brand lessons

Passikoff: Brand Lessons from a Few Good Men

From a brand perspective, four taglines isn’t a bad record for a 247 year old brand. Particularly when you consider that Coca Cola and McDonalds have each had about 40 tag lines this century alone!

Last Friday was Veterans Day, the celebration honoring America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. I salute them all. The day before, however, belonged to the United States Marines.

It was the 247th birthday of the Marine Corps, a brand unto themselves. I mean there’s a real history and tradition there. And not many brands celebrate (or can celebrate) the way Marines do.

There’s the dress uniforms (unquestionably the best of any of the military services! BTW, the red stripe worn on the trousers of officers and noncommissioned officers, is commonly known as the “blood stripe,” and commemorates those Marines killed storming the castle of Chapultepec in 1847.s) Or black tie and miniatures.

There’s a cake-cutting ceremony that would put most event marketers to shame. A commanding officer cuts the cake with a Mameluke. That’s a scimitar-like sword. They cut the cake with a sword! The first piece goes to the oldest Marine present, then to the youngest. Order No. 47 is read, which says, in part, “It is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.” I’m talking about a brand that’s 247 years old. For some perspective, Coca-Cola is only 130 years old. Amazon is only 28. Just saying.

This birthday presentation started November 1, 1921 by order of its 13th Commandant, Gen. John A. LeJeune, and has been celebrated by Marines this way for 101 years. So a real tradition of loyalty and continuity that reinforces the brand. Marines are proud of that history and our traditions. It’s part of the bedrock of this nation, with a “brand voice” of both quiet power and reverence befitting an institution this country has looked to as its protector for nearly 2 ½ centuries. BTW, I didn’t write that last part. It’s a quote from the Marine Corps Brand Vision, pretty much a kind of back-to-the-future vision of who the Corps is.

The Marine Corps motto – “Semper Fidelis” (“Ever faithful” and John Philip Sousa’s official march of the Marines) – was adopted in 1883. It replaced three traditional but unofficial slogans; Fortitudine” (“With courage”), “Per Mare, Per Terram” (“By sea and by land,” which was appropriate since Marines were once known as “soldiers of the sea,”) and “”To the shores of Tripoli.” From a branding perspective, four taglines isn’t a bad record for a 247 year old brand. Particularly when you consider that Coca Cola and McDonalds have each had about 40 tag lines this century alone!

As history and tradition are a big part of the Marine Corps brand, many expressions that have become part of the American lexicon are related to the Marines. Words like “Leatherneck,” “Devil Dogs,” “Oorah,” “Fire Watch,” “Jarhead,” and “SITFU.” If you have to look that last one up, you’re definitely not a Marine! But the six words the Marines and the Marine brand, are best known for are, “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.”

A lot of credit goes to ad man J. Walter Thompson for that. Mr. Thompson enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1864 so you might say there was some history there too, because about 100 years later his company helped develop the Marine Corps into the elite brand it stands for today. It is, perhaps, the most-cited slogan of any of the U.S military forces and even appears on Madison Avenue’s Advertising Walk of Fame.

And like all things Marine, it too has its roots in history. On March 20, 1779, Captain William Jones of the Continental Marines placed a recruiting ad in The Providence Gazette, which read in part “The Continental ship Providence, now lying at Boston, is bound on a short cruise, immediately; a few good men are wanted to make up her complement.” If you’re looking for a celebrity endorsement regarding the Marine brand, it was George Washington who later commented, “It is infinitely better to have a few good men than many indifferent ones.”

So to the complement of those few good men, past and present, we say “Happy Birthday.”

And, as is our traditional sign off, “Semper Fi.”

Robert PassikoffRobert Passikoff is founder and CEO of Brand Keys. He has received several awards for market research innovation including the prestigious Gold Ogilvy Award and is the author of 3 marketing and branding books including the best-seller, Predicting Market Success.  Robert is also a frequent contributor to TheCustomer.

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

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