Wagon Wheels (Reliving The Lunchbox Experience)

My parents were of European heritage so food was important to us. As a child attending public school in suburban Ottawa, my brothers and I rarely ate in the school cafeteria. Instead, my parents would make us lunches that we would schlep to school regardless of weather conditions (this included months of sub-zero temps as Ottawa was second coldest to Moscow).

In my early school days, I remember that plastic lunchboxes were all the rage. Not just any lunchbox, but the coloured “Thermos” ones that often came with pictures of your favourite superheroes or TV show characters. The lunchboxes would come with a good size Thermos container (attached with a clip) that would provide needed warmth with soup or hot chocolate on those endless bitterly cold winter days.

Included in my lunch would always be a sandwich – usually salami, cheese or peanut butter – to give us extra protein. Back then, our lunchboxes weren’t refrigerated at school so it’s amazing none of us came down with food poisoning. I still remember my parents buying those monster size salamis which sometimes looked like small baseball bats. Being a daughter of parents of European heritage, dessert was always a much anticipated treat to find in my lunchbox. If we were lucky, our lunches would also include a small size DelMonte pudding cup (usually chocolate). The cups came with sharp, pull off lids so you had to be careful they didn’t slice your fingers as you rushed to pull them off.

But the item that stands out the most as having the most impact on my day was when I saw a Wagon Wheel in my lunch. These tasty treats (resembling a Joe Louis by Vachon for those of you who grew up near Quebec) consisted of a generous portion of marshmallow sandwiched between two chocolate covered soft biscuits.

As a kid, I knew it would be a good afternoon if my lunch included a Wagon Wheel.

Today, the product hasn’t changed much except that with most consumer products, the size seems to have shrunken a bit. What’s funny is that I still occasionally buy it for a treat. The brand has the incredible ability to take me back to the carefree days of my childhood when a simple treat in my lunchbox was able to make my day.

Eating a Wagon Wheel makes me experience my childhood all over again as in spite of its seemingly smaller size, not much has changed with the product. The taste is still unique and I sense I am that same kid all over again.

What is it about some brands that make them so timeless?

I looked at the new packaging for Wagon Wheels and not much seems to have changed either except for the fact that I’m now looking at it from the eyes of an adult. The font looks the same (quite retro) and each piece is individually wrapped. In what is probably an attempt to bring us back to our Wagon Wheel roots, the company makes it a point of saying the product is “original.” Which is true, because that’s exactly how I remember them.

Yet what hit me the most on the package was the five word line printed directly below the product name “Ideal snack for the lunchbox.” The image right next to it features a yellow lunchbox with a Wagon Wheel and wrapper sitting directly outside of it.

What’s even more intriguing is that I wrote most of this post BEFORE I even took a look at the packaging. Dare Foods totally nailed it. As a consumer, you can’t get any closer to a brand experience than that.

In a world cluttered with competing messages, to me that’s brand genius. Timelessness, taste, experience and meaning make this one brand story that’s destined to be around for a long, long time.

Wagon Wheels






Nostalgic Over Heinz

Heinz is one of the world’s most iconic and memorable brands. To this day, I refuse to buy any other ketchup than Heinz ketchup. The topic of brand loyalty has long intrigued both manufacturers as well as advertisers and academics. What makes a brand so good – that consumers will go out of their way to buy it every time – regardless of price or the wide array of other options on the grocery shelf?

Iconic global brands have several qualities, but perhaps the most dominant is their ability to invoke some sort of emotional connection in the consumer. By consuming a product represented by a global brand, we are often transported to a different place and time. A time when things were simpler and less rushed. A time when we were perhaps surrounded by family gathered around the television set watching the Flintstones or Walt Disney.

Take Heinz spaghetti. To some, it might be just another option to soup on a cold winter’s day. But to me, the idea of eating Heinz spaghetti has a far deeper connection and meaning. Having grown up with 3 brothers, I remember us all eating Heinz spaghetti on (usually wobbly) TV trays  watching our old black and white TV on those long and cold winter days. On some days we might have come home for a quick lunch from school. My grandmother would open up a couple of cans, then serve them to us sprinkled with Kraft grated parmesan cheese.  I still remember shaking those large green containers with the red lids. I also remember watching the spaghetti boil as the odour of tomato sauce filled our house.

