Friday 21 Oct 2016

David Simmonds

Like most people, I get tired of seeing wretched words and phrases that appear to offer vast significance, but, on closer examination, don’t mean much at all. My interest was piqued when a blogger on, Jeff Haden, came up with “11 marketing words that no-one wants to hear in 2013.”

You can almost hear the corporate smarty-pants making the slick presentation: “customer-focussed,” “best in class,” “value-added,” “low hanging fruit” and “turn-key solution,” just to name a few. There are no prizes for putting all 11 of them in one sentence.

I’d like to add a 12th, which came up as I searched around last week’s villain, Lance Armstrong. That word is “brand.” Here are some of the headlines that popped out when I started reading about him:

“What will become of the Lance Armstrong brand?” - Forbes magazine

“Oprah interview further damaged Brand Armstrong” - Ad news

“Lance Armstrong’s ‘brand’ might never recover” - CTV news

“Can Lance Armstrong rebuild his brand?” That is,

“Rebranding Lance Armstrong: marketing pro’s 6-step recovery plan” - the Atlantic.

What I can’t understand from these headlines is that although Lance Armstrong has a reputation that is surely in permanent tatters, but he apparently also has a brand hanging in the balance that won’t necessarily sink with the reputational ship. Does he get two shots at redemption? If so, maybe we’d all be safer having a brand as well.

The first question I asked myself, "Just what is a brand?" More accurately, I asked Google, and based on the first five or six of the 15,891 responses I got, I gather the “brand” is not the product or the logo, but the association a person makes with the image presented to him or her. Therefore, Starbucks for example, means warm, happy people, until they look at their paycheques, serving up overpriced coffee to people who are prepared to use ridiculous pseudo-Italian names for the privilege of sitting around in the cafe looking very preoccupied with their smartphones. Mercedes Benz brings to mind uber cool people who just grin smugly as they effortlessly overtake some pathetic little Hyundai Accent on the 401 or something like that.

I discovered branding is a whole sub-industry that takes itself much more seriously than I do. At the world level, there is “nation branding,” which ranks countries overall and in several specific categories. In 2012, Canada ranked number five overall. We slipped to number 12 in the “culture/heritage” category, behind Australia, but were first in the “people” category, ahead of Australia, second in governance, and first again in “immigration and investment.”

Then there are the top 100 global brands, as duly measured and computer weighted by some branding research agency. In 2012, number one was Coca-Cola; number two was Apple. Mercedes Benz was number 11, while Hyundai was number 53, although the value of Hyundai’s brand rose 24 per cent over last year, so maybe I should retract that snide comment from two paragraphs above.

Then there are Canadian brands, for which there are at least two competing rating services. On one top ten list,-yawn, five of the top six are banks. On another, Blackberry stands out at number four, Tim Horton’s is number six, and Lululemon leaps or stretches to number seven.

Drilling down further, there’s a 13th deadly phrase for you, the Ontario government states it has established a provincial tourism brand; each tourism region is to work towards creating its own unique brand. Eastern Ontario has become “The Great Waterway” and has won an award for it. The County’s people have talked about using the phrase. “Come back to earth.” as a “common brand that can be used to position and promote Prince Edward County.”

Brand, brand, brand: it’s everywhere. I guess I’ll have to learn to live with it, in which case I might as well have some fun with it. Quick, name the top three ‘brands’ in the County. Here are mine: Number 3 is Smitty’s, the “King of Appliances” has his signs everywhere. I mean, everywhere. I defy you to drive within a 1000kilometre radius of Corbyville and not see at least a couple of signs. He offers same day delivery, as well.

Number 2 is Reid’s Dairy. That Dancing Cow is on every bag of milk I ever buy. He struts and jives around in parades and looks cool with his shades on. What better image could any seller of retail milk dare to conjure?

Number 1 is The County. This may sound like a cop-out, but the phrase is instantly recognizable and conjures up an image of some sort for everyone. There would be hell to pay if the name ever sold.

The County is perhaps an undervalued brand. If we were more customer-focussed and gave it more weight, we might find a value-added, turnkey solution to our financial problems, pick the low hanging fruit and become best in class.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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