Every now and then, a good story gets its message across and more. A segment during a recent airing of the NPR program, Snap Judgment, did just that. It made me hum a hymn, sweat even though it was cold and made me taste one of the best things to slide across a fast food counter – ever.
Over the air, a southernly accented gentleman began telling his story. The phrase, “church of Christ” was in his first few utterances. So were “prison,” “granddaddy” and “warden.” Having been part of a Southern church of Christ upbringing, I knew this story was going to be good. I just didn’t know how great it would be.
The voice on the radio belonged to Paul Cauthen. He told about growing up in a religious environment, learning to sing a capella – the church of Christ way – and leading a relatively religious life until his parents split. Then, he tried every vice known with the same fervor his granddaddy had taught him to sing.
His story flowed from his childhood bathtub where his granddaddy taught him to sing, to the church house, to watching his mom’s divorce-caused heartache, to his incarceration. At each turn, his tale brought forth sounds, smells and tastes with great vividness. Especially, if you’ve experienced any of them.
It was real
You could hear the 400-member congregation singing as Cauthen described the harmony of its voices, sans that one trilling female member every congregation has.
Anyone who has ever experienced even a nanosecond of a Southern Oklahoma or North Texas summer could smell the dirt and feel the life-sapping humidity as he recalled working on a chain gang near I-20 and Highway 69. Heck, you could even see the little heat waves that pop up on the horizon.
Listening further, you could sense the sweat dripping down Cauthen’s temples and the nervousness in his voice as he struck a deal with the warden overseeing his chain gang.
It was shortly after this deal was struck that the aroma, texture and taste (grease and all) of a Whataburger swept out of that little smartphone speaker and grabbed listeners with a force that could only have originated from Texas. (Well, for listeners who’ve had a true Whataburger experience, that is.) It was a force that made this story very real.
A burger, a band and brands
Cauthen’s story is best heard via his own words in the track How to Eat the Best Cheeseburger of all Time.
This story is much, much shorter than a church of Christ sermon. Yet, it adds authenticity to Cauthen and the reason his band sounds the way it does. It also affirms the soundness of the Whataburger brand. Listeners who “get” Whataburger no doubt had one soon after that airing.
It’s a fine example of building brands one story at a time.