Quick! Who Invented Coca-Cola?

June 28, 2009 by  Filed under: Branding 

Last week, I delivered a keynote speech at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School For Communication.

I mentioned there are several ways for communicators and especially for writers to earn a living that aren’t labeled as communicating or writing. I gave the example of the “Call Path for Customer Service” that I crafted several years ago, which by my admittedly imprecise metric has now “served” more than one billion customers.

That script, along with the training programs necessary to implement it, has earned a handsome piece of change for me. When I uttered some of the now-familiar lines from it, and there are four of them that occur in sequence, my audience nodded and smiled as if they were hearing a familiar advertising jingle.

“You wrote that?” people remarked after my talk.

“Yup, that’s mine!” I beamed, busting my buttons with pride over my commercial masterpiece.

It never occurred to them that a communication professional actually took the time or effort to compose such a now-familiar text, yet there I was, laying claim to it, accepting my long-overdue applause!

When you’re branding a product, it is essential to ask whether promoting your name along with what you’re selling is necessary, or even desirable. For example, Polo is a brand name used for a certain clothing line and auxiliary items created by Ralph Lauren. When Polo was first on the market, Mr. Lauren’s name was invisible. Instead, the logo that appeared on the front of every Polo shirt, depicting a polo player, was sufficient to carry the brand identity forward.

This reminds me of my discovery a while ago that one of my neighbors, nestled high in the mountains north of Los Angeles, penned the memorable TV ad that showed a scrambled egg and featured the text: “This is your brain on drugs.”

That phrase went on to live, as you may recall, in parody on countless counter-culture T-shirts, a testament to its original power to shock and to amuse.

I would hazard a guess that very few of us know the names of authors that have informed, entertained, or persuaded us, apart from Robert Frost in poetry, Stephen King in terror, and Robert Ludlum in spy-craft.

The legends in advertising, the copywriters that have coined the most memorable headlines and phrases in the past several years, these names are unknown, except to their bankers who probably utter them with the utmost respect.

Unheralded contribution is typical, in America. We’re much less interested in knowing the name of the man who invented Coca-Cola than we are in securing our next can or bottle of the stuff.

Perhaps that’s the way it should be.

His name, by the way, is Dr. John Pemberton.

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