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Month: August 2016

The brand named after a tattoo

The brand named after a tattoo


The sources of inspiration for a brand name are many and varied. The most obvious is to use the founders’ name and examples include Woolworths, Kellogg and Birds Eye. A slight variation is to use the name of the founders’ son or daughter, as is the case with Mercedes.

Other brands are also based on names of people, but fictional ones like Betty Crocker, Mr. Kipling and Ann Summers

Many names are description of the product or a product feature – Cadbury’s Crunchie is crunchy and British Airways is an airline brand from Britain.

Some names are more associative. The marque’s original founder, Sir William Lyons, chose jaguar because it evoked grace, speed, power and beauty.

However, until recently I had never heard of a brand named after a tattoo.

The founder of the brand was Henry Chidley Reynolds. He was born on 26th May 1849 in Cornwall, but emigrated to New Zealand in 1868.  The story of his brand however really starts in 1880s and while I could tell it, during my research I came across a wonderful rendition of the tale from the 1936 ‘The NZ Co-Operative Dairy Co Ltd Jubilee Souvenir booklet – The Empire’s Dairy Farm’

It begins…

“Times were hard in 1880s. Beef, mutton and dairy produce all alike were difficult to dispose of at anything like remunerative prices. But there came to farm near Hamilton a Mr [David] Gemmell from California and he started making butter as carried out   in the United States on a somewhat improved system from that of the ordinary farmer.

Henry reynoldsOne day he invited Mr Henry Reynolds to take a pound of his butter and keep it in his cupboard for two months and at the end of that time he said it would be found ‘perfectly sweet and good’.

Mr Reynolds did so.

The boast was proved correct.

’Shortly afterwards,’ stated Mr Reynolds, “Mr Gemmell told me he had decided to sell his farm and return to Los Angeles. It struck me that if butter of such quality could be turned out on a large scale and exported, there should be something in it.

This resulted in my asking Mr Gemmell if, after selling his farm, he would remain in the country for six months at a moderate remuneration and show us how to turn the article out on the factory system. To this he agreed and I erected [the] small factory at Pukekura and this was the commencement of making butter on the factory system in the Waikato.”

The story continues…

“Henry Reynolds was up betimes on November 3, 1886. After an early meal and with the blessing of his wife who, valiant pioneer that she was, helped him so much in those days, he hastened from his home to the simple little factory erected a mile or so away. There he busied himself in preparation for the arrival of his neighbouring farmers with their morning’s milk.

For this was the day when butter was to be made for the first time in New Zealand on the factory system.

waitakoWith typical Cornish thoroughness … he had already had a trial run on the separator the previous evening with milk sledged from his father’s farm by a lad named Hicks. The trial had been satisfactory so Mr Reynolds waited with equanimity for the dawn of the factory era.

Whatever his thoughts, and great as was his belief in dairying we can be sure of this: that neither he nor those with him that day foresaw the change – the miracle – that half a century would bring through the activity he was then to start by churning, in that little one-floored factory at Pukekura, the first small total of less than 100lbs of butter.”

The brand and its name, if you haven’t already guessed it, is ‘Anchor’, and the reason for its choice; “When considering a name for his butter Henry Reynolds noticed that one of his employees had an anchor tattooed on his arm and said, we will call our butter ‘Anchor’.”

early anchorIt was a name that must have seemed an unusual and even incongruous choice at first, but was to become more and more appropriate as the brand was increasingly shipped around the world, firstly to Australia, then China and Hong Kong before finally making its way to the UK in the early 1890s.

By 1894, Reynolds and Company owned a number of butter factories and creameries in Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki, producing a total of 300 tons of Anchor butter a year.

Nowadays Anchor is still one of the top global brands with a wide range of dairy products sold in 70 countries.


The Tinkerman – From Stealth Bomber to Super Soaker

The Tinkerman – From Stealth Bomber to Super Soaker


So, what do you do with your evenings if you’re an Air Force engineer and working on the Stealth Bomber during the day? Well, if you’re Lonnie Johnson, you invent a new type of high powered water pistol and give it to your daughter.

“I gave the plastic gun to my seven-year-old daughter, Aneka, and watched as she used it to play with the other kids on the airbase. They couldn’t even get close to her with their little squirt guns.”

