The Wasp

The Wasp

“It looks like a wasp!”


Not quite the endorsement that Corradino D’Ascanio was expecting when he presented the fruits of his hard work to his patron.

Yet within months the Italian language possessed a new verb based on the brand.

To date over 16 million of them have been sold around the world and they are produced in 13 countries.

They have become a screen icon starring alongside Audrey Hepburn in Roman holiday, Anita Edberg in La Dolce Vita, Angie Dickinson in Jessica and Gwen Stefani in her 2007 video for Now That You Got It.

If you still haven’t got the brand, they also appeared in Quadrophenia where ever Mod who could afford one, was riding one.


The brand is of course Vespa.

Following the end of the war, industrialist Enrico Piaggio needed to find a new direction for his company, which had been making planes for the Italian air force. He recognised that Italy had an urgent need for a modern and affordable mode of transport. He therefore tasked one of his aeronautical designers, Corradino D’Ascanio, with designing a motorcycle suitable for getting around the bomb-damaged Italian cities.

However, D’Ascanio wasn’t keen on motorcycles. He thought they were too cumbersome, too difficult to repair and generally dirty.

Instead, he took inspiration from having seen US military aircraft drop tiny, olive green Cushman Airbornes to their troops in the war-torn cities of Milan and Turin. The Cushman Airborne was a basic, skeletal, steel motor scooter that allowed troops to nip about the rough terrain.

Adapting his aeronautical expertise to the task in hand, he designed a simple but practical scooter. He moved the gear lever onto the handlebar for easier access. He designed the body to absorb stress in the same way as an aircraft would. The seat position was created to give both safety and comfort while the workings were hidden behind panels to keep the rider’s clothes in pristine condition and the step-through frame meant it was an ideal machine for skirt-wearing women to ride.

In fact, the first Vespas built actually used components from Piaggio’s aircraft; the nose wheel suspension for the front wheel of the scooter.

It was however its narrow-waisted design and buzzing sound that caused Enrico Piaggio to exclaim “Sembra una vespa!” (“It look like a wasp!”). A stroke of fortune as the reaction gave the new scooter its brand name.

In April 1946 the Vespa debuted at a golf club in Rome and was an immediate success. It wasn’t long before  “vespare” (to go somewhere on a Vespa) was being heard on the streets along with the wasp-like buzzing of their engines.

jessiac film

And the moral is that skills in one sector can be successfully transferred into other sectors. Where could you take your brand?

New book launch & the story that gave the book its title

New book launch & the story that gave the book its title

Many thanks to everyone who came along to the new book launch at The Museum of Brands on 6th April.

I introduced the book and told a couple of the stories in it, and then got a couple of my colleagues to retell their favourite story in their own style

If you couldn’t make it but want a flavour of it, here is a short clip of me telling the story that gave the book its title

Its available on amazon if you are interested

Will the real Quakers please stand up.

Will the real Quakers please stand up.


Quakers are members of a group with Christian roots that began in England in the 1650s. The formal title of the movement is the Society of Friends or the Religious Society of Friends
There are two stories as to how the movement got its name. The first says that the founder, George Fox, once told a magistrate to tremble (quake) at the name of God and the name ‘Quakers’ stuck. The alternative theory is that the name derives from the physical shaking that sometimes went with Quaker religious experiences. There is less controversy about where the name ‘Friends’ comes from. General agreement is that is relates to Jesus’ remark “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).
There are two brands that are linked with Quakers, one is Cadbury and the other is Quaker Oats. Despite the names, it is the former that is really connected to the Quakers.

The Cadburys were a true Quaker family who had moved from Exeter to run a draper’s shop in Birmingham by the start of the 19th Century. At the time Quakers were barred from the universities so could not pursue professions such as medicine and the law. Nor, as pacifists, could they could consider naval or military careers, which is perhaps why they turned their attention to trade.

Quakers are also teetotal and as such keen to promote alternatives to alcohol, so it was perhaps not surprising that in 1824, that John Cadbury opened a tea and coffee shop next door to his father’s drapery in Bull Street.

