“I feel like goin’ back. Back where there’s nowhere to stay.” Neil Young
It was just another grocery shopping trip for me but there was something about it that made me feel less alone this time. As I visually unwrapped the packaging of yet another very standardized looking and standardized tasting–frozen pie, (yet another sinful indulgence that was way too rich and filling and made me once again suffer guilt and regret afterwards), my eyes caught this moniker: “Edwards Frozen Pies since 1950.”
Since 1950? Who are EDWARDS frozen Pies anyway? How can a company I’ve never heard of have such deep roots in our American culture? Is this some kind of marketing scam?
How could I have failed to take in some old black and white TV commercial with a catchy jingle regarding Edwards Pies?
Wow. Perhaps this was a case of a once great family company becoming too compromised and altered in their metamorphosis of becoming a bigger nationwide chain. Perhaps once upon a time, there was a EDWARDS’s family that really had a patriarch baker named Tom Edwards baking his pies one at a time, with quality and love going in with every ingredient. Or so the story on the package goes.
It couldn’t be made up right?
Well “no” it could not, at least in this one example because I, (on behalf of you my dear reader) decided to do some internet research later that same day (which in my case means one Wikopedia glance in a hurry).
Sure enough they had a very powerful and appealing message about their history and it all went back to 1950. Here is one snippet:
“The Edwards Baking Company was founded in 1950 by namesake Tom Edwards as a small retail bakeshop in Atlanta, Georgia. The Edwards family delivered a variety of baked goods to local restaurants, schools, and hospitals.”
But it got me to thinking on the larger phenomenon of commercial and retail brand names that base a large part of their advertising appeal on the opening word “SINCE”—which always heralds some venerable date attached to make some unrelatedly bloated business empire suddenly seem traditional and very family based all rolled into one.
Why was this praying on my mind do you ask?
Because I was holed up inside one of my 11 local grocery stores all situated within 10 minutes of my home (all ranging in various levels of relative strengths and weaknesses, such as having the better Starbucks inside or the tastiest choices for dine in buffet food).
And well, because it was unavoidable. The past it seemed, was packaged all around me and ready to wrap its loving arms around me.
And the year 1950 was just child’s play. Some brand names really tooted their horn from a much earlier time in history.
“Hillshire Farm–since 1934.”
Then I turned to the Dietz and Watson cold cuts. Since 1939 they have been around. That’s PRE World War 2 for heaven’s sake! A German immigrant risked his life and considerable reputation to bring his family old world technique for cold cuts to the new world!
I felt reassured. And I have heard of them too which makes it that much more emotional. Well at least since 2002 I have heard of them which is long enough for me to feel tender towards our shared lives together.
Close in theme to the Dietz and Watson was another deli brand name that I’ve seen promoted heavily on TV commercials for its down home roots–Sargento cheese. Since 1953 they have existed. And I loved the proclamations. “The REAL cheese people.” “3 generations of family!”
And this added kicker to make clear that the family theme was followed. “We hire good people and treat them like family!”
And then I considered the combined experience of history if I decided to buy Dietz and Watson cold cuts and Sargento cheese for my sandwich making at home. 1934 and 1953. While that type of age may make a fussy person want to yank them off them shelves for fear of being their DUE DATES, just imagine that kind of math.
How could this sum of this sandwiches parts be anything but spectacular with that kind of track record? The point from all this was tradition was clear. Customers were getting REAL, authentic family products, at least that was their mission statement. And they wanted us to believe that time had done nothing but STRENGTHEN as opposed to erode, that same honesty and attention to detail.
All of us were family in the process. The employees. The ownership. And us the costumers.
Not only did it make me feel closer to myself thanks to these products, it made me feel closer to my parents for hailing back to the same time as the items, as if I was turning on a Glenn Miller record from the WW2 period. Even though they had probably never heard of most of these brands anyway back in the day.
So even though the self-serve lines bewildered me and exposed my weaknesses, the more I pushed my grocery cart from isle to isle the more I was grounded in family traditions that spoke of a saner century.
A bottle of Hershey’s I noticed took its claim a step further “GOOD SINCE 1908.”
“What a smart spin on the standard history claim!” I admiringly thought to myself. “Not only are they old they are also good.”
And I was OK with this because I could account for Hershey’s in my life. It was all a part of my childhood and my brothers and parents before me. As a matter of fact, it had helped mold me into the enviably chiseled shape I was in now as a middle aged adult!
Then I perused the frozen section for an easy dinner during the work week. And I found this: “Banquet frozen foods since 1953.”
Banquet even makes the nervy claim that they are just now starting to IMPROVE their frozen dinners—adding 100% real chicken to their chicken cordon bleus and creamier gravy to their dressing.
I love how companies can stop way down stream and announce that out of the goodness of their hearts, and all the talents of their hardworking lab scientists, they have now found a way to UP the percentage points of the overall quality of their product!
