What a fictitious meth dealer taught me about branding

by Craig McBreen · 19 comments · Creativity


Okay, I confess.

This post might just be the ultimate example of link bait, but I just couldn’t help myself.

And why?

Because there’s this little show on AMC that entertains and inspires me.

And it just so happens that its protagonist cooks meth.

Yep. You got it. Not kidding.

If you don’t know, I’m talking about AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” It’s centered around a high school chemistry teacher and his metamorphosis from nebbish to kingpin.

At the start of the series his singular focus is providing for his family. To set them up financially before he dies. He decides to use his knowledge to sell methamphetamine with that aim in mind. Since he’s terminal, turning to a life of crime means nothing, but his family means everything. This is how he justifies his actions.

And the most fascinating thing about the show is the evolution of our main character, Walter White. But it’s more like a downward spiral, as the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan has stated his goal was to turn Walter from Mr. Chips into Scarface.

Securing his family’s financial future is his sole intent in the start, but he becomes increasingly immoral and sinister as his cancer subsides.

Gilligan stated: “He’s going from being a protagonist to an antagonist.”

Mild-mannered chemistry teacher becomes complete badass.

The drug itself and beautiful New Mexico are the backdrops, but the crafty Mr. White takes us for a ride. And strangely enough, I constantly root for a guy with morally questionable behavior.

He’s both hero and anti-hero. A gentleman turned demon, and Brian Cranston delivers.

But how does this character and such a unique show relate to the world of business and creativity?

I’ll try and explain.

I’m not endorsing drug dealers or methamphetamine, but I am endorsing a show that is a true original. No duh, right?

Here I wrote about the importance of crafting compelling content, which often involves investing in a scary concept.

When the show was pitched, I’m guessing the terms “unpopular,” “polarizing” and “offensive” might have come up.

Gilligan put some blood, sweat and tears into a show that could have pissed off many and been a ratings bomb, even if it did make it past the execs.

He created a TV drama that certain people might just hate for all the right reasons. Why? Because he’s attracted a group that anticipates every new season and every new show with bated breath.

And I’m guessing he was pretty fearless in his resolve to see it through.

I love the idea of embracing a chancy formula and making it work. And this did work, because we found him and his Emmy-winning show and can’t seem to get enough.

If it works in entertainment it can surely work in business, no?

Your own little “Breaking Bad” concept might help you on your way in this digital realm.

Trying to please everyone often translates to milquetoast.

If you’re instead focusing on your own “killer swag” and are proudly displaying your own special form of genius, well, your essence might just be that key to a message that truly resonates.

So what if it ticks off a few.

“Breaking Bad” resonates. I can only imagine how many people it turns off, but that’s the beauty of it.

Gilligan’s fearless approach and dedication to the concept, inspire me much like the show Mad Men but for different reasons.

For me, it’s all about being the Anti-Sheep, which is like a dazzling black sheep cast from the flock.

So what does the show represent and why is it so successful?

1. It’s an unpopular concept. The power of the show comes from an unusual script fully realized. This was not accomplished by worrying about audience response or TV executives. I’ve heard there’s power in “unpopular.

2. Originality reigns supreme. Mr. Gilligan took a taboo subject even further and turned it on it’s head, creating something artful and original. He really was thinking outside of the box.

3. The creator has Integrity. He stuck to the concept and didn’t dilute it or dumb it down. He made it through the pitch meetings and somehow got’er done.

He took an original idea and made it happen by embracing a risky topic, not diluting it and sticking to his guns throughout the process.

And in my world, where small business people and bloggers need advice, this is some great sauce. Why not live by these three practices when you start your next project? Be a Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.

I wanna here about your favorite black sheep.

How have you applied these practices in the real world?

What is “killer swag” to you?

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeevanjacobjohn June 11, 2012 at 8:40 pm

Awesome sauce, Craig!

I can relate all this to my own little concept of breaking the rules (that’s the motto of my blog).

You are right. We can’t please everyone. Our concepts may be right to someone and wrong to someone else. But, we can’t do anything about that.

If we just try to please everyone, it is going to go terribly wrong (Democracy is an example: We try to give everyone the same power and same voice, and yet the power is skewed. I think no country in this world is truly and completely democratic – it can’t be due to the greed for power and money and due to our nature to “go bad” in situations).

But, we could work it all out (pour some republic ideas into the democracy: democratic republic).

