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issue 10
November 21, 2018

On brand.

Writing for the NY Times, John Herrman has an interesting piece on the growing constellation of private brands on Amazon. In many cases, it’s not clear whether Amazon itself owns a given brand, or if the label is a clever repackaging of a something imported from China.

The article got me thinking about branding overall, and the purpose it serves.
To brand something used to mean just that: burning your mark into the side of your cattle, or scratching your initials into the bottom of your pottery. It signified ownership or authenticity.

With the rise of mass production and mass media, branding evolved into the messaging that helped distinguish you from your competitors. The mark itself was still important, from McDonald’s golden arches to Nike’s swoosh. But a brand became more about the identity and impression of the company. Today we think of brands having a history and reputation.

For the invented brands on Amazon, there's no history or reputation. There's simply association. "Austin Mills" feels like it could be a company that makes suits. The fact that you've never heard of it doesn't matter. The name sounds like there's a person behind it.

And that's where we're at in 2018: we think of brands as people, and people as brands. The actress Jennifer Garner has an organic baby food company. That feels on-brand. If she bought a gin company, that wouldn’t be on-brand. (Leave that to Ryan Reynolds.)

Screenwriters are brands, too. Are you making a big-budget four-quadrant fantasy movie? I’m probably on your writers list. A gritty war film set in Southeast Asia? Not my wheelhouse.

But I’m not just a screenwriter. As I wrote a few weeks back, I’m kind of a blind man’s elephant. In addition to hosting Scriptnotes and writing the Arlo Finch books, I run a small company called Quote-Unquote that makes software and games.

Last week, we brought on a new person to handle marketing for the company. He pushed us to clarify our brand. By that he meant both our mission statement (what we think we’re doing) and our public identity (what others think we do).

After a few false starts, I blurted out, “We make tools for writers.”

That may not end up being our final branding statement, but it’s useful both for what it includes (Scriptnotes, Highland 2, Weekend Read, Writer Emergency Pack) and what it leaves out (One Hit Kill, AlphaBirds).

Is Quote-Unquote even the right name for this company? I’m not sure. That’s something we’ll look at in the new year.

You know what organization has a strong brand with a product to back it up? The National Park Service.

We took a pre-Thanksgiving trip to visit Zion National Park, with a day trip to Bryce Canyon. Both are highly recommended. You can see more photos on my Instagram.

What is America’s brand?

Over drinks with my European publishers, I would ask what their countrymen thought of the US. Invariably, they liked Americans more than they liked the United States as a country. And they weren’t fans of our president.

Pew Global has numbers to back this up.

Global sentiment on Americans: link
Global sentiment on the US as a country: link
Global sentiment on our president: link

I find it useful to look at the drop-off. If you’re Trump, the Philippines are looking like one of your only friendly hangouts.

United Kingdom (74/50/22)
Japan (75/57/24)
France (73/46/14)
Phillipenes (85/78/69)

Notably, Americans like Americans just one point more than they like the country as a whole (86/85/46). That’s surprisingly logical for us.
 

Here are some other things I found interesting this week:

Das ist gut. Arlo Finch has been short-listed for a lovely German lit prize, which is pretty cool for a book in translation. If you or your family read the German version, consider giving Arlo your vote.

Move Closer to Your World. On a recent episode of Reply All, PJ Vogt brought up Al Ham’s remarkable action news theme song.

Wait until the world is ready for you. Ann Dowd wrote a great piece on finding success in her fifties.

Have it your way. I love how this teacher greets her class each morning. Do you want a hug? A high-five? A funny dance? You choose!

Is this racist or rational? Watching Bodyguard, I googled the IC Code System characters kept referring to when describing suspects.

Originalism is dumb, part 453. Madiba Dennie looks at birthright citizenship.

 

Let me sign your book

Reminder that while I can't sign every copy of Arlo Finch in the world, I can send you a signed bookplate like this:

If you’d like a signed bookplate, just fill out this form. Then attach your receipt, and I’ll mail you a bookplate in a fancy envelope.

And that’s what’s interesting this week. As always, you can email me at ask@johnaugust.com

See you next Wednesday!
     

UPCOMING EVENTS


Scriptnotes Holiday Show ON SALE!
Wednesday, December 12th at 8pm
Los Angeles Film School
Tickets
 
     

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