My Accidental Lesson in Branding

“Frink you got to have a gimmick.” That was the advice given to me on how to get women from Andy, one of my college roommates. I didn’t realize it at the time and though I was in my third year in college as an advertising major it was my first lesson in branding and positioning. Andy’s gimmick was to take on the persona of the charming hick—think Andy Griffith with fewer scruples—of Sigma Phi Epsilon.  Andy was a very bright guy from Beaumont, Texas, he was well read and there were few topics of conversation that he couldn’t engage in. He graduated from The University of Texas with a marketing degree and a 3.5 grade point average. Yet he methodically and consistently over a period of four years cultivated his image as the charming hick.

Why you might ask, would anybody intentionally portray themselves as a hick? Andy’s rationale was what we call in the advertising and marketing industry, branding and positioning.  Andy and I were members of a large fraternity at The University of Texas in the mid 1970s.  The fraternity scene was our social world, a small provincial, pretentious and chauvinistic world. Many of our Greek brothers were handsome guys—we called them “face jocks”.  Many of them were from wealthy families, or tried appear to be.  They dressed well and they drove well-appointed late model cars.  Being a face jock, dressing well and driving nice cars had its’ advantages in the Greek world at The University of Texas in the mid 1970s.  The most important advantage of course was with the women.  If you had these characteristics you were guaranteed opportunities to date some beautiful sorority girls who might also be from a wealthy family.

The Author

Sigma Phi Epsilon, The University of Texas, September, 1977

Andy and I weren’t face jocks. We didn’t drive well-appointed late model cars and we didn’t appear to be from wealthy families.  Since he couldn’t compete in those areas Andy brilliantly identified a niche he could exploit when competing for women against wealthy face jocks.  Andy developed the “Charming Hick” persona and he did it well.  He worked construction during summers in east Texas and enjoyed using the region’s accent and some of its’ interesting phraseology that he had picked up.  For instance, a backhoe operator explained to Andy that the key to operating a backhoe was, “getting your hands and your feet carbonated.”

Andy’s positioning strategy worked and he dated more than his share of pretty sorority girls and eventually became engaged to one during his senior year. I lacked a gimmick and relied on simply being myself. Boring! I needed a gimmick. You know,branding.

Does your business have a gimmick i.e. a branding and positioning strategy versus the rich face-jocks of your industry? Have you done what Andy did by identifying and exploiting a market niche for yourself?

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The Author Relaxed After Finding His Gimmick

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