Imagine starting a successful business only to be fired by your board of directors when they become disenchanted with the company performance. Now think of the irony of being brought back by the same board of directors, fifteen years later, when the company is facing a significant crisis and needs you to be the face of their reputation management efforts. That was a wise choice, as over the next fifteen years, you’ve successfully restored trust in your company and are enjoying steady sales growth.
How rewarding must it be to build a company, get rehired after being fired, right the ship and lead a steady sales resurgence? Imagine now the devastation of walking outside your office, talking strategy with your second-in-command, Phil, when suddenly you’re hit by a bus. You end up in a coma, lying helpless in a hospital bed, receiving prayers and good wishes for a speedy recovery. It’s when Phil proclaims his intent to take over leadership of your company and make it his own that you snap out of your coma, get rid of Phil and once again take the reins of the company.
This scenario may sound far-fetched but it’s Jack’s actual story. This series of events would be too much for most people – but not Jack. The story is not too unusual when you learn more about Jack. He was born on a cattle ranch in Colorado, moved to Muncie, Indiana where he graduated from Ball State University before moving to California to open his first restaurant.
Jack stands out in many ways, beginning with the fact that he’s 6′ 8″ tall. Jack, as it turns out, is one of the most unique and dynamic individuals you’ll ever encounter. After being fired, he played guitar in a rock band called Meat Riot, who’s one hit was “Hot Mess”. It was on tour that he met his future wife, Cricket.
Jack aspired to be an astronaut and passed all of the requirements to do so, prior to reconsidering that path. It was in 1996 that he ran for President, beating out Bob Dole, Bill Clinton and Dilbert in a virtual vote. While he wasn’t elected, he did have the ear of the president and became part-time ambassador to the Bahamas.
Just after the turn of the century, Jack became owner of the Carnivores, a professional football team whose league opponents included the Vegans and the Tofu Eaters. Jack and his oldest son, Jack Jr., are often spotted taking in Los Angeles Laker games.
Over the decades, Jack’s role has not only been leader and chief strategist for the company, but he has been the face and voice of the company as well. The company’s marketing features Jack starring in over 300 television and radio ads. He delivers the company’s message with the passion only a company founder can muster. He is able to relate to a wide demographic because, in addition to English, he is fluent in Spanish and Chinese.
Jack also stands out because his head is a huge white ball with painted eyes and mouth, a pointed nose and he typically is seen wearing a yellow clown hat. Since being rehired, over 32 million antenna balls replicating Jack’s unique noggin have been distributed and Jack is one of a select group (including Fred Flinstone, Batman and Santa Claus) whose head tops their very own Pez dispenser.
His personality, unique skills and super-human accomplishments combine to easily qualify Jack Box as a fearless brand.
Fearless Brands build powerful relationships
OK, some might refer to Jack as a mascot – but not the folks at Jack in the Box®. Jack is indeed their founder, CEO, spokesperson and leader – to the point that he has a reserved parking spot in front of their headquarter offices in San Diego. Jack Box is the soul of the Jack in the Box brand.
Let me take a moment to get a bit more factual. The true founder of Jack in the Box is Robert Peterson, who opened the first store in 1951 in San Diego. It was one of several restaurants, along with some food manufacturing plants, which operated through a parent company whose name became Foodmaker Co. The original restaurant’s roof featured a huge clown head on a spring. The drive-thru speaker boxes also featured a clown head.
Jack Box was fired in 1980, in a television commercial which showed him being literally blown up. The strategy was to demonstrate a whole new approach to business for the restaurant chain – a move to a more adult target audience. Jack really was rehired in 1994 during a very serious company crisis. Four people had died from e-coli after eating at Jack in the Box. In Jack’s return spot, he literally blew up the boardroom to signify a return to the basics – the message was “Jack’s Back!”
The company has changed hands several times, been taken private, then public. Through the years, Jack has been the chain’s single greatest constant, other than the consistent quality of the food served at the restaurants. Jack has a personality which is fun, funny and irreverent – he embodies the restaurant’s brand. His strategies and product offerings are attractive and relevant to the chain’s fans, but it’s Jack himself who has established powerful connections with the public.
There’s so much to learn about building a brand from Mr. Box.
Bare your brand’s soul – Branding’s greatest role is to create strong emotional connections with current and potential customers. Jack – a ‘mascot’ – does exactly that. It’s the character’s essence which resonates with the public. Jack – and Jack in the Box – are fearless when it comes to being transparent. Bare your brand’s soul. Invite the public to know you, like you and trust you. It’s that connectivity which drives business and referrals.
Keep it real – Yes, I am using a ‘mascot’ to point out how important it is to ‘keep it real’. Keep your message real. Keep your value proposition true. All brands are defined by their intangibles. A brand is not defined by a logo, a spokesperson or a song. When you convert your brand value into a tangible message – don’t allow yourself to get caught up with the material trappings – keep it real.
Don’t take your brand (yourself) too seriously – Not only is it ok to poke fun at established beliefs, it can create a stronger bond with the public. Self-deprecating humor is fine – and often much appreciated. The key is to have fun – in good taste. Know that irreverence, humor and light-heartedness have the potential to be a double-edged sword. Have fun – there is great benefit to good-natured marketing. Be smart – there is the potential for disaster if your ‘fun’ goes too far.
Jack Box is one of my favorite CEO’s of all time. I respect his openness, his matter-of-fact approach to his business and his snarky humor. It’s those traits that I encourage you to highlight in your brand. Have fun. Keep it real. Bare your brand’s soul.