We loved Heinz spaghetti, and I still eat it today when I want to feel nostalgic. That’s one reason comfort foods exist. When it comes to brands, it’s not so much what they ARE – but what they DO to us that represents their true quality and value. A brand is a promise of quality, and I know that whether it’s today or 10 years from now, Heinz will still offer me the same quality product I experienced when I was 10.

Perhaps most importantly, it will offer me the same brand STORY I experienced when I was 10. Brands offer context, and whenever I eat Heinz spaghetti I’m transported back to childhood. It represents comfort food and reminds me of a time when we were all together as a family.

To me, it’s not just another can of convenience food. It’s a promise that what I experience when I eat it will contain good memories and will make me feel good about the purchase. That’s what iconic brands do – and will always continue to do. It’s what makes them unique.

Are there any other brands you can think of that offer you a similar story? Are all brand decisions based on price, or do you sometimes buy something just because it reminds you of another place and time?




Why Objects Matter

Stories are all around us. They're part of our DNA. From our earliest childhood, most of us can remember the sound of Mom or Dad reading stories to us. Stories of superheroes, folktale legends or just simply stories about some pretty wild and wacky characters entertained us for hours on end. The best childhood stories were able to draw you into a plot and world quite different from your own. Worlds where the good guys often won and imaginations ran free.

As we grew up, stories took on a whole new meaning. The books we read and films we watched reflected our "coming of age." As we struggled to find our place in the world, we hoped that stories would help us find meaning in our somewhat confused and chaotic lives. Sometimes we relied on heroes to provide a path through darkness to light. At other times, stories were just a means of escape, a way to temporarily leave the present world to experience a new one in print, on stage or on screen.

While enlightened companies are waking up to the fact that stories can help their brands better connect to consumers, stories can also be of great personal significance when they're a reflection of the objects we own. These objects, artifacts or "Narrative Assets", tell the story of our lives and as a group, can even reflect the story of an entire culture or nation.

Every object, or artifact has a story. Not only does it have a particular meaning for the owner, but it can also have broader implications as well. People are naturally curious beings. Just look at the popularity of museums, art and photography exhibits, antique fairs, movies and social media. We all like to share stories about what's important to us in our lives. Artifacts are one way to help us understand our place in the world.

By relating a story to an object, we're able to connect with others on an emotional level who may or may not have gone through a similar experience. Humans are naturally curious beings and are drawn to objects. What does an object represent? Who owned it? What's it made of? How old is it? and "What's its story?"

Artifacts taken from the site of world changing events can be an important source of reflection. For example, artifacts gathered from Ground Zero were placed in a museum honouring the heroes of that dark day in our history. Artifacts can represent stories that invoke either good or bad memories, but their significance to an individual or to society in general is equally important in that they serve as connecting points to our own community - or to the world in general.

Perhaps more than anything, objects and artifacts have the amazing ability to transcend time and space. When an object is passed on to another generation, that generation bears the weight and responsibility of keeping its memories alive. It's as if the original owner passes his or her story down to future generations through a particular object of great personal importance.

This blog will attempt to find meaning in otherwise everyday objects. In some cases, they may have little significance to the reader - but by adding a story the purpose of the object and its emotional relevance will become clear and generate a life of its own. So whether you're a company looking for innovative ways to showcase your brand, or an individual curious to hear or share some really cool stories, I invite you to take and share in this journey through the fascinating world of "Narrative Assets." Feel free to post your own stories and pictures along the way. I hope you enjoy the adventure.

(Image from



Brad Pitt Generates "Inevitable" Backlash for Chanel No. 5

As the first male spokesperson for iconic brand Chanel No. 5, Brad Pitt has generated a fury of controversy..not all of which can be bad for the company. Cited as "vague" by viewers and countless media outlets, Pitt seems to confuse the audience with his ramble about life's journeys, luck, fate and fortune. The ads have generated so much buzz, that they have already been spoofed on Saturday Night Live, Ellen and Conan.

Yet the effect of all this buzz is, to use his word, "inevitable."  The ad has generated over 4 million hits on YouTube. To quantify the amount of free publicity garnished by Chanel with the launch of these print and TV ads would be astounding.

