Browsed by
Month: October 2013

The Insightful bastard

The Insightful bastard

Given my interest in the history and origins of brands I’m a bit embarrassed to say that for many years I laboured under the misapprehension that the founder of Revlon was Charles Revlon, not Charles Revson, but on discovering my error  I decided there must be story there and indeed there was…


“Look, kiddie. I built this business by being a bastard. I run it by being a bastard. I’ll always be a bastard, and don’t you ever try to change me.” So said Charles Haskell Revson to one of his senior colleagues.

Revson was known as a hard-working, hard-driven, highly competitive business executive who, on another occasion, said “I don’t meet the competition, I destroy it.”

He is perhaps most famous as the pioneering cosmetics industry executive who created and managed one of the world’s leading cosmetic houses through five decades.

When Elka, the cosmetics company he had been working for, didn’t promote him to the National distributor role he coveted, Revson decided to go into business for himself.

He teamed up with his brother, Joseph, and a chemist, Charles Lachman, and together they developed a unique manufacturing process which used pigments instead of dyes to create a new type of nail enamel in a variety of new attractive opaque colours. The story goes that Charles and Joseph were inspired by the scarlet-lipped, cigarette-smoking Hollywood actresses of their day, believing what these women needed were red nails to match their red lips.

Lachman contributed his skills at chemistry to the new company, as well as providing the ‘l’ for the new company’s name – Revlon.


Revlon’s polishes were originally sold in beauty parlours with Charles, as head salesman, known to put the nail polish on his own nails to demonstrate it and regularly criss-crossing the country by rail to promote it at every opportunity. 

In 1937 Revlon started selling in department stores and drug stores but for Charles this was still just the beginning. By 1940, they offered an entire manicure line, had added lipstick to the collection and, along the way, had become a multimillion dollar organization. The expansion didn’t stop there; Revlon went on to enter the perfume and fragrance market with great success. 

Charles’ drive to build the brand was never-ending and, in the mid-1950s, the company sponsored the quiz show “The $64,000 Question”, which was to become a television phenomenon and is said to have boosted sales considerably. However, the association wasn’t without controversy. Revson and his brother Martin, second in charge at the company, allegedly demanded that the producers control the questions in order to keep contestants winning and maintain the programme’s high ratings. This sparked what later became known as the quiz show scandal.

It is said that this together with Charles’ perfectionist nature drove many of his former colleagues and partners out.

However, it is for another side of his nature that Charles is now remembered. He was an intuitive and insightful marketer and the quote that is most often linked to his name is “In the factory we make cosmetics; in the drugstore we sell hope.”

Whilst it is perhaps politically incorrect, it highlights the difference between the functional nature of a product and the emotional appeal of a brand.


Footnote 1: Christian Louboutin apparently applied a Revlon red nail enamel to the soles of one of his early designs. It was a huge success and, so obviously, became a permanent fixture. 

Footnote 2: Revson clearly wasn’t just a hard-nosed businessman in 1956, he established the Charles H. Revson Foundation, which he funded with over $10 million during his lifetime. The foundation funded schools, hospitals, and service organizations serving the Jewish community, mostly located in New York. Upon his death, Revson endowed the foundation with $68 million from his estate and granted the board of directors the discretion to chart the foundation’s future course. In 1978, the foundation began a formal grant-making process, and since that time, it has disbursed a total of $145 million in grants and its endowment has grown from $68 million to $141 million


The day job

The day job

Researching and writing brand stories is in reality a work-related hobby for me. My day job is as a director of The Value Engineers, a strategic brand consultancy, so not all my writing is story-telling. ‘Marketing’ have just published a ‘thought piece’ I have written on the perils of over-simplification in marketing. Enjoy! 


The Lipstick and the Airline – the power of observation

The Lipstick and the Airline – the power of observation

At our recent conference, my colleague Anna Eggleton presented a paper that made the case for taking a broader perspective on insight, rather than merely relying on qualitative research.

She said “the clue was in the name – insight – it’s important that we take account of everything that’s in sight.” One strand of information she went on to champion was ‘observation’, which reminded me of the story behind an innovation.


While many people in marketing know the story of how Post-it notes came to be, the story of another sticky innovation is equally engaging and a wonderful example of the powers of observation..

Wolfgang Zengerling, former Head Archivist at Henkel AG, says that the inspiration for the world’s first glue stick came from an airline flight.

