The following is a copy of an email message I sent in August:
To: Dan Bane
From: Dan Bain
Re: Brand Pain
Dear Dan Bane,
My name is Dan Bain – a fact that has caused me no end of consternation over the years. I’m sure you can relate. In fact, before I get to my reason for writing, I simply must ask – did you face the same playground gauntlet I faced as a kid? The merciless taunts? The silly rhymes?
I never really objected to “Dan the Man” so much (even though it turned old before I did, and even now, when someone uses it, I’m expected to chuckle as if I’ve never heard it – regardless of the twelve thousand and umpteen other people who’ve “just come up with” that moniker in the past). Still, no real objection to that one. But I really didn’t like “Bain the Pain” or any of the others.
As one of the smart kids, I probably should have appreciated being called “Dan Brain” – but it was usually punctuated with such derision (not to mention a punch or two) that I grew to detest it. From there, it was just a short jump to “Brainiac” and onward to “Bainiac.”
When they had to use the bathroom, some of the other boys would say they had to go “drain the main Bain,” which wasn’t a flattering comparison at all. And the vein joke didn’t stop there, thanks to my pale complexion and prominent blood vessels just below the skin of my face. I shouldn’t have been surprised when the other guys in my Cub Scout den started calling me “Veiny Bainy,” but I was.
Once they learned to cuss, it was “Damn Pain.” Still, that was preferable to “Damp Stain,” which even I have to begrudgingly admit was a pretty creative use of rhyme. In high school, one kid in my French class called me “Salle de Bain,” which means “bathroom.” It didn’t take long for that one to morph into various “Oui, oui” jokes….
I can’t help wondering if you went through this same baneful hell. Oh, yes – let’s not forget that one, shall we? I imagine it was worse for you, having your name spelled the same as that loathsome word; the matched spelling must have made the joke even more obvious to all those morons who inconceivably think they’re the first one to make it. Tell me, how sick are you of hearing the same tired cliché whenever you meet someone with an unoriginal sense of humor? “You’re the bane of my existence!” Hilarious.
Which reminds me – there’s a point to this message. Believe me when I say there’s no pun intended, and please don’t take this the wrong way, but lately, you actually have been the bane of my existence. Or at the very least, the bane of my personal brand. Let Dan ‘splain…. (See what I did there?)
I write a humor column for Midtown, a lifestyle magazine in Raleigh, North Carolina. Its target market is North Hills – just a couple miles from the Trader Joe’s store you opened in October 2009. During the past three years, I’ve heard your radio spots a few times – as have many of the people who read my column. (I know of at least three who read it regularly, if you count my wife and sons.)
First, let me congratulate you on your forward thinking and approachable nature as a CEO – not many are willing to do their own voice work on their companies’ radio spots, and those who are, aren’t able to convey such affability when they do it. The average listener, upon hearing one of your commercials, would think of you more as the guy next door than as a CEO – and that’s what’s been causing this Dan pain.
“Hey, was that you I heard on the radio the other day?” You can imagine my befuddlement the first time one of my readers asked me that question. But I shrugged it off – at least, until someone else asked me the same thing, just a couple days later. The third time, I figured I should investigate. A couple of Google searches did the trick, your incorrectly spelled last name notwithstanding. At first, the search for “Dan Bain” yielded only a Canadian hockey player and Hockey Hall of Fame inductee who helped the Winnipeg Victorias win two Stanley cups around the turn of the 20th Century and died of old age in the 60s; a guy who played lacrosse for Ohio State before joining the football team as a walk-on during his senior year; a Detroit DJ; me; and a Pittsburgh professor of catchment science (your guess is as good as mine).
But then, someone was more specific, asking me if I was doing radio spots for Trader Joe’s. Armed with additional search terms, I solved the mystery. Not long after, I heard one of the radio spots in question. I can’t remember if you identified yourself as the CEO or otherwise being affiliated with Trader Joe’s, but if you did, my readers aren’t hearing that distinction – and the questions continue, now having become as predictable and stale as “Dan the Man” and “bane of my existence.”
See, Dan, I’ve been writing for 24 years, done improv for 15, blogged for laughs for six, had a humor column for five, and recently published a collection of ostensibly amusing essays. I’ve tried hard to develop a reputation as a funny guy, not as the voice of Trader Joe’s. Just when I was becoming comfortable with being Dan Bain, my fans no longer know who Dan Bain is. Toss Bain Capital and the “Dark Knight Rises” villain into the mix, and my personal brand has become so watered down, my name is mud.
I’d ask you to identify yourself as Daniel T. Bane, but my name is Daniel P. Bain, which would sound the same on the air – my readers would still be confused (and my column is already confusing enough). Perhaps to clarify matters, you could change your script? You could say, “This is Dan Bane, the chairman and CEO of Trader Joe’s – NOT the hilarious, beloved, and devastatingly handsome local writer, whose book you should buy.” I’d be okay with that.
Or maybe we could find a way to make this mutually beneficial. Whenever someone asks if that’s me on the radio, I’ll tell them yes, and that if they’re a true fan, they’ll start shopping at Trader Joe’s. In return, you could tell people to buy “your” book, A Nay for Effort. Heck, you might even consider stocking it in your stores … if your stores carried books. Maybe you could make this one exception, and put a small book rack in a checkout lane?
Dan, if we pool our talents this way, there’s no telling what we could do. Just imagine if we formed a confederacy of Dan Bains – me, you, the dead hockey player, the Buckeye, the DJ, the professor, and Mary Anne. (I don’t know who Mary Anne is, but every time I say or write the phrase, “the professor,” I have to follow it with “and Mary Anne” in homage to the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song. Every time. And this time makes once.) Anyway, let’s end this three-hour tour….
Try to imagine, Dan – with that much strength behind the Dan Bain brand, we could even become President! Honestly, nobody seems to like any of the real candidates, anyway – come November, we’re all stuck between Barack and a hard place. Why not write in “Dan Bain” as our next president, instead? If we win, we’ll govern as a group – obviously, the rest of the world can’t tell us Dan Bains apart, so we can switch places whenever a situation calls for one of the other Dans’ talents. Need business savvy? Dan Bane! Speechwriter? Me! Foreign relations? The dead Canadian!
Dan, if you’re still reading this, just think about it. If not, just think about stocking my book. If not, just think about changing your script. If not, could you at least buy one of my books? Because nobody else has.
Thanks and best regards,
Dan Bain (one of them, anyway)
[Originally published in the September/October 2012 issue of Midtown.]