He was soon to branch out into cocoa, often grinding the beans himself, and by 1831, the shop was devoted entirely to drinking chocolate. By the 1850s, Cadbury had been given a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria and, in 1860; John’s sons George and Richard imported a Dutch chocolate press and made something akin to what we would recognise as a bar of chocolate.
cadbury barsIt was great success result and the brothers were soon very wealthy. They didn’t however spend all their new gained riches on themselves, instead appalled by deplorable living standards in Birmingham, George and Richard set out on a vision to create a ‘ factory in the country’.

cadbury workersThey bought a farm on the banks of the River Bourn and named it ‘Bournville’. They built not only a huge factory but also hundreds of bright airy homes with gardens and fruit trees for their workers. The village included open spaces, trees and public baths but of course no pubs. When Richard died in 1899, George placed the entire 1,000-acre community into a trust. Today, many of its 25,000 residents still work for Cadbury and rent their homes from the Bournville Village Trust.

There are still no pubs in Bournville – and it contains the only alcohol-free branch of Tesco in Britain.

All of which help re-inforce the image of Quakers as upright, honest and decent people, exactly the qualities for which Henry Seymour and William Heston chose the name Quaker Oats

Neither Seymour nor Heston were Quakers, but they selected the Quaker name as a symbol of good quality and honest value.

quakerman pennToday, General Mills who own the brand say, “The ‘Quaker Man’ does not represent an actual person. His image is that of a man dressed in Quaker garb, chosen because the Quaker faith projected the values of honesty, integrity, purity and strength.”

Early Quaker Oats advertising dating back to 1909 seems to contradict this and in fact identifies the “Quaker man” as William Penn, the 17th-century philosopher and early Quaker. The ad refers to him as “standard bearer of the Quakers and of Quaker Oats.”

Resembling classic woodcuts of Penn’s likeness, the Quaker Man figure was depicted full-length, sometimes holding a scroll with the word “Pure” written across it. This image was America’s first registered trademark for a breakfast cereal. The registration took place on September 4th, 1877.

Since then the icon has gone through a number of redesigns and refreshes – to add colour, to take it away again, to slim the figure.

However, one of the most famous provides a link to another famous brand. In 1957 Haddon Sundblom produced a colour head-and-shoulders portrait. Sundblom’s other famous brand characters include Coca-Cola’s original Santa and his Quaker Man is said to actually be a portrait of fellow Coca-Cola artist, Harold W. McCauley.

Generally, the Quakers themselves have not said much about this use (or misuse) of their name but have occasionally expressed their anger. One instance was in 1990, when some Quakers started a letter-writing campaign after a Quaker Oats advertisement depicted Popeye as a “Quaker Man” who used violence against aliens, sharks, and Bluto.

Footnote: British confectionary and Quaker beliefs seem to have gone hand-in-hand as Fry’s, Rowntree’s and Terry’s were all founded by Quaker families too.

Once upon a brand

Once upon a brand

I want to tell you a story ….well actually I don’t, but I wanted to get your attention.

Brand storytelling is undoubtedly ‘hot’ in marketing at the moment, and it seems everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon, and everything is a story.

All of which just goes to show that storytelling as with so many terms in marketing has become over-used and is in danger of being under-valued. This is a shame as storytelling in its various forms has many different uses and has so much to offer.

Having personally already jumped firmly onto the bandwagon with my new book of brand stories about to be published – “How Coca-Cola took over the world”, I thought it might be useful to stop and consider what I thought to be the different categories of stories and their different roles.

While there are probably more categories, I would suggest that there are four variations that are most frequently used. To help differentiate them as with all good segmentations I have given them each different names.

The brand narrative
This is a means of presenting the organisation/brand as a character and its role as a story. Virgin, for example, has positioned itself as the “white knight” riding to save the damsel (us, consumers) in distress, rescuing us from the clutches of big bad corporations. This fits with well with another ‘hot’ topic in marketing at the moment – brand purpose – because a good brand narrative sets out who you are, what you do, why you do it (your purpose) and the benefits you deliver by doing it well.