The plastic gun turned out to be the prototype of the Super Soaker, the water pistol that transformed water fights around the world.

Lonnie Johnson had always loved to engineer things or, as he would tell the BBC in an interview, “I’ve always liked to tinker with things. It started with my dad. He gave me my first lesson in electricity, explaining that it takes two wires for electric current to flow – one for the electrons to go in, the other for them to come out. And he showed me how to repair irons and lamps and things like that. The kids in the neighbourhood took to calling me ‘the Professor’.”

‘The professor’ got a scholarship to Tuskegee University, famous for the Tuskegee Airmen, where he got a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and then graduated with a masters in nuclear engineering.

In 1975, he was called to active duty in the Air Force and worked on US space launches that used nuclear power. An analysis he did that identified a possible failure that NASA had overlooked caught their attention and he was invited to join the Galileo Mission, the unmanned spacecraft sent to study Jupiter and its moons.

Lonnie J b&wIt was here that work on the Super Soaker began. “So in 1982 you could say that I had a fun day job working on these spacecraft in Pasadena, California, but all this time I continued to tinker on my own ideas in the evening.

At that time I was experimenting with a new type of refrigeration system that would use water as a working fluid instead of ozone-destroying CFCs. One evening, I machined a nozzle and hooked it up to the bathroom sink, where I was performing some experiments. It shot a powerful stream of water across the bathroom sink. That’s when I got the idea that a powerful water gun would be fun! But it was months before I did anything about it.”

In fact it wasn’t until he re-joined the Air Force and relocated to a military base in Nebraska that Johnson would combine his work as first engineer testing the B-2 Bomber, the Stealth Bomber, with finishing his first prototype ‘soaker’.

As well as letting his daughter use it, he started to show it off around the base. “I took it to an Air Force picnic one day and a superior officer, a major, saw it and said, ‘What is that you got, Johnson?’ I said, ‘This is my water gun, sir.’ And he said, ‘It looks really strange – does it work?’ So I turned to him and shot him right between the eyes. After that, the picnic was over. Everybody was throwing cups of water, cups of beer and it just turned into a big free-for-all.”
Sensing its potential, Johnson wanted to manufacture the gun himself but, when he got a quote of $200,000 for 1,000 guns, he quickly decided he would have to partner up with a toy company.
There followed seven years of frustration and false starts. Then, in February 1989, Johnson went to the American International Toy Fair in New York and came across a company called Larami.

The then vice president, Al Davis, was interested – sort of.

Super soaker blueprint“I can’t really review a product here,” he told Johnson, “but if you’re ever in Philadelphia, where our headquarters are, I’d be happy to talk to you. Drop in and see us… [but] don’t make a special trip.”
Despite this lukewarm response, Johnson decided he would follow up the lead and started work on a new prototype of the water gun. He used plexiglass and PVC piping, and instead of keeping water inside the gun itself, a two-litre soda bottle sat on the top and acted as a water reservoir.
Johnson picks up the story, “I remember sitting in their conference room with the president and vice-president of the company and some marketing people. I opened my suitcase, took the gun out and shot it across the conference room. And they said: ‘Wow!’ I knew that I had captured their imagination.”
The next challenge was one of commercialisation. This gun was way more complicated than the “little squirt guns” that were on the market, but after lots of work they brought the price down to $10. Even then, neither Johnson nor Larami were sure that anyone would pay anywhere near that amount for a water pistol.


In 1990, the gun first appeared in the toy shops. It was called the “Power Drencher” and despite no real marketing support it sold well. Based on this initial success, plans for a bigger push were made.

“The following year, we rebranded the toy the Super Soaker and did a big push on TV. That was the summer we sold 20 million guns, and I remember just staring at my royalties’ cheque in disbelief” recalls Johnson.

Further generations of Super Soakers followed and today more than 170 Super Soaker models have been launched, generating more than $1bn (£760m) in revenues. Johnson also went on to design the N-Strike range of Nerf dart guns, which used some of the same compressed air technology and earned him even more royalties.

And what has Johnson done with all those royalties?

