One of the most famous of America’s Founding Fathers was John Hancock.
His signature is very large on the Declaration of Independence, so much so it’s become a cliché: “Just put your John Hancock right there.”
The Founding Fathers are the original signatories of the declaration.
One of their famous cries was: “Give me liberty, or give me death.”
So willing were they apparently to die for freedom that it’s passed into legend.
They started the American War of Independence with the Boston Tea Party.
The colonists were outraged by the way the British taxed them without letting them have a vote – their cry was: “No taxation without representation.”
So they took action, dressed as Mohawks and boarded a British ship, then dumped the entire cargo of tea into Boston harbour.
This signalled that the colonists weren’t going to be ruled by oppressive masters overseas.
It was the beginning of the revolution and the fight for independence.
But, like most history, that story was written sometime after the event, and it was written to justify the narrative that was needed.
In truth, it wasn’t revolutionary fervour that caused the Boston Tea Party, it was the usual reason: money.
Hancock was, at that time, a famous and very rich smuggler.
Not like the ones we see in movies, with a barrel of rum, a pistol, and skull and crossbones.
This was big business – he smuggled vast quantities of glass, lead, paper, molasses and tea.
Hancock made a fortune as long as the British maintained a high tax on tea.
Because British tea came from east India, it was high quality but the tax made it expensive.
Hancock’s tea was Dutch, a poorer quality but cheaper because it was smuggled.
Business was good until the British, in an effort to appease the colonists, slashed the tea tax.
That made the British tea not only better quality but also cheaper.
This was disastrous for Hancock’s smuggling business.
So his best friend, Samuel Adams (also later to be one of the Founding Fathers), arranged to disguise some men, board the ship and dump the tea into the harbour.
But, of course, that wasn’t going to be a very rousing revolutionary tale for the history books: “Rich smuggler finds illegal way to make more money.”
So, the story of the daring raid against the cruel British tax system became folklore.
That’s the way it is with stories, even today.
Every heroic tale from Hollywood has a man fighting for freedom against a bigger, more powerful enemy.
The greedy enemy wants money and power, but the hero will give his life for liberty.
Hollywood likes to believe that’s what people want – truth is irrelevant.
Which is why “brand purpose” has become fashionable, marketing departments must follow Hollywood’s lead.
They say consumers won’t like their brands if all they’re doing is making money, they must have a higher calling.
A reason to exist that is something nobler than just getting rich.
Of course, everyone knows this is nonsense, but we must pretend to believe it.
Although everyone knows that companies, and brands, exist to make money.
We know that ordinary people will buy the product that’s better made or better value.
But we must pretend ordinary people are actually willing to pay more for a brand purpose or “storytelling”, as it’s known in Hollywood.
Of course, in reality, the story isn’t what makes something successful.
The story is something you make up afterwards, once the product has become a success, just like Hancock.
Dave Trott is the author of The Power of Ignorance, Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three