The story goes that one of Henkel’s chemists, who was working in the adhesives business, was travelling to a meeting on a plane. Sitting next to him was a woman who, as they came into land, started to put on her make-up. The chemist was intrigued and watched her closely.

He was particularly fascinated by the way she applied her lipstick. He watched her twist the bottom of the tube to push the lipstick up and just over the top, letting her apply it easily to her lips. No fuss, no messy colour on her hands, and a nice, smooth, even finish.

The proverbial light bulb went off as he saw immediately how the application of glue could be made easier. How you could ensure you wouldn’t end up with glue on your hands or on any surfaces other than those you wished to stick, and how you would get a nice smooth application.

Pritt Stick, the world’s first glue stick, was launched in 1969 and is still going strong in 34 countries.

The Billion Dollar Butt

The Billion Dollar Butt

Sara Blakely believes she may be the only woman in the world that is actually grateful for cellulite and back fat.

That’s because Blakely is the woman who turned an idea and the $5,000 she had saved  from selling fax machines into a $250-million-a-year business.

And when asked where that idea came from she is delightfully candid. “My inspiration was my own butt”


Working in the hot Florida climate, Blakeley disliked the appearance of a seamed foot that you got with pantyhose especially when she wore open-toed shoes, but she liked the fact that the control-top eliminated panty lines and made her body, and her butt, appear firmer.

When cutting the bottom off normal pantyhose didn’t work, the cut off material on the legs rolled up too much, she started a search to find the right material. Eventually coming upon a solution in a craft store, she wrote her own patent following instructions from a Barnes & Noble textbook and incorporated her company under the name Spanx.

Not only candid, she is clearly committed to her cause. Once she had had her first samples made, she looked up companies in the Yellow Pages to find potential stockists. Having identified Neiman Marcus as exactly the sort of store she wanted to sell Spanx she set off to convince the buyer of the merits of her new pants.

Blakely believes in the power of a product demonstration and it wasn’t long before she was in the restroom showing off her ‘inspirational’ butt, demonstrating what it looked like before and after putting on Spanx.

It was a demonstration that got Spanx its first listing, in seven Neiman Marcus stores.

When Blakely told the manufacturer who made her samples about the Neiman Marcus deal, his response wasn’t quite the one she had been expecting. He clearly wasn’t  as convinced of the likely appeal of Spanx. Blakely recalls him saying: “I thought these were just going to be Christmas gifts for the next five years.” 

Blakely however was determined that Spanx was going to be a success and she wasn’t going to leave anything to chance. She started to call up everyone she knew who lived near those first Neiman  Marcus stores and asked them to buy a pair of Spanx, promising that she’d reimburse their money.

“Right when I was running out of friends and money,” Blakely and Spanx got their lucky break… ” Oprah named them one of her favourite things,” she says.

That changed everything. distribution spread quickly to Bloomingdales, Saks and Bergdorf Goodman. In 2001, she signed a contract with QVC, the home shopping channel, where she sold 8,000 pairs in the first six minutes

Blakely is now the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire, according to Forbes Magazine. And you could say Blakely is the lady with the first billion dollar butt.


We, The Value Engineers, are currently planning a soft launch for the book in the USA so while the original volume does include lots of stories of American, and global brands, I thought a few new ones focused on brands with their origins in the US clearly wouldn’t go amiss and the Sara Blakely story is a classic of this  genre.

Naughtiness for the Noughties – when the Virgin reached 18

Naughtiness for the Noughties – when the Virgin reached 18

Back in the early 1980s Richard Branson was best known for Virgin Records. He signed Mike Oldfield, whose Tubular Bells LP had been turned down by most of the established record labels.  Its subsequent worldwide success was the basis on which the Virgin record label was built. It went on to sign major names like The Sex Pistols and The Rolling Stones.

In 1984, much to the horror of his fellow directors, Richard announced that he wanted to take on the airline establishment and launch a high quality, value for money carrier and that it would begin operating within three months.

Virgin burst onto the traditionally staid air travel scene, introducing a fleet of innovations for business class passengers and bringing a fresh, bold, bright, anti-establishment attitude.

In 1992 Richard sold Virgin Music to Thorn EMI and invested the proceeds into Virgin Atlantic to fund further innovations and further improvements to the service. Virgin shook up the industry and won many hearts and minds.