But, it isn’t perfect. It works (At least seems to).

We need to redefine the fields we work it.

Go out of the flow.
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Craig McBreen June 12, 2012 at 3:41 am

Hi Jeevan,

Thank you, Sir.

I like your motto ;) Oh, and politics can be an ugly business, huh? And the power will always be skewed, no matter what, but some systems are much better than others, regardless.

Nothing is perfect and such is life, right? But middle of the road? Probably not the best way to go.

Thanks for stoppin in.

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Bill Dorman June 12, 2012 at 12:42 am

You are my favorite black sheep so get on down yo bad self……….

Isn’t that Malcolm in the Middle’s dad? I knew he was a pretty shifty cat.

Not quite the same dynamic, but I’ve watched the movie Avatar twice now on TV. When it first came out, I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in seeing it. Now that I’ve watched it, I thought it was pretty good. The main hero turns his back on the human race and fights against them AND gets the girl….even if she is big and blue w/ cat like yellow eyes.

As much as I think I want to be that ‘bad boy’ all the women crave; I don’t have it in me. I guess I’m destined to be that ‘nice’ guy; I guess it could be worse I suppose.

My killer swag is being confident in my abilities and confident and comfortable in my own skin. I just do it in an under the radar kind of way and you don’t know what hit you until you see me walking away……..with the girl………..:). Ha…….
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Craig McBreen June 12, 2012 at 3:49 am

Hi Bill,

Yep, that’s Malcolm’s dad and he can act.

Well most of the humans in Avatar fit the mold of the stereotypical bully with a bad attitude who likes to blow stuff up, no wonder he switched.

Nothing wrong with Mr. Nice guy. The guy who made this show sounds like a stand up guy (I’ve heard him interviewed) but he has creative chops and … chutzpah. Plus he stuck with an unpopular concept and I like that.

I like your killer swag. Oh, Florida’s a strange and wonderful place as you know. There may very well be a blue girl or two down there.

Later on.

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Bill Dorman June 12, 2012 at 12:44 am

Oh yeah, the show I recently started watching is The Killing and that is filmed in your backyard. Maybe you can be in it sometime………..:).
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Craig McBreen June 12, 2012 at 3:50 am

I’ll apply as a stand in, but need to take a trip to Vancouver, B.C. Then I’ll make a Killing ;)

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Ralph June 12, 2012 at 1:37 am

So, Mr. McBreen. Here we are! It’s 9:30pm in Toronto and I haven’t even read @bdorman264 post yet. Drained (yet oddly exhilarated) from all the great content out there. Nice work on http://spinsucks.com BTW.

Have you seen Shameless? Same kind of edict as Breaking Bad – well, sorta. Bunch of boozing crazy folks trying to get by on a wing and a prayer. Bunch o Southies. Very edgy stuff (for me anyway).

Being the black sheep, huh? Yep, seems like the right way doesn’t it. I get where you are going here and I like it!

Forget “trying” to be anything in particular because YOU will certainly shine through no matter what. That’s the thing with a facade; it’s just a facade and it will eventually leak. That dude Gilligan with his orange shirt and white bucket hat, er….wait, sorry. That guy didn’t give a crap so, ergo, neither did his protagonist. He did what he thought would work and it paid off.

Besides the world is in love with badass anyway! Why? Because most of it is vanilla and anything that is taboo is cool.

You, my friend, are a beast.
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Craig McBreen June 12, 2012 at 3:55 am

Hi Ralph,

9:30? Don’t you go to bed at 10:00 ;)

The blogosphere will do that … drain you.

I have not seen Shameless, but am always interested in edgy stuff. Maybe I can check it out.

“Forget “trying” to be anything in particular because YOU will certainly shine through no matter what.”
–Exactly!

Funny as I thought Dorman would jump on the Gilligan thing. Looks like you get the gold star.

Never been described as a beast, but I’ll take it ;)

Thank you, Sir!

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Ralph June 12, 2012 at 10:06 am

I’m in love with Bob Denver. Always have been. I see something of me in him.
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Craig McBreen June 12, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Must be the hat ;)

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Alden June 12, 2012 at 3:11 am

I LOVE this series. I’ve been watching it for the past month in fact!

The parallel between Walter White’s degeneration into a bad guy and Jesse’s human side makes the chemistry (get it?) between them spectacular. Funny too.

Anyway I think for me and my blog it’s the parallel between my live self and my blog.