“I didn’t buy a yacht or anything. I’ve spent the money on something much more interesting – to me, anyway. I have built a scientific facility in Atlanta, Georgia, which has about 30 staff”.
They are working on next generation batteries and engines, but Johnson still wants to tinker “I have a few ideas in mind – not toys, just consumer products that I know will be easy to manufacture and that will sell well. “

And the moral is, what may seem like a little idea can turn into a big brand success. Do you have a little idea with big potential?

A tale of two stores

A tale of two stores

Once upon a time, there were two stores.

New brThe first is sleek, chic and minimalist in design, with white walls and wooden parquet floors. It offers “modern, refined clothing and accessories for men and women…what you want to wear to work” The clothes are versatile, contemporary classics in styles that are both modern and (reasonably) timeless. Their aim is to “dress men and women who see every day as full of possibilities and seek to make the most of every moment and opportunity. We see life a little differently. We take it all in. We add to it. We make it our own and we live with style.”

BR croppedThe second store is a little different. Life-size model giraffes and elephants stand amid old leather suitcases and wooden-crate racks piled with khaki “safari” clothing—Ghurkha shorts, pith helmets and chamois shirts with deep cargo pockets. A World War II Army Jeep balances on top some boulders in the front window and above the sales floor; an old bush plane hangs from the ceiling that has been painted to resemble a blue Zimbabwean sky. Safari and travel clothes include surplus military clothing customized with civilian touches like suede elbow patches, belts and wood buttons.

safari-coverLaying around were distinctive catalogues. They contained no photos of the clothes, no models posing attractively; instead, they featured beautiful illustrations of the clothing, printed in soft duotone, alongside stories of far away places and the romance of travel.
The twist in the tale is that these two stores are in fact the same store, and if you haven’t guessed the brand, they are both Banana Republic.
The second store is in fact the original store. It was set up by Mel and Patricia Ziegler and opened its doors in 1978 in Mill Valley, California.
Mel and Patricia met when both worked at the San Francisco Chronicle (he as a photojournalist, she an illustrator). The couple both quit on the same day and went travelling, but it was Mel’s search for a replacement for his well-worn and well-loved military surplus jacket that was to lead to the creation of the store. Ziegler finally found a British Burma jacket in a Sydney “disposal” store, which his wife altered to downplay the garment’s military look and according to Banana Republic’s archives; “to play up its sensibility as a comfortable, utilitarian, everyday garment.”
Family and friends admired the jacket’s look and this prompted the Zieglers to set up what was to become the Banana Republic Travel and Safari Clothing Company. While many Americans thought “surplus” meant only camouflage U.S. Army T-shirts, they seemed to fall in love with the exotic military leftovers the Zieglers scrounged on their international buying trips.

“In England, we found Melton wool overcoats made for the British army selling for 25 bucks,” Ziegler recalls. Banana Republic marketed the clothing as rare and marked it up. It made good business sense “We weren’t losing money.”

By 1983, Banana Republic had five stores in California, a handful in other locations, and was bringing in $10 million a year. Don Fisher, who co-founded the Gap made them an offer. It was an offer to buy them out, fund expansion but leave them in creative control. It was an offer that was simply too good to refuse so they didn’t

For the next few years, things went well, riding on the back of films like Out of Africa, Romancing the Stone and the Indiana Jones series, the brand grew and grew. The Zieglers switched from selling adapted surplus clothing to using it as a template for manufacturing their own clothing.

However when the stock market crashed in 1987 and sales wobbled – the brand made a loss in 1988 – Fisher worried about the future of Gap and indeed whether the safari fad had run its course, brought in Mickey Drexler. Drexler, who would go on to help revive Gap, wasn’t a fan of pith helmets and wanted to take Banana Republic in a more mainstream direction. He and the Zieglers clashed, and Mel and Patricia left citing the classic “fundamental creative and cultural differences”.
Banana-Republic frontGap brought in a new management team and slowly at first and then with more momentum the brand shifted its focus away from khaki to one that included brighter-coloured casual wear and cruise line apparel. In 1989, the catalogue was discontinued. Stores were refurbished to reflect a more sophisticated, modern, urban style.
The early nineties saw a positive turn-around for Banana Republic when it further diversified its product lines, adding a variety of looks suitable for the office and new advertising campaigns were adopted to sell the company’s new relaxed, urban lifestyle image.
Nowadays it remains highly successful with over 600 stores around the world and has a loyal young clientele many of whom are too young even to remember the original concept.
The brand however believes that life is still a journey and plays to the notion of safari only now it’s the urban safari it focuses on. “Today Banana Republic continues to outfit those on the modern journey of life. From harnessing the urban safari to getting a promotion to living out one’s dreams, our customers will be perfectly dressed for every step of the way.”

