Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mesmerized By A Storytelling Image In Uncle Albert’s Store

One of my earliest influences for my career may have come from gazing at old posters in my Uncle Albert’s sporting goods store on visits to St. Anthony, population 2,700 and the “big city” in Fremont County, Idaho, back when I was coming up.

It was an image I had first found on an old tin in a landfill not far from an abandoned house about 14 miles upriver on our ancestral ranch that had belonged to my great-grandparents that first tweaked my interest.

In those days, my friends and I would self-identify with brands but not just those such as the HB branding irons used on our ranch.

We tended to affiliate with either Farmall or John Deere, Winchester or Remington, Percheron or Belgian, Ford or Chevy, Yankees or Dodgers, cow-pie-kickers or potato-heads (smile) and when re-enacting the Civil War, either Blue or Gray.

My preferences were Farmall, Winchester, Belgian, Ford, Yankees (baseball,) Pie-kicker (rancher,) and Blue because, well, they were familial preferences, except when my renegade dad was an outlier, e.g. De Soto and Oliver.

One particular image, the one I found in that land fill and then saw hanging near the entrance to the back room in my uncle’s store came back to me recently when I saw a logo on a made-to-look old and weathered label hung from the button on a made-to-look worn shirt.Remington Poster The Right of Way

The illustration, entitled “Right of Way” had significance to me because my great (x3) grandfather Graham had been killed by a Grizzly Bear in 1864 when he was 57 years old.

Shown in the image in this blog, it was created for Remington which is signified not only by the logo but because that is a Model 8 rifle in the hand of the figure shown.

The image was one of many created during the golden age of illustration by Phillip R. Goodwin, a contemporary of all of my great-grandparents.

So what does this have to do with my preference for Winchester rifles back then?  Goodwin also created that company’s famous “horse and rider” logo shown at this link.

Winchester and Remington both wanted images that would tell stories.  They not only used them in print publications but on much more effective content marketing, as we call it now, such as those calendars and posters.

Content marketing is when the advertiser provides something of value to the consumer to draw attention rather than just yelling at them to buy their product, as is done so much in traditional advertising.

Websites when they are well done, are a type of content marketing.  So is sharing research findings.

Goodwin was from Connecticut and schooled in Rhode Island and New York but he specialized in the far west and wildlife and insisted on visiting the places he depicted,

He was also a stickler for using accurate detail down to the clothing worn.

At only 22, he illustrated the first edition of Jack London’s Call of the Wild but my earliest experience with that book was repeatedly paging through the 1952 Classics Illustrated version illustrated by Maurice De Bourgo while my parents or grandparents read the captions to me.

For many of my generation, these comics ignited a love of reading similar to how books such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid did for my grandsons.

I fondly remember sitting in the bay window of the tiny IGA store near where we lived and paging through the new arrivals while my mom picked out groceries.

My family’s predilection for Winchester’s vs. Remington’s probably had to do with the former’s focus on saddle guns vs. shotguns at the time.

I still treasure a hand-me-down heirloom Winchester Model 1894 .32 WS Saddle-Ring Carbine (similar to this one) that graces one of the walls in our house.

I haven’t fired a live round in more than 25 years but holding that old family artifact reminds me that another reason I liked Winchesters was because most, including that hand-me-down carbine, were designed by another contemporary of my great-grandparents, John M. Browning.

Browning was a devout Mormon from Ogden, Utah who had a gift for designing firearms including that Remington Model 8 in that image above by Goodwin.

If he didn’t know any of my great-grandparents, his father would have known nearly all of their parents as a few thousand prepared during the mid-1840s for the journey into the Rockies.

His father had a gun smith shop in Nauvoo, Illinois a few blocks from where one of my great-great grandfathers was a wheelwright and another great (x3) grandfather served as the town’s chief of police.

J.M. Browning garnered 128 patents before he died but he had a special connection with Winchester. But from the day they arrived in the Rockies, Mormon settlers exhibited a genius for economic development including “buy local.”

My great (x3) grandfather Graham most likely used an earlier Henry Lever Rifle by Winchester but it didn’t matter because he leaned it against the tree while gathering wood when the Grizzly got him.

The story of his fatal encounter might be the stuff of family legend, had it not be verified in books and news accounts, the later of which my grandmother Adah left for me in her genealogical archives.

Coincidentally, I found out only after I relocated to Durham that both he and my great (x3) grandmother had parental roots in North Carolina before meeting each other along the Alabama-Mississippi line and heading west over the Rockies.

Browning designed his first rifle in 1878, and soon Winchester formed a twenty year collaboration with him beginning with the Winchester Model 1886.

My old Model 94 dates to 1910, three years after my great-grandfather bought a ranch in that right-angle nook of Idaho where the Northern Rockies reach across to be joined by Yellowstone Park to the Tetons.

It has been handed down three times since then and even lost for a time before I tracked it down using the serial number.  It will be again to my grandsons one day.

But it was always a working rifle on the ranch and shows a lot of character such as few nicks and places where the bluing has rubbed off, lessening the value to collectors, I’m sure, but making it priceless to me.

It was popular because it was easy to carry on a horse, easy to handle, more powerful than a 30-30 but with less recoil. The saddle ring was so it could be hung from the saddle right behind the rider’s leg or from a sling but mostly we just used a scabbard like the one shown here.

The original illustrations for both Winchester and Remington have been preserved, the former donated to the Whitney Museum in Cody and the later curated for display from time to time including a virtual museum with some donated to the National Sporting Arms Museum.

Winchester went through so many owners after my time that it kind of lost its way but Remington not only still uses the materials in catalogues for a new lifestyle apparent brand but exhibits a deft ability to stay authentic.

In my now concluded forty-year career in community marketing, desktop publishing didn’t exist in the first two decades.

My experience of trying to outsource this function while ensuring consistency had taught me that it was tough not only for the organizations I led but on the vendors, too.

So in 1989 when we jumpstarted the community marketing agency for Durham we moved as quickly as possible to bring graphic design ability in-house.

It became one of our core strategies and quickly set us apart.  Today that is common but even more cost-effective.  If I were starting another community DMO tomorrow, it is one of the first capacities I would secure.

We would still go outside help from time to time for a campaign, but marketing materials are about consistency and it is very hard for an agency or freelance designer to be in synch as things move and evolve so rapidly on a day to day basis.

Companies that thrive still strive for authenticity like Winchester and Remington did in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

I guarantee you that Starbucks, a company that treasures its roots and authenticity isn’t going back to stores that are more authentic just for a change.

Nor did Filson when it opened a “restoration department” last month where old bags that have been returned by customers taking advantage of lifetime guarantees are repurposed by craftsmen into items that are just created to look pre-worn but are truly vintage.

If it has it in its DNA, the challenge for any enterprise, especially as it becomes ubiquitous is to retain or regain its authenticity, as Remington is by repurposing its collection of marketing art.

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