As the noughties arrived, the young upstart of an airline finally became an adult – Virgin was officially 18 in 2002. This was an occasion for celebration but also a worry – was the brand getting old and starting to lose its edge, its naughtiness.


So the marketing team decided to talk to their staff and find out how they were bringing the Virgin attitude to life with passengers 18 years down the line.

They heard many great tales but one that really stuck out for the team was all about chocolate desserts. 

Susie (name changed) was working on the overnight flight from Heathrow to JFK and decided to have a little harmless side-bet with her fellow stewardess, Annie (name also changed). They decided to see who could get the most passengers to take the chocolate dessert. 

Just before the two stewardesses started to push their trolleys down the aisles, Susie took out one of the chocolate desserts, stuck her finger into it, and smeared some of it down her right cheek and towards her lips.

Leaving the gooey mess there, she approached the first passenger, “Can I tempt you with some dessert?” she asked politely, and then, just as he looked up, she added, with maybe just a hint of coquettishness in her voice “I can personally recommend the chocolate dessert.”

Whatever the passenger had been going to say was immediately forgotten and instead he asked for the chocolate dessert as, perhaps not surprisingly, did the next passenger and the next, till Susie had run out of her stock of chocolate desserts.

Annie came back with half of hers left, well and truly beaten. 

Footnote: A couple of years later a consultant who had heard Susie’s story was working with BA and asked the HR team what would have happened if one of their stewardesses had deliberately smeared a bit of chocolate dessert down her face and gently encouraged passengers to try the chocolate dessert. The response “She would have faced a disciplinary action and could have been fired”, which just  proves that both brands are well defined and quite clearly differentiated. 


I was told this story recently by a friend in the industry and I loved it even before she told me the footnote! 

Excuse me sir, would you mind if I look in your bag?

Excuse me sir, would you mind if I look in your bag?

The stories in The Prisoner and the Penguin are all about famous brands like Coke, Disney, Google, Monopoly, innocent… 

However if I truly believe that capturing and retelling this type of story is important, you might be asking yourself whether I collect stories about brand for which I work  – The Value Engineers – and the answer would be “Yes I do.”

So here is a fvaourite of mine about our CEO, Owen Williams, on one of many trips abroad to run a workshop for one of our clients.



“Excuse me sir, would you mind if I look in your bag?” asks the man in the blue customs uniform in a polite but firm voice.

Even at the best of times, when you know there is nothing more untoward in your luggage than your underwear, these are words that spark a little flutter of apprehension.

For Owen Williams, carrying his trusty ‘captain’s bag’ – the oversized briefcase – in which all the materials for the forthcoming workshop were being carried, they cause more than the normal twinge. He knows what’s been packed into the bag.

“Would you mind telling me what these are for?” asks the customs officer, holding up a pair of handcuffs in his right hand. “And this?” he continues, picking out a black truncheon with his left hand.

But before Owen can even start to explain, the sharp-eyed officer has spotted a bottle full of multi-coloured tablets labelled “Mind-expanding pills”. He picks the bottle out and doesn’t say anything. He merely looks at Owen and raises a quizzical eyebrow.

Owen’s ability to combine logical argument and sweet-talking are stretched to the limit, but five minutes later all is repacked. 

A slightly bemused but smiling customs officer watches Owen disappear around a corner and wonders to himself, “How do I get a job in marketing?”


The (w)hole story?

The (w)hole story?

The launch party for my book took place this week at the fabulous Museum of Brands in Notting Hill. As we were setting up I noticed a face I recognised. It was Robert Opie whose packaging collection is the backbone of the museum.

Naturally we got talking about brands and the stories behind them, and one we touched on was the story of American brand Lifesavers and how it pre-dates the British Polo brand. I had already drafted a story around it for what I hope will be a second volume of brand stories but thought I might give you a sneak preview and share it now…  

The (W)Hole Story?

Clarence Crane had a problem. He was a chocolate maker and a good one, but in the summer his business fell away. It was the early part of the 20th Century and he found it hard to transport and keep his chocolate in good condition without it melting in the hot summer months in Garrettsville, Ohio.

He decided to try and develop some ‘summer candy’ and fixed on the idea of peppermint candies. Now at that time most of the mints available came from Europe and they were square in shape.  However one day when buying bottles of flavouring in a drug store, he noticed a pharmacist using a pill-making machine. It was operated by hand and made round, flat pills.