Brand tales
This is when brands build emotional engagement by telling the little (true) tales about themselves – how the brand started, the origin of its name, etc. These can be used to build emotional engagement both internally and externally. It has increasingly been used in advertising and on packaging.

London pride

The “story-point”
When did a PowerPoint slide last make you cry? (Apart from …with boredom). Writing a presentation as a story is one way to try to avoid “death by PowerPoint”. Using a clear narrative arc, personalising the issues and using other storytelling techniques like ‘the power of three” allows speakers to communicate points in a more engaging and memorable way. People remember stories better than bar graphs.


front coverBrand fables
The use of stories about brands as a training tool, to provide inspiration and/or instruction for the marketing team or broader organisation. They can be used to show how employees should act, as a means of helping your organisation consider how it might perform better, or to encourage people to think in different ways. This is of course where my book sits as the each tale ends with a moral and a challenge to think how you could apply it.

So while this hasn’t been a story, there is perhaps a moral and a challenge –

Storytelling comes in many forms and each has its own role. How and when can you use storytelling effectively?
Originally posted at

Kirk to Enterprise; Beam me up an innovation

Kirk to Enterprise; Beam me up an innovation


Marketers are often asked to come up with the next big thing; however looking into the future isn’t always easy.
One way I have got round this is to ‘ask’ someone who is better at predicting things then I am – a science fiction writer. And who better than Gene Roddenberry?


Michael Cooper is another innovator who drew his inspiration from the same source. After serving in the US Navy, Cooper took a degree in Electrical Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology and then joined Motorola where he worked on pagers and then car phones using cellular technology. At this point in time, car phones were ‘mobile phones’ only in the sense that they moved when the car did.

By the early 1970s Cooper was getting worried that Motorola’s great rival, AT&T was gaining a lead in car phone technology.

One night he was watching one of his favourite TV shows, when inspiration struck. Seeing Captain James T Kirk using his communicator to call the Enterprise he had an idea. Could they develop a handheld mobile phone and leapfrog AT&T.

From having the idea, Cooper and his team took only 90 days to create and build the portable cellular 800 MHz phone prototype.

On April 3, 1973, on Sixth Avenue in New York City, in front of a group of journalists Cooper made the first public phone call from their prototype handheld cellular phone.

Who did he call?
His wife?
His mother?
His workmates?
No, he decided that it was too good an opportunity to miss and decided to call Joel Engel.
Engel was head of research at AT&T Bell Labs and Cooper called to tell him all about their new invention.

Cooper would later recall, ‘As I walked down the street while talking on the phone, sophisticated New Yorkers gaped at the sight of someone actually moving around while making a phone call. Remember that in 1973, there weren’t cordless telephones, let alone cellular phones. I made numerous calls, including one where I crossed the street while talking to a New York radio reporter – probably one of the more dangerous things I have ever done in my life.’

And the moral of this story is that innovation can be inspired by fiction, not just fact. Who will you read or watch to get your next big idea?

Toasting the tower

Toasting the tower

Desc: View of Exposition Universelle (Universal Exhibition), Paris, France, 1889, engraving ¥ Credit: [ The Art Archive / MusŽe Carnavalet Paris / Dagli Orti ] ¥ Ref: AA371361
Desc: View of Exposition Universelle (Universal Exhibition), Paris, France, 1889, Credit: [ The Art Archive / MusŽe Carnavalet Paris / Dagli Orti ] ¥ Ref: AA371361
Probably the drink most associated with the launch of something is champagne, so you would perhaps expect that the opening of the Eiffel Tower would have been toasted with a glass of the bubbly stuff from the North East of France.


You would however only be half-right because on the night of 31st March 1899 when the Tower was opened, as one of the temporary exhibits of the Universal Exhibition, only one drink was served, but it was a cocktail of champagne and Courvoisier cognac.


Courvoisier went on to be awarded the Gold Medal at the exhibition and the Tower proved so popular it became a permanent feature on the Parisian skyline.

Courvoisier was, and still is, immensely popular in France. It is linked with other key moments and figures of French history but perhaps one in particular stands out.

