Become Your Company's Hero
by Marcia Yudkin
Since the O.J. Simpson murder trial, practically everyone
understands the perils of a corporation hiring a celebrity
spokesperson. The company can't prevent a precipitous
plunge in reputation that turns the endorsement into a
liability. Here's an alternative. Assuming you know how to
keep yourself from murdering, swindling or jumping into a
puddle of scandal, make yourself the icon of your company.
According to James B. Twitchell in a terrific book,
Twenty Ads that Shook the World, this strategy goes back
more than 120 years.
In the 1880s, the visage of Lydia E. Pinkham appeared in so
many newspaper advertisements and on so many collectible
cards given away at stores that the founder of this patent-medicine company rivaled Queen Victoria in fame. In
outline, Lydia E. Pinkham appears as the prim, archetypal
grandmother who knows best. The accompanying copy
promises a sympathetic ear and invites letters about what ails you.
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The personality of Lydia E. Pinkham struck such a chord with
the public that when the company pulled her image from their
advertising, sales plummeted almost 80 percent. When they
restored her in the company marketing, sales surged to new
heights. Pinkham's husband and son, running the business,
made no attempt to hinder her identity from becoming the
butt of humor in popular culture, especially in college
Eventually Ms. Pinkham died, making her countenance function
more like a 100 percent mythical company figurehead like
Aunt Jemima, Miss Clairol or Mr. Clean. That consumers
don't still know her well has more to do with the demise of
unscientific concoctions than with the antiquated appeal of
Can this strategy still work today? Dave Thomas, CEO of the
Wendy's hamburger chain, reportedly had little aptitude or
fondness for acting, but continued starring in his company's
ads because it increased business.
On a smaller scale, a macaroni-and-cheese company called
Annie's echoes Ms. Pinkham's success by personifying the
all-natural approach of the product in Annie, her pesticide-free farm in Connecticut and her rabbits. I doubt any of
Annie's competitors receive even a fraction of her fan mail.
- Guidelines and Exercises for Practice
Learn how to get your point across in
one page or how to satisfy a strict word
count for magazine or newsletter
editors. Find out how to identify and
cut repetition, eliminate excess
verbiage, make your point fast and
convey a wealth of facts in a small
space. My longwinded clients asked for
this! Become more
According to Kevin Nunley, an expert in Internet marketing,
this strategy works well in promoting businesses on today's
World Wide Web. "Back in the prehistoric days of 1996, home
pages on the web were personal pages," he says. "That was a
happy accident. Because the early sites looked a lot like
letters, the web site borrowed the special power of personal
letters. Put your photo on your web site. Provide a visual
way for prospects and customers to know you."
I would add one point to Nunley's advice. Whether on the
Web, on paper or on product packaging, personification works
best when you polish off the rough edges and highlight the
characteristics that make a good story or give a visual
image symbolic resonance. Give yourself the stature of myth
and your business likewise soon grows to the proportion of
"larger than life."
Copyright 2001 Marcia Yudkin.
All rights reserved.
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