Jay! Branding The Man

Branding. There’s a word that shows up in virtually every conversation I have with people when the topic turns to marketing, advertising, or public relations. Sure, it’s a cool buzzword in my industry, but what actually do we mean when talk about 'brand'? Simply defined, a brand is: a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. The legal term for brand is trademark. A brand may identify one item, a family of items, or all items of that seller.

Coca-Cola is a brand. McDonald’s is a brand. Locally, White House Fruit Farm, Aebischer’s Jewelry, and The House Doctors are all brands. We know their logos, their colors; we even know their jingles. These companies have spent significant amounts of their operating budget over the years to ensure that they are positioned favorably in the minds of consumers across the Mahoning Valley and beyond.

The Call

In my career I have had a hand in branding businesses, products, nonprofits, even schools—creating designs, symbols, sounds to separate them from the competition. The big challenge comes when we receive a call to brand a real, live person, specifically a political candidate. Just such a call came into our office in March of 2004. The call was from somebody named Jay Williams. Who?

Jay's name was vaguely familiar. A couple of years earlier a close friend of mine said he heard a speech by someone who should be the next mayor. Having worked on numerous political campaigns, my interest was piqued. “Oh?” I said. “Tell me about him...or her.

“Well, he’s a good looking, smart, young man,” my friend explained.

“How young?”


I snickered and told him, “Too young. Any political experience?”

“None,” he replied.

“Young and inexperienced. No way he’ll make it in this town,” I assured him.

“There’s one other thing...”

“I’m listening.”

“He’s African-American.”

I stared at him like he had snakes crawling out of his ears. Upon regaining my composure my tone turned sarcastic. "Let’s recap here. You honestly think that a young, politically inexperienced, black man could be the next mayor of Youngstown?"

My friend shrugged and said, "Well he is a good speaker and has a lot of charisma."

The whole idea was ludicrous. "Listen. In this town he will get eaten alive. The only thing that could make his chance of being mayor worse are if he ran as a Republican, or even worse—an Independent..."

Less than a year later my friend and I are standing on Central Square listening to Mayor Jay Williams’ inauguration speech. The new, young, black, Independent Mayor of Youngstown-- unbelievable. I couldn’t have been happier that I was dead wrong just months earlier.

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion to our first Inside The Box Marketing post, Jay! Branding The Man!

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