In 2007, I was brand new to the storied advertising agency DDB, having been appointed Chief Communications Officer. One of the first memos that hit my desk was a “heads up” that Doyle Dane Bernbach was going to be featured in a new television series. Creator Matthew Weiner had consulted with the agency prior to production and my arrival, but we did not know how the agency was to be treated in the storyline for Mad Men.

Fast-forward all these years, and I am happy to say that DDB fared the best in the quips and portrayals of Madison Avenue agencies (McCann was continuously trashed, BBDO had a short, bad turn). I can honestly say that I would have watched and been loyal to the show regardless of my employer or career. …

They are the best villains of all time. In stating so, I am not trying to be funny or trite. It is undeniable that Nazis were so vile, so clearly the enemy, that since 1945 they have shown up on screens large and small and in so many books. I have read my share of post-WW2 Nazi conspiracy fiction.

The reading list includes Boys from Brazil, Marathon Man, Man in the High Castle, The Last Nazi, Fatherland, SS-GB, Dominion, The Afrika Reich, and many more. …

Let me make this real quick. Advertising, marketing and creative agencies are horrible at marketing and building their own brand. Cobbler’s shoes and all that (“someone very good at their profession but are completely unable or unwilling to use this ability on themselves”). While head of marketing at Interbrand, I obsessed over our brand. Given Interbrand was the leading global brand consultancy, my many lost sleeps were to be expected.

As Chief Communications Officer at DDB, I felt the weight of legacy while trying to make a Mad Men-era brand relevant. I give thanks that the competition were more laconic and greatly paralyzed in managing their own brand. While at the iconic agency, I tried to point out that PR was not brand-building. Further, award shows and sending out a press release on a new client win is table-stakes. …

Coca-Cola has spent 130 years making its brand synonymous with happiness. And what’s a happier image than Santa Claus? According to the company’s website, Santa was first paired with Coke for an advertisement in the December, 1930 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. The ad shows kids admiring a department store Santa Claus who is enjoying a glass of the cola.

A year later the D’Arcy advertising agency developed a series of images envisioning the life of the “real” Santa Claus rather than a department store version. They mined Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” which begins with the famous line, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Over the years, Coca-Cola’s Santa reviews lists, delivers toys, eats treats, and visits children, always while enjoying a Coke. Santa became a seasonal celebrity for the brand, gracing store displays, billboards, posters, and calendars. …

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Did you know that in 2018, luxury purveyor Burberry admitted it had destroyed £90 million worth of clothing and accessories over the previous five years. After a public outcry, the company stopped burning returned and leftover merchandise. Now they focus on recycling and donating.

Unfortunately, that is just a drop in the bucket. You see, it is cheaper for businesses to throw away returns rather than go through the process of reselling. So much focus is put on our supply chains…getting something to market, it seems there is very little focus on the “remarket”. …

It is great when TV and movie writers dream up faux brands. We have been treated to Central Perk, Dunder Mifflin, and the Kwik-E-Mart. The latter is from The Simpsons which seems to create a fictional brand for every episode. Read on to see how the entertainment industry does branding.

Biggerson’s Sizzlin’ Grill and Bar
This is a chain of family restaurants featured in Supernatural. Its famous but fake sandwich, The Turducken, was actually created and sold by the real restaurant chain, Potbelly Sandwich Shop.

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Buy More
There are a few fictional big-box electronics retail chains. This one comes from NBC’s action-comedy series Chuck. Buy More parodies Best Buy. …

If only The Seagram Company could have seen the future they would have avoided what owner Charles Bronfman called, “a disaster, it is a disaster, it will be a disaster…It was a family tragedy.” He was speaking of the demise of his family’s business founded in 1857. Before the company’s ill-fated forays into entertainment and its breakup of assets that were acquired by Pernod Ricard, Diageo and Coca-Cola, Seagram’s developed and owned nearly 250 drink brands and was the largest distiller of alcoholic beverages in the world.

They were also one of the coolest holding companies of all time. The Seagram Building, the company’s American headquarters at 375 Park Avenue in New York City, was designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe with Philip Johnson. Seagram’s made Canadian whisky a must-have. Crown Royal, 7 Crown, 83 Canadian Whisky, Five Star Rye Whisky, and Seagram’s VO were seen as luxury liquors. …

“Comparison is a thief of joy.” So said Teddy Roosevelt. The man was always good for a quick, incisive quote. In this case he could have been referring to social media. The purpose of Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and other platforms have become much different from what was originally promised.

When social media appeared it was expected to deliver two different things. The first was to create democratic vehicles for the sharing of original, entertaining and valuable content. …

We use metaphors, quotes, and analogies in writing and books all the time, but what about metaphors, quotes, and analogies about writing and books that apply to life? No surprise, there are tons.

Novelist Brian Faulkner wrote one that has tons of variants but shares the same lesson, “Life is like a book. There are good chapters, and there are bad chapters. But when you get to a bad chapter, you don’t stop reading the book! If you do… then you never get to find out what happens next!”

Colson Whitehead gave us this deep quote about the act of writing and life, “What isn’t said is as important as what is said.” Graphic Novelist Alan Moore provided levity in this writing-as-life metaphor, “My experience of life is that it is not divided up into genres; it’s a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical, science-fiction cowboy detective novel. …

Two months ago, it was all about the Fyre Festival. Remember? Two documentaries came out nearly simultaneously. Netflix streamed the more cleverly titled, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened while competitor Hulu broadcast, Fyre Fraud. You would have to been trapped in your car in a blizzard for the month of January not to have heard about either or both.

If you just got out of that car, let me fill you in. The Fyre Festival was, quite simply, a disaster. Or to put it more kindly, a failed “luxury music festival” founded by Billy McFarland, CEO of Fyre Media Inc, and rapper Ja Rule. It started from a good place or so one thought. …


Jeff Swystun

I write and brand. They go hand-in-hand. Every business needs a brand. Every brand needs a story. Make yours a bestseller.

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