Whoever said that there's no such thing as bad publicity would certainly stand up for this one. According to Vanity Fair, the launch of the ad campaign was made to co-incide with the release of Pitt's new movie Killing Them Softly. Brilliant marketing on both sides.

So while the critics are spending time tearing up the ad, both Chanel and Pitt can be assured of one thing. People are talking about it. And in the world of brand marketing, just having people talk about your product will ensure that the Chanel brand story continues to live on in the minds and emotions of consumers. 


Whatever Happened To The ART In Advertising?


I love browsing through Vanity Fair magazine. The articles are always interesting, and I always find cool ads strategically placed throughout the magazine. Gorgeous models dressed in the latest fashions, famous photojournalists taking us along for the journey - it's a welcome escape for these trying times!

One day I was surfing their website and came across an interactive version of their January 1935 issue. The cover was a rather animated looking version of Uncle Sam with his hands folded behind his back (OK - perhaps he also looks like one of those Wall Street types who was able to get out before the big collapse).

As I continued to browse through the issue, I noticed something interesting about the advertising. Each ad looked like a mini work of art - and each accompanying image told a story. There were no 3 or 4 word taglines, but a description of the product told through the eyes of the narrator. It was almost as if each ad was a mini screenplay of sorts.

An ad for Listerine was titled "Noah Webster thought that colds were caused by comets." The story goes on to say how Webster reached that conclusion, then describes the real reason behind colds (viral) - and tells the reader how Listerine can help to fight colds. The ad even refers to a scientific study or two.

Besides their visual appeal and impact, what makes these ads appealing is the amount of thought put into them. I'm not saying that modern day ads don't require a large amount of idea generation and thinking, but it seems the ads of yesteryear tell a story that I can remember. The ads relate to me at a human level. They ask me direct questions, and pique my curiousity by telling me who else is using the product. The illustrations are top notch, and point to people's personal experiences as a way of relating to my own needs.

The point is that I remember the ads - which makes me remember the products.

Have we lost the ART in advertising? Did the ad execs on the hit TV series Mad Men have something to say - and can we learn something from the success gained through the use of more traditional forms of advertising? Is there room for story and a more "artistic" approach to advertising in our fast paced digital world?

Selling Emotion In Advertising: The Psychology of Effective Ads

The advent of non-traditional distribution channels brought on by advances in technology has raised a number of issues for advertisers. The consumer marketplace has become a dumping ground of sorts for a bevy of messages from companies telling us to buy more - and buy "better."

To reach us, ad agencies have tried numerous tactics including: cool graphics and effects, gorgeous models leading globetrotting lifestyles (who are not an accurate representation of "Joe and Jill" average), and promises that the product will deliver and meet our needs on numerous levels. Billions of dollars are spent delivering the message, but is the message really getting through?

When I think back to my days as a corporate sales representative, my business challenges were not unlike those faced by advertisers today. How do I come across as being "different" than my competitors - and succeed at having my product stand out amongst others that deliver similar experiences?

Looking back, the clincher to my biggest and most successful sales was based on an emotional element that I was able to add to the selling mix. Customers could have bought a similar product elsewhere, but they bought from me. If I was selling toys, then I would be able to use the "cute and fuzzy" factor as a lead-in to the sale. Key sales decisions were always a combination of both rational and emotional elements.

Emotion is important in selling because it leads to ownership and involvement. Remember the breakthrough success of the pet rock? Why else would anyone pay money for a rock in a box, other than the "cool" - and pride of ownership factors? The fact that the rock came with a handbook increased the emotional attachment of the rock to the owner. The success of the mood ring was based on similar principles. The product was even able to "predict" emotion through a display of colour on the owner's hand. We all knew it was a crock, yet we all bought it. In some strange way, we became attached to the idea that the ring could actually predict or reflect our mood. The experience became personal.

Petrock_2 200pxmoodring1_2

Just as in selling, the most effective ads reach us through their emotional appeal. By targeting our emotions, we are able to identify with the characters in the ad. Their story becomes our own.

When I think about great ads, I think of ads that struck a key emotional chord. There was something universal and "human" to the story. Examples of ads that catered to our emotions include:

The key to customer awareness and engagement can be found in this simple truism...people don't buy from companies - people buy from people.