Ironically, most people I meet in life don’t even have a good impression of me. Apparently I’ve looks of a hooligan and people are all too ready to lay out judgement. It’s so bad that even my close friends today tell me stuff like, “Actually when I first met you, I didn’t like you”.

And then, people get surprised I love to write and I’ve a blog. And I’m really good at it.

While superficial judgement isn’t cool, I embrace the fact that I’m good off a bad impression. My conscience is clear and people will accept me and realize me for what I’m and what I have all in good timing. No rush.
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Craig McBreen June 12, 2012 at 4:12 am

Hi Alden,

It is a great one. I really don’t watch much TV at all, but never miss this show.

I like you’re play on chemistry and you are so very right. Jesse is going in and opposite direction and I wonder what part he will play in Walter’s inevitable demise?

People will judge you and rather quickly, but as long as you’re comfortable and that’s the way you roll, who cares? As long as you’re not harming anyone and I’m sure that’s not the case ;)

I like the multifaceted who dress one way and act in unexpected ways, because that’s who they are and they’re not afraid to show it.

Thank you for the great comments, Sir!

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Alden June 12, 2012 at 6:43 am

Thank YOU for the great post.

I’m big on shows with anti-heroes, characters who are seemingly bad, but show their human side to it all. Although, this is the first show I’ve seen where I see a good guy becoming worse. I’m finding myself disliking Walt more and more.
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Craig McBreen June 12, 2012 at 8:55 pm

You’re welcome and thanks for the kinds words, Sir!

Strangely enough I still root for Walt, even with his morally questionable behavior. Hope that doesn’t say something about me ;)

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Joe D. June 12, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Breaking Bad is an awesome show. In the past, I’ve watched Malcolm repeatedly as well, so Cranston really shows off some acting chops on this series. If I have a favorite “black sheep” cast of characters, The Sopranos were my all time favorites (surprise, right?). What a bunch of bad asses! Plus great writing by David Chase made that show really something special.

I like to think that my “old school” brand (if you want to call it a brand) goes against the grain in a bit of a black sheep kind of way. I think we screw ourselves by being so absorbed with technology, and an old school lifestyle has a place in this crazy world. But most people won’t pay attention to that. They’ll continue to pursue the touchy, feely, always-checking-my-phone high tech life, and I’ll just get snarkier about it. Will make for great posts! :)
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Craig McBreen June 12, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Hi Joe,

Believe it or not I never got around to the Sopranos (maybe one day) but I do know that one of the head writers is Mad Men’s creator.

Yes, Cranston definitely delivers, big time!

I like your old school approach and appreciate all the stories. Let me know when the next snarky post comes along ;)

Thanks for stopping in.

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Jill Tooley June 14, 2012 at 2:44 pm

All of the best creators have faced opposition for their bright ideas. I think it’s a good rule of thumb to assume that a controversial idea is worth pursuing, because it polarizes an audience. I’ve only seen an episode or two of “Breaking Bad,” but I can see what you mean about its appeal AND about its controversy. The same is true about shows like “Dexter,” where viewers find themselves sympathizing with a serial killer, and “Revenge,” where viewers root for a character driven by hatred. Characters like these are black sheep, and they’re undoubtedly interesting.

I won’t even get started talking about writers who were repeatedly shot down for their groundbreaking ideas, because I’d probably talk forever! ;) But there are MANY out there, and all of them embraced their “differentness” and pushed through anyway. What would the literary world be like today if authors like Stephen King, Agatha Christie, or even J.K. Rowling hadn’t believed in their work? I shudder at the thought.

Anyway… Shine on, you crazy diamonds! I’m proud to call myself a black sheep. :)

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” –Albert Einstein
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Craig McBreen June 14, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Hi Jill,

What about Copernicus? Talk about a true genius, huh? The guy was accused of being an enemy of the church for being really smart and trying to spread such wisdom ;)

The reason I chose “Breaking Bad” is because 1. It’s a very strange concept, but is original and works and 2. It’s an example of something unusual coming together beautifully because the guy stuck with it.

I’ve heard about “Dexter” and might pick up the DVD set one day. Know nothing about “Revenge.”

Stephen King is an amazing writer, but has had to deal with critics all his life. J.K Rowling is pure genius. I read almost all of the HP books and loved them. Saw all the movies too :)

Sing it, Pink and here’s to the black sheep!

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