For thirty years the legend of The North Pond Hermit in central Maine continued to grow.
He remained unseen but his presence was felt everywhere. During the night things would go missing from local houses, never money, but food, clothing, books and oddly – BBQ gas canisters.
The only evidence left behind was occasional wood shavings, the remnants of a jimmied window.
Like BigFoot or The Loch Ness monster, this…thing….became larger than life, taking on mythical status.
A brand, if you will.
How could one person survive in the woods during those severe Maine winters when one night in the snow would be enough for most people, and a week would be unthinkable?
Eventually, almost thirty years after he left the civilized world Christopher Thomas Knight was caught pilfering food from The Pine Tree Summer Camp kitchens by a motion sensor that linked through to the Police chief’s home, a man who had been hunting The North Pond Hermit like he was Dr David Banner himself. ( If you don’t get the reference look it up)
Technology had finally caught up with him. The news broke and the story spread across America capturing the nation’s imagination.
Christopher, now 47, was barely able to talk, having mostly lost the ability due to his solitary existence. He had the same glasses on he’d worn when at the age of 20 he’d disappeared in to the forest. When the cops asked how long he’d been living like that he replied “what year was the Chernobyl disaster?”
This was a man without property, taxes, car, mail, or any of the baggage of our modern world who existed under tarpaulin sheets in the middle of nowhere.
His recently pilfered trousers, however, were in fine fettle, as were his sturdy boots.
The police held him and charged him with multiple burglaries (estimated at over 1000 at an average of 40 a year)
Not so much a legend as a college drop out in dodgy jeans.
Reading this story it occurred to me that to create a brand, a good percentage of the job is done by elements out of the brand creator’s hands. It can behave in a certain way, it can not say very much at all in fact, and sometimes that might actually help and we, the fanciful public, fill in the gaps.
People love to use their imaginations, creative or not, and that is a vital ingredient in the bubbling cauldron of brand perception.
We don’t so much “Capture the imagination” as release it.
It’s why papers give serial killers a good nickname to maximize the horror. The Yorkshire Ripper beats dreary old Peter Sutcliffe any day. The Moors murderers, The Monster of Florence, The Lipstick Killer, Son of Sam…the list goes on.
In our Pharma world, despite being told endlessly to the contrary, a little mystery is still essential in constructing a brand. We’re told HCPs just want the data, patients just want the facts and yet we know a dash of the coquettish can make all the difference.
If we reduce concepts and ideas to just messages, without any creative magic, what we are effectively selling is Christopher Thomas Knight. Call me shallow if you like, but I am less interested in Christopher than his alter ego The North Pond Hermit.
One is a brand, the other is just a bit of a weirdo.
Like a magician who transports an audience member from one end of the theatre to the other with a wave of his magic wand and is then exposed for using identical twins, the unremarkable ordinariness of the truth will suck the oxygen right out of a brand.
Coke isn’t happiness it’s sugary brown water.
But what does Vorsprung durch Technik mean? People will be confused, can we run it in different languages for different countries?
It means Truth in Engineering.
Oh, ok. Meh.
It’s not a Happy Meal, it’s a small burger and a plastic toy.
And yet when it works the other way, it can be mesmerizing. For years the Para Olympics were the poor relation to the main event, synonymous with half filled stadiums and obscure TV channels. What marketing existed was along the lines of ‘for people who can’t walk or see they’re a lot like real athletes’
But when Channel 4 got hold of it in 2012 they told us we were actually watching Superhumans. With one bound they overtook ‘normal’ athletes and stars were born.
Ok, now I might tune in.
As creatives our job is to add the magic even when it seems there’s none to be found. It’s not about obscuring the truth, it’s about revealing enough truth to tantalize.
Tell too much and the spell can be broken.
The one clever thing The Hermit has done is remain silent about his life in the woods. How he survived is still mostly a mystery and so an element of the legend remains, even as he languishes in jail for all the burglaries carried out since 1986. (It doesn’t matter that it’s mostly because he can’t talk very well anymore.)
Like a stripper with carefully positioned feathers, more can definitely be less.