The brand had originally been established in the suburb of Bercy in 1809, by Emmanuel Courvoisier and Louis Gallois, then the mayor of Bercy. Courvoisier began life as a wine and spirit company but Emmanuel and Louis’ reputation quickly grew as the traders of the very best cognacs. The pair decided that if they were going to build on this success, and to guarantee their supply of the finest cognacs, they should relocate to the region itself and become producers.

In 1811, a famous fan visited the brand’s new home. His visit was captured in a painting by Etienne Bouhot. The fan was none other than Napoleon Bonaparte.

So taken with the brand was he that he decided to order some for his artillery companies to lift their morale during the ongoing Napoleonic Wars. He told his commanders, “while you are on the march, [I] have issued to your forces, as much as may be possible, wine in the evening and cognac in the morning.”

It seems cognac wasn’t seen as just an after dinner drink

northumberlandEven after his defeat at the battle of Waterloo the connection to Napoleon continued. Exiled to the remote island of St Helena, in the Atlantic Ocean, legend has it that he was allowed to choose one item of luxury to take with him. It is said that he chose several casks of his beloved Courvoisier cognac and that one day, after dinner with the English officers on board HMS Northumberland, he treated them to a taste .


The English officers loved it and christened it, ‘The Brandy of Napoleon’.


courvoisier logo

The link remains and is commemorated in the brand’s logo which features an outline drawing of the Emperor.


Whether the producers of the BBC Radio 4 show “Desert Island discs”, where the hypothetical castaways are allowed to choose an item of luxury, borrowed the idea from the British navy’s courtesy to Napoleon, I don’t know. Neither do I know if anyone has actually chosen Courvoisier as their item of luxury.

What I do know is that I can thoroughly recommend the Courvoisier and champagne cocktail, though perhaps not first thing in the morning.

The curry cycle, a story of Indovation

The curry cycle, a story of Indovation

sharmaManish Sharma is a man who recognises that brands need to be the same but different. Not for him is the rigid belief in absolute brand consistency but rather an understanding of the benefits of a looser brand coherency.
Sharma, the President & CEO of Panasonic India wants to remain true to Panasonic’ s global vision but at the same time recognises that this has to be tailored for his market and its particular quirks.
“Our commitment at Panasonic is to provide a ‘Better life’ for our consumers and contribute to creating a ‘Better World’ around them.

The requirement of our audience differs across geographies and therefore technological solutions have to be customized to the local environment. With this philosophy we intend to provide solutions that are made in India for the Indians, across business and consumer sectors.
India is at the cusp of change, and is being recognized as one of the most influential markets globally…Taking into account these unique local conditions, Panasonic is now looking at India as a priority market. Taking from our legacy, we will continue to provide solutions which will now be fueled by our ‘Indovation’ strategy, of weaving local solutions to our global approach.”

curry cyclePanasonic’s new Stainmaster washing machine is one example of Indovation in action. Recently launched it has a special wash cycle to tackle curry stains. Panasonic found that existing washing machines on the market were failing to fully get the food off their clothes, which was leading to customer complaints and was slowing market growth.



Panasonic set out to solve the problem, looking at the specific stain-making ingredients in curries and testing hundreds of different combinations of water temperature and water flow. It took them two years to establish the optimal time and water temperature required to remove the stains.

Having identified and solved the curry problem, Panasonic also considered other local tough cleaning challenges. So, as well as the curry option, the machine has five other special including one to remove traces of hair oil.

Currently only about 10% of homes in India have a washing machine, with most people still doing their laundry by hand. South Korean manufacturers dominate the market, but Panasonic hopes its new button will both help grow the market and win it share, despite their machine carrying a 10% price premium.

It is currently winning the PR and bad pun battle with headlines about ‘Spicing up the market’ and ‘Currying favour with Indian consumers.’

pulp fictionFootnote: McDonald’s famous for how consistent its offer is around actually allows for local variation. Perhaps not too surprisingly, there isn’t any beef on its menu in India and as famously discussed between John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction the Quarter-Pounder with Cheese is known as the Royale with Cheese in France.

