Not Just Lucky (Or, What’s YOUR Brand?)

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For most Americans during the Golden Age of Hollywood, his was the most recognizable face in movies. He was handsome and well built, with a distinctive voice and presence many perhaps found intimidating.

Weissmuller, as Tarzan, tries to steal this big scene.

He began his film career in 1926, and during the next thirty years he appeared in over 100 movies. MGM, the studio that employed him, was so pleased with his work that they ensured he was featured in at least one brief scene in nearly every picture they produced, including such classics as Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. And yet, he’s never listed in any of the movies’ credits!

He posed for publicity photos with legendary Hollywood starlets, including Greta Garbo, and often participated in studio promotional tours. His most enjoyable performances, however, were in a series of low-budget Tarzan movies, in which he played opposite the Olympic Gold Medalist (for swimming)-turned-actor Johnny Weissmuller. Only in these cheaply-made jungle flicks did he get the opportunity to truly show off his acting chops.

However, the most remarkable part of his career was his uncanny good fortune. He survived two train wrecks, an earthquake, and a studio explosion! But his most amazing death-defying escape involved a plane crash!

Wreckage of Leo's plane!
Wreckage of Leo’s plane!

Shortly after departing from San Diego, on a heavily-reported publicity tour, the star’s specially designed single-engine plane crashed in the Arizona desert. The pilot, Martin Jenson, left his VIP (very important passenger) lounging in the “guest suite” with plenty of sandwiches, milk, and water, and then made a four-day trek through the wilderness. Once Jenson found a phone, he called the studio bosses, who immediately wanted to know just one thing: Was their star okay?

Miraculously, MGM’s most visible talent came out of the crash totally unscathed. So, the folks at the studio started calling their star Leo the Lucky. That wasn’t his real name, of course, but he did look like a “Leo.” Have you guessed the identity of this ubiquitous performer? His name was Jackie. Just Jackie. He was the famous MGM lion who roared, perhaps a bit irritably, at the beginning of most of the studio’s movies.

Jackie patiently awaits her close-up.
Jackie patiently awaits his close-up.

We can imagine that you’re wondering exactly how we intend to use this bit of biography to encourage dreamers to never give up and creators to keep on creating. Well, it’s like this….

Actually, we just thought it would be fun to write about Leo, one of the most recognizable trademarks in the world, and…. Hey, that’s it! Trademarks! Branding! That’s how we’ll round out this story!

Trademarks can facilitate and protect the dreams of creators and entrepreneurs. And maintaining a recognizable brand name can ensure that writers, artists, singers, and musicians — as well as designers, manufacturers, and inventors — keep a loyal following; which is necessary if these creators hope to sufficiently fund their work (and hence, be able to continue pursuing their dreams).

The MGM Grand Hotel proudly displays its famous trademark.

Companies rely on trademarks to protect their products and services. And of course, brand names help consumers to find these commodities. And believe it or not, some authors and artists have gone so far as to trademark their names.

Publishing competitors Marvel and DC Comics even joined forces to trademark the word superhero. So, although third-party companies may use the word inside a comic book, these publishers who arrived late to the party CANNOT use superhero in their magazine titles or anywhere else on the covers of their books. In this way, industry giants Marvel and DC hope to ensure that readers looking for exciting tales of good guys in colorful costumes will pick up one of their comics.

Personally, we too have a “brand” — and we share it with all those who believe in Jesus Christ. We identify ourselves as followers of the Son of God, who’s also known in the scriptures as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah! He may not have had His own dressing room at MGM, but His story is far more fascinating than even Leo’s. And His “stamp” of approval is upon all His creations, including the earth and all its inhabitants — even the feathered, furry, and finny ones!

Leo wasn’t just Lucky! The protection of MGM’s mascot is a perfect example of how much God cares about all His creation. The Psalmist writes, “What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations. All the creatures look expectantly to you to give them their meals on time. You come, and they gather around; you open your hand and they eat from it.” (Psalm 104:24-30 MSG)

Does the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah” care about you too? Absolutely! You are His highest creation, “fearfully and wonderfully made” in God’s “own image.” (Genesis 1:27 and Psalm 139:14 KJV) And He loves you dearly! (John 3:16)

Jesus said, “Stop being worried or anxious about your life [and your
dreams]…. Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow [seed] nor reap [the harvest] nor gather [the crops] into barns, and yet your heavenly Father keeps feeding them. Are you not worth much more than they?”
(Matthew 6:25-26 AMP)

Indeed you are! So go ahead and roar!

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How a Smile Became a Frown! (Encouragement for Creators)

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Each year, thousands of designers, artists, inventors and businesspeople come up with multi-million dollar ideas. Some of these men and women instantly recognize the potential of their creations, and cry EUREKA!  Others apparently don’t realize what they have. They view their creations as “throwaway ideas”; serving only an immediate need; perfect for the moment, not much else. They minimize their own dreams and creativity, believing their creations are not that innovative, not that extraordinary, not that much of a big deal. Humility? Or shortsightedness? Often they fail to see the full potential of their inventiveness, or its possible future applications — a bitter lesson Harvey Ross Ball probably knew well.

Ball was an American graphic artist and advertising man. In 1963, one of Ball’s clients, State Mutual Life Assurance Company, commissioned Ball to come up with a simple cartoon design, which they planned to distribute throughout the company on memos and buttons. The insurance company had just gone through a complex and stressful restructuring, and they hoped the design would help boost the morale of their employees. Ball quickly sketched a yellow circle with two crooked eyes and a winsome smile — the prototype of what eventually became the Smiley Face. It took the artist a mere 10 minutes to come up with the idea and dash it off. He was paid $45 for his labor and, at the time, probably felt well compensated for what’s essentially a doodle. The insurance company plastered Ball’s smiley design on posters, signs and thousands of buttons. Soon, other businesses were copying it.

But no big deal. Neither Ball nor State Mutual bothered to trademark the image. After all, how could they know the little yellow face with the big smile would become so popular, even fifty years later, or that the smiley would make someone (NOT them) filthy rich?

In 1971, a French newspaper publisher, Franklin Loufrani, decided to use a variation of Ball’s design in the logo of his paper, to remind readers that not all news is bad. And it’s Loufrani who named the little guy Smiley. You must surely know the rest of this story — the smiley is profitably marketed throughout the world today — but it’s possible there’s one little detail you don’t know: since neither Harvey Ball nor State Mutual bothered to register their creation, Loufrani decided to trademark both the design and the name “Smiley” in 1988. Loufrani launched the Smiley Company and began selling tee-shirts, but in 1996 his son Nicolas took over the family business and transformed it into one of the top 100 licensing companies in the world.

Today, the Smiley Company makes over $130 million a year. One of its most significant licensing agreements was for all those tiny emoticons we use when texting on our phones and tablets. But good old Smiley shows up everywhere — stickers, mugs, hats, greeting cards, you name it! — making it the most recognizable icon in the world, with a smile second only to that of the Mona Lisa. Not bad for a 10-minute, $45 doodle.

Lesson: little ideas can be like little stones thrown into a pond, and make big ripples in life. Small beginnings can lead to bigger and better things. And no goal is insignificant. Never underestimate a good concept, and believe in your own dreams. Above all, have faith in God and in the creativity with which He’s gifted you.  And Have A Nice Day!  🙂

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin….” (Zechariah 4:10 NLT)

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