And the moral is that brand needs to decide what is an enduring theme and what is a fad, so they can adapt accordingly. Is your brand relying on a fad or a long-term theme?
Footnote: The only question remaining is whether given time could the Zieglers have turned it around and indeed speaking a few years ago Mel Zielger said he ran into Fisher at a cocktail party and recalls that the Gap founder was repentant. “He came up to me and said he really regretted what he had done [to Banana Republic].” He went on to wonder what might have been “If we could wind back the clock, the challenge would have been for us to keep it fresh year after year. But they felt that we had taken a metaphor and gotten as much as we were going to get out of it.”




Barbie oldAt the beginning of 2015, there were a number of jokes going around about a new Barbie – Retirement Barbie.
Mattel had just announced that sales had fallen by 14 % in 2014, the third year running where sales had dropped by more than 10%. Barbie, who had been unveiled during the New York Toy Fair on March 9, 1959, and who had regularly brought in over $1 billion a year in global sales, now looked like she might be on her last legs.
Indeed it was those anatomically inaccurate legs, waist and neck that many thought were the problem. The International Journal of Eating Disorders had reported that the odds of being born with a Barbie-like body are less than 100,000 to 1. It had been estimated that a Barbie-style waist would accommodate just half a liver and a few inches of intestine. Experts said her neck would crumple under the weight of her disproportionately huge head.
In contrast, a doll with an average woman’s proportions had gained viral success; full-bodied models were being increasingly integrated into high-fashion campaigns; the single “All about that bass,” by Meghan Trainor, which celebrates curvy bodies had become an international mega-hit. Queens of Africa, a range of dolls launched originally in Nigeria and modelled on three of that country’s biggest tribes, was outselling Barbie in its home market and was gaining increased demand from Europe, Brazil and America.

Something had to change and in the end it was Barbie and the senior team at Mattel who did. CEO Bryan Stockton resigned and Mattel brought back Richard Dickson as Chief Brands Officer, President and COO. He had helped lift Barbie out of a previous slump in the 1990s.

barbie ad college  barbies-new-ad girl

In October 2015 a new communication idea, ‘Imagine the possibilities’ was launched. It was a radical departure from previous campaigns and featured a two-minute spot of young girls doing things their way – Veterinarian, Football Coach and College Professor. Young girls taking on adult roles to the initial surprise of the adults they encounter. It’s a powerful idea, part of the “ongoing brand evolution that is designed to encourage parents to reappraise the role Barbie can play in [a] child’s life,” according to Evelyn Mazzocco, global SVP and general manager of Barbie.
The aim, Mazzocco explains is to “remind today’s parents that through the power of imagination, Barbie allows girls to explore their limitless potential. Founded by a female entrepreneur and mother in 1959, the Barbie brand has always represented the fact that women have choices.”

barbie-body-typesHowever, changing communication was never likely to be enough and on January 28th 2016 Mattel announced an even bigger change. It released three new body types: Petite, Tall and Curvy. They were available in 7 skin tones, 22 eye colours, 24 hairstyles, and even had a flat foot option.
“Barbie reflects the world girls see around them,” Dickson explains. “Her ability to evolve and grow with the times, while staying true to her spirit, is central to why Barbie is the number one fashion doll in the world.”
Indeed looking back to the brand’s origins, it would appear that Ruth Handler, Barbie’s original creator, really did want girls to have more choices. “My whole philosophy of Barbie was that, through the doll, the girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices. ”

New Barbie is clearly a modern re- expression of that philosophy and, while not everyone is completely convinced, the general feeling seems to be that many more girls can now play with a doll that more closely resembles them, rather than something they’ll never be.
All eyes are no longer on Barbie’s figure but on the new sales figures.

And the moral is as the world changes so brands need to stimulate change while preserving the core.