Browsed by
Month: March 2014

The gangster, the letter and the dandy car

The gangster, the letter and the dandy car

Clyde Barrow and his lover and partner-in-crime, Bonnie Parker, are infamous for their two-year spree which ran across the central United States and started in 1932. That ‘spree’ included at least a dozen bank robberies and numerous raids on small stores and rural gas stations. Bonnie, Clyde and their gang are believed to have killed at least nine police officers and several civilians during this period.

During 1932, 1933 and the early part of 1934, they evaded capture and many people believe that two of the reasons for their continued ‘freedom’ were Clyde’s skill as a driver and the cars he drove. 

Clyde’s car of choice was the Ford V-8. 

It offered both the speed and comfort they wanted. The V-8’s over-head valve engine helped Clyde out-manoeuvre and out-run many of the less powerful police cars that attempted to follow him. Additionally, living a life on the run meant that Clyde and Bonnie spent days and even weeks at a time in their car, often sleeping in them at night so the extra comfort was equally appreciated.  

Clyde was certainly a fan and on April 10th he put pen to paper and wrote a letter to Henry Ford. It read:


Tulsa Okla 

10th April

 Mr. Henry Ford

 Detroit Mich

 Dear Sir: – 

While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got ever other car skinned and even if my business hasn’t been strictly legal it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8 – 

 Yours truly,

 Clyde Champion Barrow



The letter arrived Henry Ford’s office on April 13th where it was stamped “RECEIVED” by his Secretary’s Office

Just over a month later, on May 23th, the notorious couple were ambushed by State troopers and local police at Bienville Parish, Louisiana and died in a hail of over 100 bullets.

The car they were driving was a stolen Ford V8.

The letter is on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.


In for another pound?

In for another pound?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a brand story about Poundland – “Like father, like son” – and told the tale of the struggles Steve Smith faced trying to get his first store up and running. How he struggled to get retail space, as landlords worried about the impact on the local area.

So when I heard about PoundPub I wondered how they might fare and whether they were facing similar opposition.

It seems that they are.

The first pub is due to open in Stockton-On-Tees next month, where it will offer pints of beer for £1.50 and halves for £1. This is about half the price of the average price of a pint in the region.

Unsurprisingly, instead of welcoming the chain with open arms, there is resistance from local politicians.

Councillor Phil Dennis from Stockton Council is reported in the Metro as saying: “I have doubts and concerns about the ability of such a venue to control the environment. They are effectively selling at a point where the quality of clientèle will likely match the price of the product on offer.”

Sound familiar? I bet it does to Steve Smith.

Furthermore, as Mike Wardell – a director of the company that owns PoundPub – pointed out, nearby supermarkets are selling cans of beer at 40p without all the complaints.


To Russia with love

To Russia with love

I have always thought of Imperial Leather as a very British brand, with connotations of the British Empire, but after a little research I discovered it owes its origins to the Russian Imperial court and to leather.

To Russia with love

In 1768 Count Orlof a Russian nobleman from the court of Empress Catherine the Great, visited perfumers Bayleys of Bond Street and challenged them to create a perfume that would capture the essence and elegance of the Russian court.

Their inspiration was leather.

Russian leather was at that time very highly regarded and widely exported widely. It had a recognisable and distinctive aroma which came from the birch oil that was used in the tanning process.

Bayleys called their new perfume called ‘Eau de Cologne Imperiale Russe’.  

The Count was delighted with his new perfume and recognising the smell, he proclaimed it “redolent of the leather worn and favoured by the Russian nobility” and on his return to his homeland presented it to the Empress.

Eau de Cologne Imperiale Russe became a firm favourite with the Russian court.

Over 150 years later, in 1921, Bayleys was acquired by Cussons Sons & Co, chaired by Alexander Tom Cussons.

However it was not until some years later that Alex Cussons used the original perfume to create a new soap and other toiletries like talcum powder.

The soap was launched in 1938 and was initially called ‘Imperiale Russian Leather’, but was soon renamed to Imperial Leather.

It is a brand that had been consistently supported with advertising, some of the earliest featuring nobles waltzing the Russian court and suggesting it was for people ‘who value distinction and look for an unusual degree of quality in their toilet accessories’

It was one of the first brands to invest in TV advertising when it was introduced into the UK in the 1950s. Those early ads were often in between episodes of popular drama series, and it was this type of investing that led to the creation of the phrase ‘Soaps’ in relation to such shows.

The theme of luxury featured in the 1970s which saw the launch of the famous “triple bath” TV ads featuring a wealthy mother, father and daughter enjoying luxury bathing sessions – each in a bath of their own. A whole campaign was produced with the family in their luxurious home, on their private jet plane and even on a train.

The bar design is distinctive with the brand name embossed into it and with an ‘ever-lasting’ metallicised stamp on the other side. Many people rest their baron this stamp as it helps reduce soap scum which might otherwise accumulate on their sink or bath.


