Dave Nichol: my product my self

The following column examines and critiques commercial design, as well as provides commentary on current issues and trends in the design industry.The tradition of the company president-as-spokesman for the flagship brand is now a time-honored device that everyone is familiar with.Everything...

The following column examines and critiques commercial design, as well as provides commentary on current issues and trends in the design industry.

The tradition of the company president-as-spokesman for the flagship brand is now a time-honored device that everyone is familiar with.

Everything from hamburgers to hair transplants (‘I’m not only the president of the company – I’m also a client’) has now been flogged by the sometimes stiff, sometimes exuberant but always unimpeachable executive huckster.

Now that tradition has evolved to a significantly higher level.

Dave Nichol, the irrepressible patron saint of private branding, has decided that to be associated with a brand is not enough.

Nichol has made the ultimate choice: to become a brand.

Wine launch

Journalists were able to bask in his glow recently when Nichol, formerly president of Loblaw International Merchants, launched his new Dave Nichol’s Personal Selection wines in Toronto.

By the look of the label, he has once again used the signature that launched a thousand brands, only instead of the two initials, ‘pc’ – short for ‘President’s Choice’ – the label now simply says ‘Dave Nichol.’

It is intriguing to explore the psychological dimensions of this transformation from brand-man to man-as-brand.

Where does he stop?

It may seem trite to ask, but where does the man stop and the brand begin? What kind of personal dynamic does it take to launch a private brand on the strength of on-screen personality alone?

And how does a brand become so successful that its principal pitchman is elevated to the status of unassailable authority in the minds of consumers?

Let’s examine the process.

Before the launch of the President’s Choice line of products, Dave Nichol was unknown to consumers.

Newsletter

Then, his face began to appear on the cover of the ‘Insider’s Report,’ the first newsletter to invite the consumer into the mysterious world of merchandising.

For the first time, we were exposed to the wheelings and dealings that happen behind the shelf so that these wonderful products can make their way to our kitchen tables.

Instead of simply seeing the product appear on the shelf, we were told what the merchandising mandarins had to do to get it there. We now knew where it came from, who produced it and how it was produced.

To put it simply, we were brought into the merchandising loop. We were not just dumb consumers anymore; we experienced the illusion of witnessing the decision-making process.

All the while, we were constantly reminded that the man who allowed the mysteries to unfold was Dave Nichol.

Living presence

Before long, his face was no longer just a stiff mug on a piece of newsprint, but a living presence on tv.

His lengthy prime-time infomercials are as entertaining as most talk shows. He does not just live at the store anymore: he is a regular guest in our kitchens and living rooms.

And what a welcome guest he is.

He is relaxed, charming, knowledgeable. He is a bon-vivant, a gourmand, a globetrotter and a regular guy to boot.

And, best of all, the reason he remains a welcome guest is because his products are actually as good as he says they are.

So, he is not just a hollow pitchman, a snake oil merchant; he is an authority, and his signature is as good as American money.

He can now assert with confidence that stores that do not carry his products are missing the boat, and do not deserve our attention.

If Dave doesn’t endorse it, it doesn’t exist. End of story.

Transformation complete

Now the transformation is complete. The brand and the man are synonymous. And the beauty of it is that the whole thing was financed by Loblaws.

Not that it hurt the company to do it; so successful is the brand that you can now buy it in many other stores besides.

What will be interesting to watch is how successful the President’s Choice brands will be now that Dave has departed.

What is certain is that now that Dave is a walking, talking brand, whatever he lends his signature to is bound to succeed. He is to groceries what Ralph Lauren is to fashion; and beyond groceries, a whole lifestyle waits to be built around the man’s name.

Lumber

Need a place to store that wine? What about using Dave Nichol’s Personal Selection of Canadian hardwood lumber to build yourself a cellar? Don’t have the tools? Just look at this Dave Nichol table saw, router and orbital sander.

And when you’re finished, christen your cellar while you’re wearing Dave Nichol Personal Selection jeans.

Will Novosedlik and Bob Russell are principals of Russell Design in Toronto.