In early adolescence, I was both terrified and intrigued by the British rock band Iron Maiden. In the halls of suburban middle school, urban legends ran amok about the band’s Satanic affiliations and powers, personified by the band’s mascot, the demonic ghoul Eddie:
Friends warned me with certainty that if I listened to Iron Maiden’s music, I would be cursed into a life of devil worshiping, Satanic ritual, and alliance with the Antichrist. The number 666 would appear in my breakfast cereal, and the “Beast” would command me to do things that would appall my parents – and get me terminally grounded.
I believed it. I avoided Iron Maiden, but couldn’t help looking over my shoulder at other kids in halls, wearing t-shirts adorned with Eddie’s hateful grin. When Run to the Hills would play on the radio, my hand eased towards the dial, but my fingers curled back. I needed to hear Bruce Dickenson’s soaring vocals with the fiery, intricate guitar riffs.
Parents be damned.
In fact, the image of evil Iron Maiden projected tantalized me. As I drove by the corner Safeway and into the repeating pattern of suburbia, a sense of risk gripped me. Secretly, I bought the album Piece of Mind. I felt a daredevil’s exhilaration every time The Trooper opened with it’s unmistakable riff. And I closed my eyes, gulped, and dared not look down at my Cheerios in the morning, lest the milk be directed by evil currents.
Time went by and signs of The Beast failed to appear at breakfast, nor did my friends or I develop moles thrice repeating the number six.
Then one day, I saw a video on MTV. It was Iron Maiden playing a live concert. During, the show, Eddie emerged. As a giant inflatable doll:
As the figure inflated and the lanky, mummified puppet arms dangled, I guffawed. The Beast was an inflatable figure? What the hell’s going on?
At that moment I had my first epiphany about the power of branding. I’d seen an inflatable Noid floating above the local Domino’s Pizza. A puffy gorilla at a local car dealership. Woody Woodpecker at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
And now Eddie, the harbinger of evil and gatekeeper that would greet me at Hell’s gates, was among them.
I realized that Eddie was a gimmick. He was a brand image designed to build intrigue and create a theme for Iron Maiden’s music. As I watched the video, I didn’t see devil worshipers delving into an evil ritual. I saw people (both the band and the crowd) having fun. I later learned that the band members weren’t Satanic priests. They were guys with families.
And they had a business. A successful one. They sold me completely.
As subsequent Iron Maiden albums came out, I bought and listed to them – I liked the music.
But Eddie was never the same. I saw him for what he was: a cartoonish image that was Iron Maiden’s label.
Now, as an adult who works professionally in marketing, am I immune to the effects of branding? Perhaps. My innocence died when Eddie joined Woody.
I just thank God Kellogg’s keeps coming out with new versions of Cheerios. Rock music is one thing, but if I don’t get my Cheerios and milk every morning, I’m just wicked.
By: Scott Yoder