years later, the transformation was complete. And Roger Federer began his amazing climb to the top.
When you watch him now, it's hard to even imagine a temper-tantrum. He is so completely composed on the court, that it's intimidating to his opponents.

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I admire Federer because he created a brand based on class and performance, not because he shouted, not because he dated super models, and not because he kept the paparazzi busy.

He lets his on-court performance speak for itself.

As a result of his class and style, he has attracted some of the world's biggest brands as sponsors. Including Mercedes Benz, Gillette, Rolex and Nike, which add over $40 million dollars to his multi-million dollar salary.

If a great brand is distinctive, if it runs counter-intuitive to the pack, if it overcomes potentially damaging obstacles to reach number one, then Roger Federer is a brand I envy.

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Earl Silas Tupper was a failed New Hampshire tree surgeon.

But he liked to experiment with plastics. Tupper worked at the DuPont Chemical Company, and was particularly intrigued by polyethylene, a new material used primarily for insulation radar and radio equipment.

Tupper melted it down, and molded it into lightweight, non-breakable cups, bowls and plates. But his real breakthrough came when he invented a liquid-proof, air-tight lid.

With that, he founded the Tupperware Plastics Company in 1938, and in 1946, he introduced his product to hardware and department stores.

But it didn't do well. People were unsure how to operate the lids, and sales sagged.

So Earl Tupper hired a smart, divorced mom named Brownie Wise, to be head of sales. She suggested that women had to be taught how to use the product through home demonstrations.

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Brownie Wise

The idea was so successful that, by 1951, Tupper had pulled all his merchandise off store shelves, and distributed it strictly through direct home sales.

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The concept grew to become a household phenomenon called "The Tupperware Party." Selling Tupperware via parties was an appealing job for women who had few career opportunities after their men returned from the war, giving them a way to earn money and still spend time with their children.

Source: YouTube

A Tupperware representative would co-host a party at someone's home and the neighbourhood women would be invited. The ladies would have fun getting together, Tupperware products were demonstrated, and the host would get some Tupperware as a gift based on sales.

Source: YouTube

Today, worldwide sales are $2.6 billion, and I notice that my wife still refers to the "Tupperware drawer" in our kitchen, although the drawer is filled with many items, not all of them Tupperware.

It's a brand that has survived and prospered, and has a global sales force of 2.7 million in over 100 countries.

And even today, there is a Tupperware Party being held somewhere in the world every 1.7 seconds.

Modern tupperware party.jpg Source:

When I envy a brand, from my adman's perch, I look at it with an insider's eye.

I know, firsthand, how incredibly difficult it is to establish a brand, how lonely it is to be counter-intuitive, and how resilient a brand has to be to fight the forces of time and the heat of young, upstart competitors.

That's why I envy products, places and people who have managed to survive and thrive in a viciously competitive, disposable world.

It's what separates Main Street from Rodeo Drive...

...when you're under the influence.

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