Brand Stories

Passikoff: On Great Brand Stories

Great stories make brands great. 

Or can. If properly told. Because storytelling is a great way to use narrative to connect your customers to your brand. Focus on linking what you stand for to the values you share with your customers. Or with values that they value. And engagement and loyalty and profits will flow like a great story-line. And your brand will live happily ever after.

So, let me tell you a story.

It starts in Philadelphia. At the corner of Water Street and Tun Alley near the waterfront. It’s November, so it’s cold outside. There’s a three-story building on the corner called the “Tun Tavern,” a name that comes from Old English meaning “a keg of beer.” Had you been one of the sailors who regularly patronized it you’d have known that. Because this story takes place in 1775. There are seven steps to the front door. And inside a fire is blazing in a hearth large enough to stand in. Something’s cooking on a spit, and it’s warm and welcoming and smells of wood and smoke and the sea. And aside from selling beer, it’s also where the Continental Congress’ Naval Committee meets to discuss the war and maritime affairs and operations for their fledgling Navy. 

It’s November 10th, and Congress passes a resolution that “two Battalions of Marines be raised.” That’s for service with the fleet because they want Marines aboard their Navy vessels as landing-force sharpshooters. Which is, by the way, why Marines were originally known as “soldiers of the sea.”

Anyway, Congress appoints Capt. Samuel Nicholas to lead this new service – the first Continental Marines. And he calls on his friend, Robert Mullan, co-owner of the Tun Tavern, to help recruit men. And as a result of all that, the Tun Tavern became the Marines’ first recruiting station and gained status as the “birthplace of the United States Marine Corps.” 

Why this particular story at this particular time? Well, yeah, a brand storytelling lesson but also because now U.S. Marines celebrate the birthday of the Corps each year on November 10th. This year’s our 248th. 

It comes with a cake-cutting with a scimitar-like sword called a “Mameluke.” The first piece goes to the oldest Marine present and gets passed along to the youngest. Order No. 47, 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” is read. It’s the story of who the Marines are.

Telling the story of the Corps at these birthday presentations started in1921 and is a big part of the Marine Corps brand. There’s the story of why Marines are called, “Leathernecks.” That hearkens back to 1776 when the Continental Congress Naval Committee specified new Marine uniforms have a leather collar. To protect necks against cutlasses. Or the story how the traditional “high and tight” Marine haircut produced the name “Jarhead.” Or the story of how our motto – “Semper Fidelis” (“Ever faithful”), replaced 3 unofficial slogans (“Fortitudine,” “With courage,” “Per Mare, Per Terram”, “By sea and by land,” and “To the shores of Tripoli”), all of which have stories of their own.

But the real story of the Marine brand can be told in six words: “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.” 

A few weeks ago a story appeared in The New York Times that the Marines were the only service to meet their recruitment goals. A lot of credit for that goes to those six words and to ad man J. Walter Thompson. Mr. Thompson enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1864, but that’s a back-story, because the real story comes 100 years later when his company wrote the line that turned the Marine Corps into the elite brand it is today. (You really have to read that Times article! No kidding. If branding means anything to you, read that!) Anyway, it’s the most-cited slogan of any of the U.S military forces and even appears on Madison Avenue’s Advertising Walk of Fame. But, like all things Marine, there’s a story there too. 

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.” The story goes that George Washington later commented, “It is infinitely better to have a few good men than many indifferent ones.” Which turns out to be true about most things in life and marketing.

Anyway, that’s the story. 

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

And, as ever, “Semper Fi.”

Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

1 comment
  1. As Robert knows, I, Michael Donahue.
    have always been about connecting
    good appropriate storytelling to profitable
    P&G and General Mills require agencies to use
    my creative brief because it’s result is FACTS
    Focused Advertising Creativity That SELLS

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