MARTY RUSSELL: Geico, gekko, Mr. Bib, Speedy Alka Seltzer

Branding has become the new buzzword in corporate America although most of us still think of branding as having something to with cowboys, a red-hot poker and a very nervous cow. It’s what all those guys on “Mad Men” do when they’re not drinking or chasing skirts. We used to call it advertising but apparently that was being too honest so now it’s referred to as branding, creating an image that people will subconsciously and reflexively, without thought, associate with your product, like a bell to Pavlov’s dog.

Think about all the successful branding campaigns that have been launched over the years. Actually, thinking about them is discouraged. You’re supposed to make the association without even thinking about them. Take the Geico gekko, for

instance, not to be confused with Gordon Gekko, the unscrupulous broker from the movie “Wall Street.” Whenever we see the little green upright lizard or hear his Aussie accent we immediately think insurance, right? Probably not. Lizards don’t have a thing to do with insurance and would probably have a hard time getting a policy. But we do associate it with the insurance company.

We all know the sexy, in an odd sort of way, shape of a Coke bottle and the swirling Coca-Cola logo, easily one of the most recognized in the world.

We’re bombarded every day with advertisers vying for a few permanently encoded memory cells in our cerebellums that will automatically fire up whenever we see Morris the cat (may he rest in peace) or that badly animated General and his penguin sidekick.

What’s up with that penguin, anyway?

Apparently one of the keys to establishing a brand is repetitiveness built up over time so the symbol is not only inescapable but unforgettable. That’s certainly true with the venerable Michelin man, who celebrates his 115th birthday today.

Born in France, the venerable tire-selling icon whose real name is Bibendum (I’m not making that up), or Mr. Bib to his friends, was recently voted by The Financial Times as the greatest logo of all time. Sorry, Penguin.

Mr. Bib was conceived when the owner of a French tire manufacturing firm, probably after a few too many glasses of wine, remarked that a stack of tires looked like a person. Viola! (Which I believe is French for, “Call in a branding expert!). An icon was born!

Of course, in order for branding to work, you need a symbol that can withstand the test of time, not to mention age. That’s why most of the corporate symbols these days are animated characters, not live spokespeople. It’s rumored that Col.

Sanders refused to be breaded and deep-fried upon his death. Perhaps someone should mention that to Flo, the big-haired, red-lipped live spokesperson for Progressive insurance.

Of course, just because you’re not real doesn’t guarantee an advertising spokes-something as long a life as Mr. Bib, the Michelin Man. Just ask Speedy Alka Seltzer.

MARTY RUSSELL writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at

Click video to hear audio