Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Deere in the headlights.

Picture this.

The year is 1947. A young Marlon Brando and a group of similarly dangerous looking thugs descend on bucolic Hollister, CA, terrorizing the townspeople with the menacing rumble of their riding lawnmowers.

Around and around they roar, neither bagging nor mulching. Innocence is lost. Ground cover will never feel safe again. A legend is born.

Never happened, right? Not for real, not even in the movies.

Then why in thunder is that kid coming out of an HMV in the heart of the nation’s largest city wearing a John Deere t-shirt? I’m pretty certain that he neither possesses nor aspires to own a combine or backhoe. Somehow, John Deere seems to have been anointed the Harley Davidson of our time. It’s become one of those rare brands that have graduated from being an adjective to being a noun. And it seems to have been thus elected without the benefit of a myth. In the branding world, that’s like getting sainted without having pulled off a miracle.

So detached from agricultural equipment is this brand that you can find it on ebay today in 1305 categories, from window treatments to wedding apparel (Harley is still ahead at 2208). So potent a counterculture statement is this brand that a high school in Towson, MD, was rumored to have sent students home for wearing the terrifying t-shirts a year or so ago. Breathtaking. Not even Richard Branson has got away with sticking his brand on so many products without losing his street cred.

However it happened, I find myself ambivalent about what it means for the world if somebody figures it out. On one hand, I dread the apocalyptic chaos that would ensue if every brand could be stuck on everything. On the other, I’m kind of in awe. Moline, IL, may not have a myth, but it surely has its miracle.

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