On Writing, Remembering and Almond Tossing

In September, we spoke with PRUMC member Bob Brandon, 83, about his recently published book, Effervescence, which profiles his work with several major American brands. Bob is married to Lanie, following a 55-year marriage to his late wife, Barbara. He has a son, Robert Jr., and two step-children, Elizabeth and Hatcher. Among other positions in his career, Bob served as National Product Promotion Manager at The Coca-Cola Company and Director of Marketing Services for Anheuser-Busch.

A major life loss, a new start and the pandemic shutdown compelled Bob Brandon to do something he’d only thought about for years: write a memoir focused on his career spent building major brand images, specifically his work at Anheuser-Busch and The Coca-Cola Company. The result, Effervescence, provides a peek inside the development of memorable promotions for both iconic companies, including the expansion of the national appearance program for the famous Clydesdales and the creation of Coca-Cola’s nostalgic Christmas ornament and bottle-top promotions. Bob, who originally studied to be an artist, also created the cover art for the book.

Effervescence has personal elements in it, Bob notes, but it focuses on his work. “It’s about some of the projects that I was in charge of, and what I included were the ones that were most helpful to the companies and their image,” he says. These projects put the companies’ names and clout behind events such as the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon and another for the United Negro College Fund. “At Coca-Cola I helped put the American and National Baseball leagues together in a single promotion for the first time. It was called Match the Stars and had pictures of the players under the Coke ‘crowns’ (bottle caps) along with a baseball field play board to be turned in for gifts.” The Clydesdale program involved about 200 employees, over 175 horses, 10 tractor trailer trucks, the famous wagons and three stabling facilities across the country, and at the time received about 4,000 annual requests for appearances. Bob says he was very cognizant of the fact that he was the first non-Busch member of the family to run the program and that he had been given a trust.

The Walt Disney Company was another high-profile collaborator. “When Disneyland opened in California, we put together a Coke promotion that had all the different park rides pictured under the crowns,” Bob remembers. “People could pull them out and stick them where they belonged on a Disneyland park sheet and then turn the sheet in for gifts. But the sheets were so popular people didn’t want to give them up so we had to come up with a workaround on that! When I’d go out to meet with Disney, my wife and young son would go with me, and on one trip the advertising manager there arranged a tour of Disneyland for them to take while he and I were meeting. During our meeting he got a call, and he hung up and turned to me and said, ‘I think your wife is gonna be very happy with one of those rides, because she had Richard Burton sitting next to her!’ Evidently, the movie star was curious like the rest of us and had decided to take the tour. Unfortunately we didn’t get any pictures!”

With so many high-profile projects in his career, which one is the most memorable for Bob? He says immediately, “It’s the one that starts the book. The largest-selling Christmas ornament of all time (at least I think it still is). It was my first big promotion after joining Coca-Cola. For years the company had been doing little stick-ins for the six-bottle cartons, including things to decorate with at Christmas. And of course, Coke was always part of that stick-in. The concept had gotten stale, though. So I was challenged to come up with something new, but it had to be in the same budget range of what they’d been doing all along. I reached out to a couple of artist friends in Chattanooga, who turned out to be doing neat things with origami, and that intrigued me. I wondered if we could take that idea and turn it into a Christmas book with ornaments. We started brainstorming and came up with six different items, including Santa Clause, an angel, three wise men done in a triangle ornament, the 12 Days of Christmas with a partridge in a pear tree, and a regular ornament made out of origami that you could hang on the tree. All were made in a cut-out-and-paste way so families could get together and do this and keep them. It was hugely popular.”

The writing of Effervescence began during a long process of loss for Bob. “I started writing when my first wife, Barbara, got sick with cancer. The book was something I’d always wanted to do, but it also gave me something happy to focus on while she was ill. I worked on it for about seven years, and ultimately it was my second wife, Lanie, who helped me finish it. She was a teacher at Lovett before she retired, and she helped edit a lot of the book. I also have an editor down in Florida that we worked with on Zoom. I finally finished during the pandemic shutdown.”

His writing process focuses on getting the first draft out before polishing anything. “I write when it’s early. Get a cup of coffee, sit down and start writing. Don’t try to edit while you’re writing. It’s stream of thought that you want to get out. Maybe some other things will come from it while you’re doing it. I’m a painter and I do the same thing. I start working on a piece and walk away and then I’ll come back and change it then.”

Asked how his role as an artist has developed in his life, Bob describes attending art school in Los Angeles using the GI Bill of his father, who had died while serving in the Navy during World War II. Bob dropped out to come back home after receiving a “Dear John” letter from his then-sweetheart, but art was a skill he utilized during his own stint in the Navy and in several of his early jobs. And it’s a passion he still pursues. “I’m a multi-media artist. I’ve done oil, acrylic, pen & ink. I’ve done some origami. Watercolor. Different types of things. I try.”

The entire experience has led him to work on his next book, a more purely autobiographical story. “In the back of my mind, I always had an idea that I wanted to write about a trip we took while my father was in the Navy. In 1943, when I was about six years old, my mother, grandmother and my mother’s friend, along with the friend’s daughter, my brother and I, got in a ’41 Ford and headed across the country to LA on Route 66. It was the trip of a lifetime, though we didn’t realize it at the time. Route 66 was a two-lane road going west. We didn’t know where we would stay or eat. There were no credit cards then. Gas was rationed. You can’t imagine all the things we went through. I say this book is about three fearless women during World War II.”

Bob reflected thoughtfully on a question about the trying times of 2020 and how they affect his creativity and perspective. “This kind of hampers my creativity,” he says, “because every night on TV we have what I call ‘the bad news’. Everything is terrible that comes on. I sometimes hesitate to watch. But my wife and I agree that you can’t get bogged down in the things around you like this. God doesn’t want you to curl up and crawl in a hole somewhere. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been writing these books. And now I’ve got two or three paintings that I’m going to start working on. I go out on the deck and look at the beauty of the world that the Lord has made for us, and I get inspired by that.

“You can’t ignore the bad things, but you’ve got to overlook them. Put them aside and have fun. The other day I went out on the deck, and Lanie was on the other side. I had a bag of almonds to eat, and she wanted one. So I threw her an almond but missed. Then I just started feeding her almonds by tossing them over, one at a time, and we just kept doing that and laughing. I told my brother when he called later, ‘We’ve had an almond toss today.’ And that was just fine.”

Effervescence, by Robert D. Brandon, can be found here on Amazon.

3 Comments

  1. Would love to have a catch-up chat. Rick

  2. That’s my Dad! Would love to get a copy!

  3. So happy for you this is beautiful !!!

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