It is a brand that rests on its laurels. 

Like father, like son

Like father, like son

Having recently done a story about premium brand Tiffany I thought I would balance it with a story about a value brand, which made me think of Poundland.

 Like father, like son

Poundland, the store where everything sells for a pound, might not sound like the most glamorous business in the world but it ultimately allowed its founder, Steve Smith, to live the life of luxury with a mansion in Shropshire and homes in Florida and Majorca. 

Steve’s origins were modest; he began by following his father into the trading business. In fact Steve was indirectly the cause of Keith, his dad, getting into that business in the first place.

When Steve’s mum, Maureen, was pregnant, Keith decided he needed to try and supplement his draughtsman’s wages. He bought some pens and went out knocking on doors and selling them to neighbours and workmates. He soon found he was making more money as a trader, so he quit his job and decided to set up a local market stall.

Selling was clearly in Steve’s blood too and he would go straight from school to the stall. He did everything he could – loading vans, going round houses knocking on doors to try to sell things. He saw it as a way of making pocket money. “I was more interested in getting into business than school. I ended up leaving with four CSEs.”

When Keith bought his own cash and carry, Steve worked there too: “I used to help out, sweeping the floor, making sure the stock was up to date and learning the ropes. I liked dealing with customers and I went on to run my own stalls.”

Perhaps not surprisingly Steve left school as soon as he could, but unlike other 16 year olds he immediately set up his own business, where he would sell anything and everything he could get for a good price. “People used to come to us with job lots of stock that we’d buy and sell on.”

Sometimes the packaging was damaged and whatever was in them fell out. So Steve had a special box where he put these things. He would sell them, whatever they were, for 10p an item. It proved to be very popular and they were always the first items to sell out.

It was while Steve was visiting his now retired parents, with his wife Tracy, that the idea that was to transform his life was born.


“We discussed the box where we sold everything for 10p. The pound coin had quite recently come out. We linked that with the 10p box idea and came up with Poundland.”

Getting the business going proved more difficult than might have been expected.

Steve continues with his story: “I opened a little office with a second-hand desk and fax machine. Just my wife and myself. I would spend all day trying to convince landlords to let me open a shop where I sold everything for a pound. I didn’t believe it would be so difficult. There was much opposition and I had many knockbacks, but I believed in the concept. That wasn’t the only thing I had to deal with. I also had to make sure I had enough stock to put in the shops.

Eventually I found a shopping centre in Burton upon Trent that was struggling to rent out units. I convinced them to let me try and make it work, at the beginning of December 1990. It was frantic trying to convince suppliers to give me stock in the run up to Christmas. And I had to scrape enough money to pay them.

We opened that first shop on December 13 – and it sold out. People were waiting outside and we sold close to £13,000 of stock that first day. Then we had to work through the night to get the shelves stocked again.”

After this initial success Steve immediately started looking for opportunities to expand.

“Our big breakthrough came when we got into Meadowhall in Sheffield, one of the UK’s best shopping centres. We had snooty people saying they didn’t want us but Eddie Healey, the owner, let us have a stall. I always remember my father coming from Majorca to see the grand opening.”

Margins were tight but Steve, Tracy and their colleagues were always on the look-out for a bargain. They travelled day and night all over the country and even slept in their van overnight to make sure they were first in any queue. 

“I remember getting computer desks that retailed for £80 and I sold them for £1. We sold 30,000 golf clubs for £1 each. I’d managed to source them in less than an hour and they went in 40 minutes. I used to love it when that happened. At one time we had car radios for sale at £1.”

He sold his interest in Poundland in 2002 for £50 million, by which time a million customers a week were going into his stores and 6,000 people were employed.

Though now wealthy, Steve could not bring himself to retire and has since launched numerous businesses. One provides investment loans to help dreams come true for other would-be entrepreneurs.


The skunk and the lime – It’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity

The skunk and the lime – It’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity

This week’s story is on the theme of “It’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity” – a marketing mantra which encourages people to look for the silver lining in every cloud. However unfortunately for me it also reminds me of the end of Monty Python’s Life of Brian when Michael Palin starts singing “Always look on the bright side of life”. Luckily for Corona they ended up on the bright side of life

The skunk and the lime 

Corona, which  means ‘crown’ in Spanish, is the #1 selling beer in Mexico,  #1 imported premium beer in the US and the #1 selling Mexican beer in the world

It was launched in 1925 in a clear glass bottle and, after a few early problems, the marketing team they considered the possibility of changing to a dark glass bottle, to make it easier to preserve the flavour.  In the end they rejected the idea and retained what has become the iconic transparent bottle.

It was a decision that has ultimately proved to be key to the success of the brand but perhaps not in the way they expected.