Crane had an idea, he could use the machine to make his mints. Then he had what was perhaps an even more important idea and decided to punch a small hole in the middle of each mint.

The distinctive shape was to lead not only to a memorable advertising line “The candy with the hole”, but gave the brand its name – “Crane’s Peppermint LifeSavers”*. Ring-shaped, predominately-white life-preservers were increasingly to be used on ships and the similarity was apparent to all immediately. Crane registered the trademark.


In 1913 however Crane made what perhaps turned out to be a poor decision and sold the recipe  to LifeSavers to Edward John Noble for only $2,900.

Noble founded his own company The Life Savers and Candy Company in 1913 and selling his mints known as Pep-O-Mint Life Savers. 

His first move was to try and improve product quality and so replaced the cardboard rolls used as packaging with tin-foil wrappers to keep the mints fresh. This process was done by hand until 1919 when machinery was developed by Edward’s brother, Robert streamlined the process.

Ahead of his time, the brothers recognised the power of what we today would call ‘impulse purchasing’ and encouraged restaurants and grocery stores to have Life Savers displays next to the cash registers of restaurants and grocery stores.

Again with great insight and an intuitive understanding of what today we might call ‘behavioural economics’, they also trained the owners of these establishments to always give customers a nickel in their change. LifeSavers cost a nickel at the time and this clever move both so encouraged and facilitated their easy purchase.

The third strand of their ambitious growth plan was to introduce a variety of different flavours. By 1919, six other flavours – Wint-O-Green, Cl-O-ve, Lic-O-Riche, Cinn-O-Mon, Vi-O-Let and Choc-O-Late had been developed.


Another unexpected factor came into play in 1919 which was to boost sales even further. The 1919 approval of the 18th Amendment, the National Prohibition Act, banned the sale of alcohol in the United States. Alcohol went underground and the foresight of placing breath freshening Pep-O-Mint LifeSavers near cash-registers gave the brand its unexpected lift as they became a means of disguising any consumption of illicit booze.

Don’t take my word for it

Don’t take my word for it

Publication date is now just a few days away and so naturally I’m getting a bit excited, but rather than me go on (and on) about the book, I thought it might be better to let you hear what some early readers thought.

“An Aesop for marketers.  Goes to show that every brand should have at least one great story to tell’ Paul Sweeney : Head of Brand Paddy Power

“A great book. It goes to show that the best brands are often built on simple but honest values” Nick Jenkins : founder of Moonpig

‘Giles is truly the bard of brands. His business insight shines through in this new collection of marketing maxims as does his passion to pass on the accumulated wisdom of a life steeped in brands and branding.’ Tim Kaner : Director of marketing and communications University of Bath

“Giles’ observations are interesting, precise, assertive, and funny yet still leave a lot for your own imagination to fill, just as any good story should.” Marcelo Amstalden Möller :Head of Global CMI – Innovation & Global Brands Heineken B.V.


“The Prisoner is Terry Waite. The Penguin is the brand that markets the books. The Penguin engineers the value of the books through quality, attention to detail, commitment indeed to The Prisoner, i.e. the consumer. Giles Lury in his latest book has written this and 75 other very short (marketing) stories. They will go viral.” Professor Scott Lash, Director, Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London

“A fascinating piece of brand archaeology and storytelling with morals that are powerful and relevant today” Guy Grimsley : Global Insight Manager AkzoNobel

“The wonderful thing about Giles’ brand stories is that it doesn’t matter whether or not they are true, altered, exaggerated or amended – what makes them so powerful is the intrigue and surprise.  On reading the ‘stories’ I felt I was being educated about the true meaning of brands and entertained at the same time.”  Katy Mousinho : Head of Insight & Customer Experience Thomas Cook

“Giles’s new book is a superb collection of marketing tales that will educate, inspire, entertain and help you live with your brand happily ever after.” Paul Walton : CEO & Fonder Strategic Leaps

‘Strong brands increasingly reflect strong cultures that are enriched and empowered by the stories they tell. This is a unique and bite-size collection of some of the best stories told by a great storyteller’ Stephen Meade : CEO McCann Enterprise

“A consummate feat of edutainment. Every marketer should read and enjoy this book.” Mark Scott : CEO Cello Group

“The moral of every story is immediately applicable. A good read with valuable lessons. Christopher Satterthwaite: Chief Executive Chime Communications plc