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?




What Alois Said

They called him the “Butcher of Prague” and the “blonde beast.” A man known to carry out his tasks with brutal efficiency, even Hitler called him the “man with the iron heart.”

Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich, a high ranking German Nazi during World War 2, arrived in Prague with the intent of suppressing Czech culture and deporting and executing members of the Czech resistance. Also nicknamed “the hangman”, Heydrich was one of the most fearsome members of the Nazi elite. One of the chief architects of the Holocaust, he was the leading planner in Hitler’s Final Solution.

On May 27, 1942, Heydrich was attacked in Prague by a team of British trained Czech and Slovak soldiers sent by the Czech government in exile to kill him. The project was called Operation Anthropoid and revenge was swift and lethal. The Germans falsely linked the assassins to two Czech villages. One village was burned to the ground, men and boys over 16 were shot, and most women and children were taken to Nazi concentration camps.

Heydrich died one week later of his injuries.

So why does this man – and this horrific event in history matter to me? Because if it weren’t for the man in this picture, I might not be alive today.

If a picture can say a thousand words, then this one can tell a thousand stories. One day while picking through my Mom’s old ruffled family photo album, I came across this photo of her as a young girl. She’s being held by her Uncle Lola (Alois), her mother’s older brother. It was taken in Prague along the river Vltava circa the 1940’s.

My Mom describes Uncle Lola as “A tall, not too handsome man, but with a beautiful and kind heart.” He lived in a small European size flat with his wife in a 5th floor apartment in Prague. They had a child (boy) called Jan, who contracted scarlet fever but was treated with penicillin. Unfortunately he was sent to school too soon which seemed to affect his heart. Poor Jan died at the age of 8. The death of Jan had a great impact on Lola’s marriage. It slowly fell apart. His wife left him, and he remarried a gold digger who just wanted his pension. In the end, he suffered a stroke and died a lonely man somewhere in a hospital in Prague. A sad ending to the story of a man I never knew.

An only child, my Mom didn’t have much family in Czechoslovakia. Both her parents were Czech. Her Dad (who died months before I was born…my Opa) went to law school at Charles University in Prague then worked as a lawyer. Her Mom (my Omi), was his secretary and later on became his wife.

The family grew up in Czechoslovakia during turbulent times when the country was invaded by just about every brutal regime on the planet. What little they had was soon confiscated by whatever forces happened to be invading at the time.

To this day, my Mom has very fond memories of Uncle Lola. She remembers him, his apartment – even being at the funeral of his son. But it’s time spent with him around Prague that holds the most meaning. On May 27, 1942, Uncle Lola had taken my Mom to the Prague Zoo. An armed German soldier approached them as they were making their way home. Remember that the Germans were bloodthirsty for revenge and weren’t about to spare anybody. Which makes the next part of the story even more unbelievable.

There was a heated conversation, and understandably my Mom (then a child) was quite terrified. I’m sure Uncle Lola was too, although whatever it was he said to the Nazi saved both himself as well as my Mom. Looking at what happened that day, and the deadly consequences on innocent Czech civilians of Operation Anthropoid, there’s no reason that they both shouldn’t have been shot on the spot in cold blood.

I wish I had known Uncle Lola. Because I would have thanked him. If it wasn’t for his smarts and quick thinking, I might not even be here today.

After having led what seemed to be a life full of tragedy in a very dangerous and turbulent time in history, I felt it necessary to tell his story. Because a picture isn’t always just a picture. There are real people, stories and memories behind pictures too.

Pictures tell the story of our past – and help us to understand our present.

The story of a moment. Imagine for a brief second, how it would have felt – to have been confronted by a revenge thirsty Nazi officer during a time of total hysteria? How would you react knowing, that the next words coming out of your mouth could mean the difference between life and death?

Uncle Lola – today I honour you. Your bravery shall not be forgotten for you are a true hero. Thank you.


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



Storytelling Comes Alive Through "The Artist"

While the new world of Hollywood is filled with special effects, violence and sometimes limited storylines, multiple Academy Award nominee The Artist is a perfect example of how to engage an audience the old fashioned way.

