When Bad Owners Happen to Good Brands

I’ve spent the past few weeks subsisting mainly on energy bars, which is fine. I enjoy the guilt-free experience of eating what are, essentially, candy bars.

I started dabbling in Clif Bars about a month ago. Perhaps you’ve seen them. They come in delicious flavors like mint chocolate, crunchy peanut butter and oatmeal raisin walnut, each weighing in at around five grams of fat and 240 calories. They look like bear dung, but they stick to your stomach and knockout hunger like Muhammad Ali did Sonny Liston.

While I’m happy to make a meal of a Clif Bar, I take umbrage to Gary, the owner and founder of Clif Bar & Company, who has taken it upon himself to get his Jack London on every chance he gets. On the back of each wrapper, Gary attempts to relate one of his outdoor adventures to the principles of his company. His intentions are good, but his execution leaves his brainchild looking pretentious and holier than thou.

Here’s what Gary wrote for the back of this oatmeal raisin walnut I’m gnawing on:

“While trekking in Nepal, I met up with an expedition about to climb Dhaligiri, one of the world’s highest peaks. I figured that with more than 200 porters the expedition must have been traveling with at least 20,000 pounds of stuff. Expeditionary climbing takes an enormous amount of energy, equipment, and people, to put just a handful of individuals on top of a mountain. My friends and I prefer to climb alpine style; we move quickly, carry light packs, and leave no waste behind. Each campsite is a beautiful destination in itself; not simply a means to an end. I don’t believe in reaching the top at any cost — in climbing or in business. Clif Bar’s journey resembles alpline climbing. We try to travel light and are committed to keeping our company, products, people, community, and the earth healthy.”

So, basically, Gary is a mountain ninja and you should eat his energy bar because it intends to keep the earth healthy.

Wait, what?

This is where owners, founders and CEOs so often go wrong. Rather than put faith in their product, they, themselves, try to be the brand. The Donald Trumps, Richard Bransons and Mark Cubans of this world — one-man brands — are few and far between. Their personas are so finely calculated and executed, we put faith in everything they touch. Gary, on the other hand, pens some shitty prose which only comes off as condescending when you consider the $1.69 you paid for his Clif Bar paid for his trek through Nepal.

Gary’s anecdote does nothing to improve his product, which I will continue to eat begrudgingly. My girlfriend’s mom says, “Well, why don’t you just not read the wrapper?” Good point, but it’s the company’s fault when their are parts of the experience a consumer must avoid to enjoy the product, even if it’s something so small as reading about Gary’s hang-gliding adventure in the Pyrenees.

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