How Coca Cola took over the world – take two

How Coca Cola took over the world – take two




My new book of stories “How Coca Cola took over the world…and 100 more amazing stories about the world’s greatest brands” will be published in April. The story behind the title tells one tale of how Coke celebrated its worldwide fame. This is a different story but on a related theme – so as the brand might say itself “enjoy”

And the walls came tumbling down


Robert Woodruff, former chair of The Coca-Cola Company set out a vision in 1923 that Coca-Cola should always be ‘within an arm’s reach of desire’.
In the following decades and even throughout the Second World War Coke became ubiquitous across most of this little planet of ours. However, there were still places the brand couldn’t and didn’t reach.

coke berlin 2

On November 9th 1989, a new territory was added to the Coke world as the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. Amongst the thousands of pictures taken in the following hours and days there is one that shows two men heaving cartons of Coca-Cola bottles over the wall.


coke berlinOne of the men pictured was Paul-Gerhard Ritter. He was managing director of the Coca-Cola bottler in Lichterfelde.

It was a particularly poignant moment for Ritter. He had originally come from the East. He attended a school in the GDR until he was eight, moving with his family to West Berlin in 1957, four years before construction of the wall began.

So, whether he just wanted to celebrate the momentous occasion, to take advantage of a wonderful PR opportunity or to combine the two thoughts is not known, but he clearly realised that the Cold War was coming to an end and a new era was starting.

As soon as he heard that the wall was coming down, he ordered three trucks to be filled with Coca-Cola and driven to Kudamm where the East Berliners were now crossing the border.

Within two hours of their arrival, the three trucks were empty and many new arrivals duly refreshed.
In the first week after the fall of the Wall, two million people drank a toast to freedom with a Coke. By March 1990 Coca-Cola Erfrischungsgetränke GmbH was set up as a separate company in East Germany.

Go west young man

Go west young man


Seeing what other couldn’t see, risking your life savings and self-inflicting cuts and burns – have you got what it takes to be an innovator?
Robert Chesebrough had.
chesebroughRobert Chesebrough was British chemist who worked distilling the oil form sperm whales into lighting fuel, but recognised that time was running out for whale oil and the future lay in petroleum.
So he used his life savings and like other young men in the mid-19th century he ‘went west’, buying a ticket to the USA where he ended up in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

One day while touring one of the oil fields there, he noticed a rigger scraping a thick, dark goo from an oil pump’s joint. He asked what it was.

At first, it sounded like just an unwanted and potentially hazardous by-product. The wax-like gunk tended to come up with the crude oil and would collect on the rigging; if it wasn’t cleaned off regularly, it would gum up the works. The riggers called it “rod wax”.

However the riggers weren’t finished yet they went onto tell Robert that many of them used it on cuts and burns because it helped them heal quicker.

Robert was intrigued and he saw what might be a big opportunity. Rod wax was an un-valued by-product, something that was thrown away, if he could turn into something with real value then the potential margin was going to large.

He easily persuaded the riggers to let him have some of the wax and took it away to start experimenting on it.

It would take him several years but in the end, he discovered that by distilling the lighter, thinner oil products from the rod wax, he could create a light-colored gel. His later patented process involved vacuum distillation of the crude material followed by filtration of the still residue through bone char.

Now all he had to do was persuade people that it was worth having.


He started travelling around New York selling his Vaseline, a name that combined the German word for water and the Greek word for oil.

While being odourless and colourless meant it had obvious benefits over alternatives like lard, goose grease, olive oil and garlic oil, which were often rank and smelly, he needed to show that it actually worked.

So as part of his sales pitch he started using himself as a guinea pig, cutting himself or burning his skin with acid or an open flame, then spreading the ointment on his injuries and showing his past injuries healed, he claimed, by his miracle salve.

People were convinced and started to buy the product. Soon pharmacists were asking to stock it and in 1870, Robert opened his first factory.

While it is still used for cuts and burns it is also regularly used on dry and unruly hair, new uses which even Robert might not have thought of have emerged. It is used on the feet of vending machines to keep pests out and some farmers put it on chickens to prevent frostbite.