The Prisoner and the Penguin

The Prisoner and the Penguin

Ten years ago a good friend of mine asked me to be the best man at his wedding. Naturally, I accepted, and a few weeks later I sat down to write the best man’s speech. Much to my horror, I realised that all my anecdotes about the groom either cast him as a hot-headed reveller, or penny-pinching curmudgeon. So I, like so many before me, manufactured a speech using a book of best man’s one-liners and tried  and tested anecdotes.

But what of our poor marketer, desperately searching for a real-life example to pepper their latest presentation or speech? Giles Lury, executive chairman at brand consultancy The Value Engineers, and author of ‘Brandwatching’, ‘Adwatching’ and ‘Researchwatching’ - and now ‘The Prisoner and the Penguin’ - is ready to answer their call. Too many marketing writers deal out hard-won business battle stories like a miser at Christmas. Conversely, Lury’s book boasts an embarrassment of riches; story after story of marketing derring-do - 76 all told - which were mainly drawn from UK and US companies.

A number of these stories are marketing book stalwarts; the accidental origin of the Post-it note, VW’s ‘Lemon’ campaign, Ratner’s indiscretion, the story of Innocent’s founders, the origin of Google’s name, Avis’ ‘we try harder’ campaign and the reason why needed to create Aleksandr Orlov. Do these really require repetition? The somewhat surprising answer is that it seems so. As an experiment, I contacted 16 marketers aged under 40. Just two of them knew of the New Coke fiasco of 1985, one of the most famous cautionary tales in marketing history, and one that Lury repeats here. Author one; reviewer nil.

The sub-title of ‘The Prisoner and the Penguin’ claims the book contains ‘modern marketing stories’. This isn’t wholly true. You’ll find tales dating from 1888 (Kodak), 1891 (Wrigleys), 1892 (Barcardi), 1893 (Hersheys), 1899 (Bassetts), 1916 (Piggly Wiggly), 1917 (Drambuie), 1922 (Guinness), 1923 (Scotch Tape), 1928 (Mouton Cadet) and 1929 (Monopoly). Indeed, less than 20 of the stories chosen by Lury involve events that have happened in this century. Although this does not substantially diminish the power of Lury’s conclusions, it does leave me wondering if the marketers of today really have contributed as little as this meagre selection of stories suggests.   

At the end of each story Lury seeks to reach an actionable conclusion for marketers to then apply to their own brands. Although on first reading I felt a few were a little tenuous, the summary that Lury provides at the book’s conclusion demonstrates the wide range of lessons to be drawn from the book; the value of communication equity, the importance of constant innovation and curiosity, and the solemnity of a brand’s promise to consumers - they’re all represented here.  Author two; reviewer nil.    

However, this is a minor gripe. ‘The Prisoner and the Penguin’ is a fantastic read (the prisoner, by the way, is former Church of England envoy, Terry Waite). Most of the stories are only a couple of pages long at most, and I found myself whipping through them in no time at all. If real-life examples are your thing then, page for page, this book, with a RRP of £12.99, provides tremendous value. With ‘The Prisoner and the Penguin’, Giles Lury, the master of branding, ensures that his own personal brand stays in rude health.

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