Those early problems with preserving the flavour were down to what is known in the brewing industry as the beer being ‘lightstruck’ 

 A beer becomes ‘lightstruck’ when it has been exposed to ultraviolet and visible light for an extended period. The light causes the vitamin riboflavin, which is present in beer, to react with and break down isohumulones, a molecule that contributes to the bitterness of the beer and is derived from the hops. 

The resulting molecule, 3-methylbut-2-ene-1-thiol, is very similar chemically and in odour to the musk-borne mercaptans that are a skunk’s natural defences. The net result of which is that lightstruck beer is often said to be “skunked” or to taste “skunky”.

It is to prevent this problem that most beers on the market are served in dark bottles, and indeed other leading Mexican beers like Dos Equis and Tecate have always been produced in brown bottles.

Corona however had decided to persevere with its clear bottle and hope that any problems would be minor. 

All went well and the brand flourished, becoming the #1 beer brand in Mexico in 1935. However when the brand started to be shipped to the USA in 1976, after the long journey and exposure to the sun, some people started to complain about the taste again.

The team at Corona, feeling that their distinctive bottle was by now a well-established equity of the brand and hoping that any problem with lightstruck beer wouldn’t be too widespread, decided to stick with the clear bottle.

Instead of changing the bottle or trying to address the cause of any problem, they looked for ways to mask it if it happened. They hit upon the idea of putting a wedge of lime in the neck of every bottle to sweeten the flavour and hide any possible ‘skunky’ taste.  

The solution turned out to be better than they could have ever imagined; not only did it overcome the taste problem, it led to a huge growth in sales. Corona had created, almost inadvertently, a drinking ritual which was to give them a real point of difference. Corona soon became the #1 imported beer in the US and is now available in over 180 countries around the world.

The bottle with a wedge of lime protruding from its neck is now a well-established communication equity for the brand. So much so that they tried to register the image of a clear bottle with a slice of lime in the neck as a community trade mark, but, on the 30th of June 2005, the European Court of Justice rejected it as indistinctive.

Not surprisingly, many other Mexican beer have now adopted the wedge of lime ritual but Corona still remains the leading Mexican beer brand.


Footnote:   There are a number of other stories which claim to explain why a lime is used. Some say that squeezing a lime into a Corona beer is a time-honoured Mexican custom to improve the beer’s taste. Some say that the ritual derives from an ancient Meso-American practice designed to combat germs, with the lime’s acidity destroying bacteria. Others say that the lime is used to keep flies away from your bottle.  However, while a Corona is always served in the U.S. and in many other countries with a wedge of lime, in Mexico that same bottle of beer would likely be served that way only in a bar frequented by Americans. Mexicans who drink Corona tend to scoff at the idea that the beverage needs a lime, regarding the fruit’s addition as a gimmick for “los turistas”. Furthermore, if you look at the early advertising developed for the Mexican market prior to the 1980s there is no lime

Blue is the colour

Blue is the colour

It has been said that the mere act of holding a little blue box can make a woman’s heart beat a lot faster

…but it has to be a particular shade of blue. 

PMS (Pantone Matching System) number 1837 in fact; a colour that is much better known as “Tiffany Blue”.

Tiffany Blue is a particular shade of light robin egg blue that has been associated with the world famous company almost since it was founded in 1837 (the number now given to it) but not actually really used till 1845. 

Founded by Charles Lewis Tiffany and John B. Young in New York City, the brand was originally positioned  as a “stationery and fancy goods emporium”,  and operated as Tiffany, Young and Ellis in Lower Manhattan. 

The name was shortened to Tiffany & Company in 1853 when Charles Tiffany took control and established the brand’s emphasis on jewellery

At an auction in 1887, Tiffany purchased a third of the French crown jewels, including Empress Eugenie’s famous diamond necklace and earned himself the nickname “The King of Diamonds”

The first Tiffany’s mail order catalogue was published in 1845 in the United States and its cover was a distinctive robin egg blue. It quickly became known as the “Blue Book” and is still published to this day.

The colour is now protected as a trademark in a number of countries and jurisdictions including the U.S.

It is produced as a private custom colour by Pantone, and as a trademarked colour, it is not publicly available and is not printed in the Pantone Matching System swatch books.

Why was that particular shade chosen?


The most often quoted reason is that it was Empress Eugenie’s favourite shade. 

Napoleon III’s wife, was an early global fashion icon and helped set the style and trends of the day around the world.

Turquoise gems were extremely popular in the 19th century. In fact, Victorian brides often gave their bridesmaids dove-shaped brooches in that colour. 

Having seen the immediate appeal of the blue on the catalogue, Tiffany had it used on other promotional materials including boxes and bags and it was he who mandated that the coveted boxes could only be acquired with a Tiffany purchase. 

The New York Sun wrote of the box’s special appeal in 1906 saying, “Tiffany has one thing in stock that you cannot buy of him for as much money as you may offer, he will only give it to you. And that is one of his boxes.”