Filmed in black and white and with no dialogue, The Artist proves that with a good story you don't need complicated technology and complex plotlines to create a winner.

Originally I was skeptical at the prospect of seeing a silent film. I'm a fan of Chaplin, but wasn't sure whether "old world" techniques would appeal to a modern day audience. My skepticism quickly faded during the first 15 minutes of the film. Set in Hollywood in the 1920's, The Artist is the story of silent film star George Valentin and his concerns that the arrival of the "talkies" would ruin his career. There's also a subplot surrounding young dancer Peppy Miller and how their worlds eventually end up colliding.

In a nutshell, The Artist proves that what's old can be new again.

So what makes The Artist an example of timely, effective and engaging storytelling?

  1. The story delves into a universal theme that's as relevant in 1920's Hollywood as it is today - fears held by the older generation that their relevence and skills will be outpaced as technology continues to evolve and younger players take over
  2. There's a huge emotional connection to the audience. Although the movie is silent, the audience is transported into the story through cinematography, the looks and actions of the actors and the music. Classic storytelling. At some points in the movie, there wasn't a dry eye in the house
  3. The movie made you laugh. Thanks in part to canine star "Uggie", the movie was highly comedic. Comedy vs. tragedy - universal themes in storytelling that have the effect of playing with the audience in an effort to entertain and inspire
  4. The movie was filmed in black and white. This added a magical and mysterious element to the story that transcended any other method of modern day filmmaking

The Artist received 10 Academy Award nominations next to Martin Scorsese's highly acclaimed Hugo (11 noms). While worldwide audiences will have to wait until the Academy Awards show on February 26, in my mind The Artist is already a winner and shining example of how lack of dialogue combined with music, incredible acting, universal storytelling and award winning cinematography can win both critial acclaim as well as the hearts and minds of global audiences.

Do you think The Artist is a great example of engaging storytelling? Why? If not, why not?



The Story of Christmas Is A Culinary Journey Through Time

Christmas is my favourite time of year. It's a time to reconnect with loved take stock of the past and fill your mind with hopes and wishes for the year ahead.

Underneath all the consumerism and hectic scheduling is an undercurrent of magic and imagination that reminds me of simpler times. Times when our only true responsibility was to be a kid. We only had to believe, and it would come true. As we grew into adulthood, the magic and sense of wonder started to wear off to make way for life and its increasing array of responsibilities, triumphs and disappointments.

Yet Christmas is the one time of year that allows us to reconnect with this long lost sense of wonder and hope. As I bake yet another cookie recipe, my mind goes back to the time when my Mom and grandmother would pass me the spoon to lick the bowl. I would always show up at just the right time to indulge in sampling. To this day, I delight in raw cookie dough, only now I enjoy its flavour throughout the year in a tub of gourmet ice cream.

The baking experience is essential to the Christmas story. It reminds me of time shared as a family, of loved ones long gone - and those who are still around to carry on the tradition. It's a feeling of family and community that cannot be duplicated at any other time of the year. Even though family is to be found all over the world, the sights, sounds and smells of the Christmas season still live in my heart each year as I contemplate yet another sugary dish.

Wandering through the Christmas Market in Toronto's Distillery District last week immersed me in a sea of memories that allowed me to reconnect with long lost times. Being of German heritage, I grew up on stollen, Marzipan - and a variety of sumptuous German, Austrian and Swiss chocolates. My Omi's baking included the ever famous rum balls - almost always filled with more rum than chocolate.

One of my fondest Christmas memories was the arrival of my grandmother's Christmas parcel from Germany. It was a culinary delight filled with treasures from all over Europe. And in every package was a new addition to my beloved Steiff toys...a brand I take pride in to this day.

I could take just about everything used to symbolize Christmas and map out a story of my life. And that's the neat thing about stories. The best ones contain an emotional component that allows us to reconnect with experiences long lost within ourselves.

So here's to Christmas. And a wish for all my readers that 2011 gives you the chance to script the best story of your life. Thanks for reading!