What other ad campaigns can you think of that used emotion as a way to sell the product? Do you think this is an effective way of reaching consumers? Why isn't it used more often in advertising today?


Holiday Ads Bring Back Memories of Christmas Past

Tree_2There's nothing like the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the holiday season to bring back memories of Christmas. As a child, I cherished Christmas as a time of wonder, enjoyment and sheer delight. Every Christmas had its own unique story - a story that continues to play itself out as I continue my journey through adulthood.

Well-crafted holiday advertising has the ability to capture these fond emotional memories, and tie them into a brand. Here are the taglines from some holiday ads that evoke the spirit and story of the Christmas season.

1) Westin Hotels and Resorts - "Morning Stretch"..."Spread your wings at" (with photo of a snow angel)

2) Jackson-Triggs Wine - "Those who say there aren't enough hours in the day must be going to bed too early"..."Life's greatest moments happen at night. That's why it's the perfect time to enjoy Jackson-Triggs and create some new beginnings at the end of the day."..."Bring on the night" (product shown beside a photo of a city skyline at night)

3) Cote d'Or Chocolate - "The first bite is the most intense until the second" (with mouthwatering photo of a Cote d'Or dark chocolate bar)

4) Kitchen Aid - "If there's one place where memories live, it's here"..."Wonder, love, hope and joy all stay with you here, the one room in the house where life happens" (for regular blog readers, you may have remembered my post on this ad on November 20)

5) Eastern Townships Travel Ad -  "Austria? Eastern Townships!"..."Only 45 minutes from Montreal!" (with winter scene equivalent of the photo below)


The sights, sounds, tastes and smells take me back to a time when Christmas meant fun, food and family. To this day, it isn't Christmas until I've had my first slice of a Maroc clementine, first sniff of the scented pine boughs of a Christmas tree fresh from the lot, and first bite into my Mom's old family German Christmas cookie recipe. As I get older, I'll continue to invent some new traditions, but the old memories of Christmas past are there to serve as a reminder that some things in life never change amidst the uncertainties of life.

'Telling the Story' of UN Refugees

It's not often that a print ad captures my attention and imagination, but a recent campaign designed by BBDO Toronto in conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) did just that. The ad was in a recent edition of Canadian Living Magazine, and featured a photo of three refugees standing in a sandstorm, with nothing but a few parcels and the clothes on their backs. The tagline literally stopped me in my tracks, and I wondered what story the advertiser was trying to tell. The copy was at total odds with the desperate mood of the photo, and I found myself drawn into the story and compelled to learn more.

The copy reads:

"refugees are so lucky..They have no idea how much it costs to renovate a house these days. Brazilian hardwood. Stainless steel appliances. Kitchen backsplash at $12.55 per square foot. Their home furnishings tend to be a little more basic. Tarps. Rope. Cardboard. Anything that can help protect from the harshness of the elements. And give them a fighting chance at survival.

What we take for granted 21 million people wish they could have back. Please give to the UN Refugee Agency. Visit"


Talk about a powerful message. The campaign is going global and includes a series of TV and print ads designed to raise awareness about the plight of more than 20 million refugees.

What was interesting about the ad is that it drew me into the refugee experience by contrasting their lifestyle against our own. In contrast to the chaotic world of a refugee, our problems seem so insignificant. The tagline was brilliant. I wondered how refugees could even possibly be referred to as "lucky", and I was compelled to learn more.

Patrick Scissons, VP, Associate Creative Director, BBDO Toronto said: “We’ve all seen the news reports and images of refugees around the world, but the challenge in telling their stories is that their experiences are so far removed from our daily lives. Now imagine coming home after a long day at work to find that all your personal possessions and the home you know have been taken from you. This is an experience we can all relate to and we used this as our starting point for the campaign so people could begin to understand what refugees around the world go through on a daily basis."

The campaign truly highlights the power of advertising to tell a story. With the creation of this campaign, BBDO Toronto and the UNHCR have taken a huge step in the battle towards global tolerance, compassion and understanding. By drawing us into the refugee experience, they have succeeded in making us co-creators in a plot to eliminate the global refugee crisis.