WHICH STINKS MORE: A FLAWED BRAND OR NO BRAND?
Driving along the interstate highway system from dawn to dark can make a brand-thinking ad guy crazy.
The Fabulous Honey Parker and I were just taking turns, sitting in that seat, on a long haul from Florida to Utah.
As writers in such a situation, we get to write a lot of silly comedy--usually by appropriating other people's unwitting silliness.
Example: there's a billboard along the highway somewhere in Missouri. The headline is, "STRIPPERS."
The sub-headline is, "Need we say more?"
Then, the billboard says about a half dozen more things.
THIS IS OUR NEW ALL-PURPOSE TAGLINE
It replaces our previous all-time favorite written by a radio account rep in California: "It doesn't smell like urine."
Granted, that wasn't written as a tagline, but as a feature about an assisted living facility. But we adopted it as an all-purpose tagline anyway.
Think about it. Where doesn't that line work?
"Applebee's. It doesn't smell like urine."
"The Law Office of John Smith. It doesn't smell like urine."
"Slow Burn Marketing. It doesn't smell like urine."
Works almost every time.
NEED WE SAY MORE?
Even if you DO need to say more, and add another half dozen things, "Need we say more" fits all of your all-purpose tagline needs.
"Ford Trucks. Need we say more?"
"One-Eyed Carl's CrossFit. Need we say more?"
"Amazon. Need we say more?"
See how easy it is?
No thought required at all!
"Welcome to Nebraska. Need we say more?"
YAY, INTERSTATE HIGHWAY ADVERTISING!
But all-purpose taglines aside, one of the other media with which you are routinely confronted on the interstate are long-haul semis.
Many trucking lines use their vehicles to deliver messages to the driving public in general, or to truckers in specific.
And one of those trucking companies is Kelle's Transport Service.
For years, I've seen their trucks on the road here in the west, and I've always wondered: what's the deal with that logo?
It obviously means something to someone.
ALL HAIL THE SKUNK!
The 18-wheelers from Kelle's Transport Service have a logo of a grinning skunk in goggles, leaning forward into the breeze, and carrying a flapping Jolly Roger. You know, the skull & crossbones pirate flag.
So, a speeding skunk and a pirate flag.
Stink up and steal?
No idea what it means.
But spend enough time on the road staring at those speedy skunks, and eventually the curious among us get driven to Google.
Oh, look. Kelle's Transport specializes in refrigerated and frozen food delivery.
NOTHING SAYS "GOOD FOOD" LIKE A SKUNK BEARING SKULL AND CROSSBONES, THE INTERNATIONAL SYMBOL FOR POISON
So, what the heck is this really all about?
The interwebs knows all!
If you dig down deep enough, you find that the Kelle Simon behind Kelle's Transport Service is the son of another trucking entrepreneur.
And that man, Dick Simon, used to haul a lot of perfume in his trucks.
Those trucks smelled sweet.
Thus came the nickname, "Sweet Simon."
One day, Sweet Simon turned a truck over to a highly respected detail painter who was so good, he was given carte blanche by truck owners to paint whatever he wanted.
SWEET SIMON'S TRUCK CAME BACK WITH A SKUNK
Apparently, Mr. Simon was not so sweet on the skunk.
But his wife thought it was cute, and he had a load to haul, so the skunk truck hit the road.
A logo legacy was born.
Nobody seems to know the origin of the pirate flag. Maybe it was just an adolescent goof.
But eventually, Mr. Simon's pirate flag was changed to a flag of hearts and flowers--a move that some applauded, and others found just creepy.
Either way, that provides some explanation for why the son has a trucking company whose logo is a goggle-wearing skunk speeding along with a pirate flag.
It's backstory. It has history.
But what does it actually mean?
AND IS IT A GOOD IDEA?
It doesn't seem to do much beyond be silly.
How should the core customer feel about the pirate skunk?
Well, if the core customer is someone waiting on a big frozen-food delivery, doesn't the logo convey a feeling of stench and poison?
But is the skunk an effort to speak to that person?
Or is the skunk an effort to speak to the prospective employee?
If you read trucker lore in online forums, drivers seem to have an affection for the skunk.
MAYBE THE SKUNK APPEALS TO THE CAREER DRIVER WHO WANTS MORE
Maybe the skunkster promises something better to the right trucker.
The messages on Kelle's trucks (and on many others) are telling truckers that they're hiring and they're good to work for.
We're not going to examine the veracity of those claims. That's a whole other screed.
But maybe the stink-meister and his piracy pennant attract the right driver.
Somehow, I doubt it.
It just feels too adolescent and without relevance.
It's a little like the people who love to go out on their bass boats waving pirate flags.
"Ha! Get it?! It's a boat! We're pirates!"
Mm-hm. You bet. Good joke.
AND THE STENCH-FEST GRAPHICS CERTAINLY DON'T SAY, "MMM-MMM, GOOD FOOD!"
More like, "Hey, here's a truckload of flash-frozen botulism!"
But here's something I can guarantee: people know the brand.
Regardless of what feelings it engenders, the business is identifiable.
If a brand is the one way the core customer should feel about the business, this has a couple of things going for it.
One, some truckers get a feeling of a legacy employer.
Two, trucking customers get a feeling of recognition.
It's not deep. It's not even necessarily correct.
But in a realm where many brands have nothing, it is at least something.
MANY OF THE COMPETITORS HAVE ZERO IDENTITY
Many of the competitors are known for...having big white trucks.
They might be equally reliable.
They might be even better--both as frozen-food haulers and as employers.
But really, we'll never know.
Unless we start to dig and do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions.
And who's that proactive?
A brand? Yes.
A flawed brand? Probably.
A good brand? Not really.
But it might be better than nothing.
Yet, in a perfect world, if it were my business, I'd do everything in my power to appeal to a higher calling and erase all scent of stink and pillage.
But that's just me.
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.