Back in the 90s I was fortunate to do a fair amount of international jet setting due to being the jammiest git alive and working on a car account.
The ads were popular somewhat but never that great – which was always unsatisfactory, but the trips were the consolation prize.
We used to go to LA quite a bit and stay at the Sunset Marquee hotel. The names I could drop, if I had a mind to.
Which I do.
The infamous ‘Whisky bar’ within the hotel, was where every night Slash would set up his table and be surrounded by hangers on. Jeff Beck, would usually be hanging around in his cap sleeve T-shirt, we were there on the night the Sex Pistols played LA on their reunion tour and were politely drinking in the foyet. We’d come from a schmancy restaurant in Beverly Hills where we sat next to Densel Washington while Elle McPherson was talking with Joe Pesci at the bar.
I once noticed an old man dining alone at the Sunset’s small restaurant but resisted the urge to ask if he wanted a chat. It was Paul Newman.
Super models roamed the corridors and I remember one afternoon we shared some late sun with Billy Ray Cyrus, Mylie’s old man.
All of these encounters and sightings should have prepared me for what happened one evening in the Whisky bar.
I tell this story as no more or no less than a story about branding and how a brand speaks and behaves and how important it can be.
The name dropping is purely gratuitous.
But we’ll get to that.
(In this ‘dry month’ of January it seems appropriate to talk about the hazards of the demon drink.)
So anyway, whisky has an effect on me like no other drink.
While I have never been an aggressive person, it does slightly give me a false sense of my own macho-ness, let’s say.
Wine, makes me fall asleep at the table and Tequila can lead to all sorts of mischief. I’m sure your experiences are similar.
But the night in question, it was whisky at the Whisky bar.
We had returned to the hotel after casting or shooting or location hunting or some such production based pastime.
A very good friend and colleague of mine at the time was an assistant producer named Liza, she has since grown up and had babies but at the time she was an attractive young woman in her twenties ( and obviously still is!) and as an agency team we felt protective of our assistant producer, she was like a kid sister.
As we sat outside on the small patio she wafted through the doors in to the evening LA fug, if not exactly like a goddess, certainly like an attractive assistant producer.
Oh alright, a goddess sounds better.
I then heard a cockney voice shout out something like ‘Oi. you…over ‘ere!’
It was the mating call of the lesser spotted London geezer and Liza had caught his eye.
Although quite innocuos in retrospect I took affront to this indelicate language addressed at our assistant producer….as if she was some parlour maid.
I stood up and approached this braggard.
I should say that at this point I was more than a little sozzled and words like braggard and parlour maid were frothing to the top of my internal vocabulary, turning me in to some sort of psychotic Lord Melchett.
I approached this bounder who was sat delicately perched on the low brick wall. One push would have done it.
He looked me up and down, unimpressed.
What followed was a strange sort of conversation, there was a lot of ‘don’t speak to women like that’ and a lot of ‘who the fuck are you, her dad?’ type replies.
Then a few “yeahs??? and a few “whatchagonnadoaboutits”.
You know how stupid people (ok men) can get when this sort of thing happens.
But for the first time in my life, and thankfully the last, I felt like I was the guy in charge here.
I didn’t waver, for all intents and purposes I was a hard nut.
Not because I looked hard, or spoke hard. But because I believed it. Yes, it was mostly Glen and his merry band of fiddichs, Morangies and Livets backing me up, but there I was – being macho.
There was a sort of stand off. To be fair this guy wasn’t backing down either.
But neither did he make a ‘move’.
There was an awkward sort of ‘yeah..well mind your language’ kind of unsatisfactory ending to the ‘face-off’ but I at least walked away with my dignity.
And it was over. I couldn’t believe that was even me.
We made our exit to the bar where Mark my boss and Nick the account director were standing laughing their heads off.
I assumed at my idiotic behaviour.
And they were of course, but I had had no idea quite how idiotic I had been.
And frankly you may be thinking that there’s nothing special about this sort of loutish behaviour, men square up to each other the world over every night of the week. It’s embarrassing and nothing to be proud of.
Well, here is where we get to the advertising insight part.
How a brand behaves and acts IS THE BRAND. You don’t need to work your way up to be a brand leader in terms of how you conduct your brand personality, you can just start behaving like a brand leader and so long as you stay faithful to that tone, you can fool pretty much anyone. Even yourself.
Product is what it does, Brand is how it behaves.
“Do you know who that was?” My chums said as I returned to the warm safety of the agency huddle, expecting at least a small degree of newly discovered respect.
“Have you ever heard of Gary Stretch?”
Hmm..the name rang a bell.
“What the WBC International Light Middleweight title holding Gary Stretch?”
“The now living in LA as an actor Gary Stretch”
“You just nearly got the shit kicked out of you”.
To be frank, it wouldn’t take an ex-professional boxer to kick the shit out of me, but yes – they had a point.
The one time I decide to be a macho idiot and I pick the best pound for pound fighter of his generation.
And lived to tell the tale.
Tone of voice really is everything.