American Idol Proves Anything Sells - As Long As It's A Good Story!

I enjoy watching American Idol to see both the best - and worst of American talent. The show is a smoothly crafted PR machine - and marketers dream. To merely be on the show guarantees viewership of an audience greater than that participating in most American elections!

The story is simple. Show talent - and sell talent - by inviting the audience to become part of the process. But once in a while the show's producers throw us for a loop - as they did in the case of allowing 63 year old civil rights veteran "General" Larry Platt perform his internet sensation hit..."Pants on the Ground."

PantsonthegroundWhen I first saw the clip I cringed at the insanity of allowing this guy to perform on the show. That is, until I read his story. Apparently Platt is a civil rights veteran and has photos of himself alongside such greats as Martin Luther King Jr. He has awards from city and state officials for his social justice work. The song's title is meant to be a jab at young people today who insist on wearing baggy pants. The implication being that they've either forgotten about the past - or know about it and don't take the time to respect the work that was done to protect civil rights.

Platt's song quickly became an internet sensation garnering yet more publicity for both himself - as well as for the show. In a world where instant fame is just a click away, Platt's story is living proof that you can still act like a nutbar...yet still win us over if you have a good story to back it up.

What did you think of Platt's appearance on the show? What about the judge's reaction to the performance? Why is it that the song is such an internet sensation?

Proctor and Gamble Adds 'Bounce' to Storytelling


Proctor and Gamble has come up with a new twist on storytelling for their line of fresh scented dryer sheets. Bounce sheets come in a variety of colours, and help freshen your clothes and reduce static in the dryer.

Turns out that Bounce can be used for more than just laundry. In a new television, interactive and print campaign, consumers are invited to share their stories about the product by submitting them to the brand's website. The title is intriguing and begs for interaction by asking consumers: "Do you bounce beyond the dryer?" The copy contains the line: "Behind every good idea lies an even better story."

Stories must be based on true personal experiences, and other Bounce users are invited to rate the stories based on a "Clever Level." One lucky author will be chosen every week to win one month of free maid service.

The campaign is interesting and innovative on several levels:

1) It draws on the experiences and stories of people who actually use the product (adds credibility by making the campaign more believable and "real")

2) It combines print, interactive and television ads making the brand more memorable

3) There's a payoff for people who choose to share their stories prefaced by a "call to action"

4) People are engaged to participate in the "Bounce Community" through a storytelling component that draws on their competitive spirit (the stories are rated)

5) The final media ads (also involving intriguing stories) are also featured on the website should consumers wish to view them

6) It helps increase sales by introducing other uses for the product

This type of storytelling used in advertising is nothing new, but it's the way that Proctor and Gamble does it that draws the viewer into the experience of the brand. Who knew that one could get all that from a small, scented Bounce sheet!

What other brands encourage participation through storytelling? Are you surprised that more companies don't take advantage of this technique?

Your Life Story in Six Words or Less

LIFE STORY...six words or less

In November 2006, editor Larry Smith posted a challenge on his website, asking people to write their life story in six words or less. Smith received 15,000 replies within the first two months, the best of which have been published in the New York Times Bestseller "Not Quite What I Was Planning."

The Toronto Star decided to pick up where Smith left off, and threw the challenge out to Star readers. Here are some of the most memorable entries:

1) Started out strong, what went wrong? (Robert Smith, Boston)

2) Evidently, I was homeschooled by nuts. (Christopher Murphy, Toronto)

3) Overeducated janitor: My ambition lacks ignition. (Chelsea Maloney, Dunnville)

4) Financially good - everything else a bust. (Emanuel Samuel, North York)

5) I have not accomplished much - yet. (Daniel Rudmin, Vancouver)

6) I was good to my dog. (Frank Green, Paisley)

7) I have lived in total obscurity. (Sonia Holder, Hamilton)

Here's a shot at my own: "Didn't listen to my parents. Oops..."

Someone once said that everyone has a story to tell. What's yours? Can you tell it in six words or less?