So I guess this means that the folks at Banquet just now saw the light and are deciding to do this after 63 years? I guess it all goes to show that if you’re number of sales takes a hit you will do anything and follow any game plan for economic survival. In the case of the infamous Domino’s Pizza overhauling and salvation—they scrapped their entire approach and begged forgiveness to their loyal followers.
On and on I searched. The first aid isle brought me face to face with a philanthropic GIANT: “Johnson and Johnson a family company since 1886.”
This was a company after all that had beaten us over the head a few million times with TV commercials that showed their chain of love going back from Grand Grandfather to Grandfather to father. They wanted us to know that they had us all covered–RIGHT down to the very BOO BOO on our skin that was being patched up by one of their Band-Aids.
After grocery shopping I figured I would stop for some breakfast. As I was munching on a breakfast sandwich and orange juice at a local Dunkin Donut outlet, I saw a picture frame with a photo of the very first Dunkin Donut location in Quincy Massachusetts from 1950. The caption read “Our Humble Beginnings.”
Wow. This was no longer an omnipresent international donut chain. This was the local town hangout in “Happy Days.” This was an underdog establishment that remembers our name and continues to want (neigh NEED) our business!
And this does wonders for the taste buds. Because as I bite into that soft chocolate icing topped donut, I swear the years melted away and I could sense the same quality from that ORIGINAL Ma and Pa location.
It was a more meaningful visit.
Dunkin Donut’s ad illustrates perfectly that it seems no matter how big and bloated; every company always seems to have a very folky, family start to lay claim to. It’s enough to make us consumers wonder about the veracity of each claim. Cynical questions pop into our brain like hungry paparazzi assembled at a Hollywood scandal press conference.
“Have they maintained the same quality?” “Does this longevity mean they are still good?” “Could they have been duping the public all these years?” “Are they antiquated and out of touch?”
And the most important, central question of all—“If they are so old and wise, does it mean they LOVE me (the currently old version of me I mean) and want the best for me?”
And most disconcerting of all, we begin to question whether WE were there back in the year that they start. How come I never tasted it or smelled it or rubbed it on my body?
And on this particular point in my life, leading up to this grocery store errand, I needed this kind of love. Even if it was mostly an illusion.
Everything is changing too much. Every time I reached a comfortable benchmark, it seemed that the rules were changing. People were switching genders. Computer programs were shedding off old programs which I thought were still new.
Dear friends and family members were aging and needing more assistance and I was letting it all happen too fast!
In fact it provoked me so much that it produced an oddly curious reaction in me. Because the next day I promptly procured my own BRAND motto to claim for myself and slapped it on to a brand new custom made t-shirt.
On the shirt it boldly declares in large font size: “JOHN WATTS. Since 1961.”
Because I wanted every stranger and friend and acquaintance I passed to know that I had been around the block a few times and in many cases was alive even before they were born.
Full of stored wisdom and well-crafted character, I felt just as much like the REAL DEAL as all those illustrious family grocery advertisements. I was a veritable, walking franchise–managing to survive all the personal wars and depressions in my lifetime. I could ACCOUNT for 1961. Even if it was fast becoming kind of a blur now to distinguish between the STORIES of my life and the actual events.
“JOHN WATTS. Since 1961.”
Did I need to mention quality along with my age? So I added: “John Watts. Since 1961. And why not? He’s still pretty good!”
And this made me happy. For a few days. But my head was filled with so much more to say.
Yet it still wasn’t enough. As I paraded around the streets and sidewalks, I found myself longing to say more about this major company that I fronted. I wanted to incorporate all of the other marketing tricks that the BIG name brands had championed in their resumes.
So long I thought and pondered. And I pieced together all these elements:
JOHN WATTS. “Since 1961, (if my memory serves me correctly) Always an EVENTUAL INDIVIDUAL, and a man in my own write. Still HUMBLE despite occasional delusions of grandeur. Still true to the original formula but in no way responsible deviations. There may be periodic episodes of skimping on ingredients due to the forces of supply and demand.
In short I liked it. It put me out there in the world of Nabisco and Dunkin Donuts!
I sure as heck wasn’t afraid of telling the world my age right smack dab in the middle of my t-shirt; if they put 2 and 2 together first that is.
The problem was no one could bother to read that much, especially in a quick passing. It read too much like a disclaimer anyway as if I were to say, “I am not responsible for stolen articles!”
Most critically, kids nowadays have too much competing information and too short an attention span to care anyway. So I threw out my latest t-shirt message logo and switched to this stripped down version:
“J-DUB. Cool since 1961.”
“J-DUB” instead of JW which are the first 2 letters in my first and last name.
Now it was perfect. I had managed to cut way down on the cost of characters for the message I desired and now had a catchier and contemporary name to boot!
I was the sum of every experience I have ever had since 1961. Smarter and wiser and deserving of your business and to be pulled off the shelf. Except I was now reborn!
All I needed was a blank t-shirt and a willing audience!