Mr Blog, and the vanishing art of 'folk-branding'
Here's what happened when Mr Asbury visited all the UK's 'Mr' shops.
First up, thank you 🙏. Last week’s episode on Jim Smith’s two-decade-performance-art-project-disguised-as-a-brand, Puccino’s Coffee-Shops, was read far and wide and made a few ‘newsletter of the week’ lists. Please do keep sharing the love. 😊
This week’s linguistic geek-out isn’t about a specific brand. It’s about Nick Asbury’s1 Mr Blog project and the idea of ‘folk branding’. I find the concept of folk branding really useful. It’s not nearly well enough known. So we’re going to read Nick – sorry, Mr. Asbury’s – blog together.
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If you’re like me, you’ve probably always been aware that there were a few ‘Mr’ shops on your local high streets but never given them much thought. Mr Asbury became a bit obsessed with them. (‘I’ve just always found Mr Shops funny. I can’t help thinking “what exactly does Mr Curtains look like?”) This was back in 2010, when Google Maps was new. Mr Asbury realised he could use it to track down all the Mr shops in the UK.
Mr Blog set off in August 2010. Early entries included Mr Meats (Stoke on Trent).
Some Mr shops were pretty slick-looking. Like Mr Humbug, (Euston station, London)
But most were more ordinary. Like Mr Kleen. (Which, satisfyingly, is in Turnham Green! Mr Kleen from Tunrham Green! No? Fine.)
Some were found irl by Mr Asbury. I love this photo of Mr Bagels (London E9):
Some were submitted by readers. Here’s Dr. Loo (Sponds Hill, Cheshire). This sparked an interesting discussion because, well, Dr. Loo rather puts plain old Mr. Loo in his place, doesn’t he.
And some are straight-up WTF? Mr Maggot Man. (Warsop, Mansfield).
Every day for months they kept coming: Mr Window. Mr Computer. Mr Chickens. Mr Stainless. Mr Mattress. Mr Loaf. Mr Tyre. Mr Chips (lots of Mr Chips). Mr Central Heating. Mr Booze. Mr Personality. Monsieur Biscuit. Mr Furniture…
Before long, they start to send you a bit peculiar. How have I not noticed this before? They’re everywhere. Fast food joints, trades, IT services, clothes, haircuts, myriad forms of cleaning and places that fix or repair things. There are so many in fact that Mr Asbury quickly stops cataloguing duplicates. Mr Blog is just the edited highlights!
December gave a detour into Mr Songs (‘Mr Blue Sky’ etc). There are guest appearances by kids TV presenter Mr Maker, South Park’s Mr Hankey, and a children’s entertainer called Madame Zucchini. Oh, and a mention of that time Boots the chemist accidentally sent a customer a loyalty card addressed to ‘Dr A Suicide Bomber’.
Then in January 2011 after six short months, Mr Blog wraps up with a special awards post. Categories include best strapline (Mr Toolbag: ‘No job too odd’). Clearest brand positioning. (‘MR CHEAP IS THE CHEAPEST’) Best brand partnership (‘Mr Chips’ and ‘Mr Rice’ next door to each other). Award for worst logo goes, fabulously and deservedly, to Mr Logo. Puntastic champions are hair salon Herr Kutz. (‘haircuts’, geddit?) and the cleaning company Mr Bit (‘missed a bit!’ YES!)
The final post contains a farewell roll-call. Here’s just a sample:
I know, right? It’s all a bit overwhelming.
An extra pleasure is that although Mr Asbury is doing the writing, Mr Blog quickly develops a tone of voice all of his own. He’s fastidious, slightly formal (after all, we’re not on first-name terms are we?) something of a bore, and more than a little full of himself. (I’d say ‘Pooterish’ but you’d only write in 🤪.) Here he is mithering over the ambiguity in MISTER BATHROOMS messaging:
And when Birmingham’s Miss Fitness turns up – rare for a lady to make an appearance in this mostly male-dominated field – Mr Blog has a bit of a turn:
Mr Asbury says he didn’t deliberately set out to give Mr Blog this voice – it just emerged while roaming the virtual high streets. It’s a total joy. The way he pedantically footnotes details, tediously over-describes things you can perfectly well see yourself, and is ever-so-slightly too pleased with his own jokes.
And finally, there’s the whole underlying idea of ‘folk branding’. As Mr Asburys says, by calling your shop or service ‘Mr-something’ you’ve intuitively understood the most important job branding does: ‘…taking inanimate products or intangible services and investing them with a personality. Something to which people can relate on a human level.’
A Mr brand does all that in one short name. No brainstorm necessary. No archetype framework needed. A Mr name is both evocative and descriptive. It’s personal and yet connects you to the entire community of other Mr brands. It gives you an instant tone of voice (friendly yet professional, makes an effort but isn’t la-di-da.)
Mr Asbury notes how Mr Big Stuff’s ‘about’ page (‘They’re having a laugh’ was my reply when I was told that Bev had had to pay over £20 for a plain white t-shirt from a big mans clothes shop in Nottingham…’) – is beat for beat the kind of ‘brand narrative’ a start-up would pay a strategy agency a tidy penny for. (‘Tidy penny’ is, of course, exactly the kind of phrase a Mr Brand would use.)
It’s sobering that even a decade ago, Mr Blog was lamenting the loss of Mr Brands:
Since then, the rise of online shopping and a high street-crushing pandemic has done for many more Misters. That, and the fact that everyone is a bit more brand savvy and used to things looking slicker these days.
But who knows – perhaps like gonzo 90s internet aesthetic, Mr Brands are due for an unexpected revival? If not at least we have Mr Blog stand as a record – a kind of Mr Domesday Book of the golden age of folk branding.
Three things to love and learn from
👩🦰 We really do personify brands! I sometimes remind clients that although we talk about ‘brand personality’, brands aren’t really people. Which is true. But Mr Brands remind us that brand personality isn’t some brand-theory nonsense, it’s much more instinctive.
🗣 Notice, then amplify2. I love that Mr Asbury didn’t set out to give Mr Blog his own voice – it just happened. And because Mr A was paying attention, he was able to lean into it in ‘real time’. More brands could benefit from exploring their voice in this way.
👨👨👧👦 There’s power in joining a ‘family’ of voices. I love how all Mr brands are part of an unofficial collective. You know how they’ll sound. (Which hmm, feels slightly different than just ‘sounding the same as everyone else’. Discuss.)
That’s all! Crikey, we’ve nearly hit Substack’s word limit. See you next time.
Or as Dolly Parton says: ‘find out who you are, then do it on purpose’.