Saturday, February 16, 2013
Here this sound -so familiar, so distinct and so loaded with meaning and memory good and bad starts...flick, flick, flick flick. Where was it coming from?
I looked to the right in the front row, and there was my student flicking it. Flick, flick- flick, flick- the sound of metal on metal.
I couldn't stop from asking- Is that a Zippo?
"Yes, it's a Zippo," he said smiling. "Wow, I haven't seen or heard one of those in a million years. My dad had one." I say and we start a little pre-class conversation and share a laugh or two. The class begins and ends but I'm left thinking about Zippos and the power of sound and memory and how strongly a little sound can become a part of a time in life, and how strongly a brand can be embedded in one's psyche. I've never smoked a cigarette in my life and damn, I know that sound.
Zippo has one strong distinctive sound. The product itself and its name. And now that sound has got me looking back, back back and researching and finding out more about the brand, the advertising and the image.
There was that guarantee too that they would repair it no questions asked for a lifetime. And that is one of those rare products that actually continues to makes the same claim and they pride themselves on keeping their word.
Started in the 30's Zippos really came into prominence during World War II when they stopped commercial production and dedicated their production to the Military. Zippo president GG Blaisdell shipped his lighters to the front lines. To American troops, they were standard issue. And as AdWeek says in A Look Back at the History of Zippo, America's Most Iconic Lighter, "As a result, millions of American men were already sworn to the lighter that had not only fired up their Luckies, but because it also lit up instrument panels and heated cans of food rations, sometimes saved their lives. War correspondent Ernie Pyle famously called the Zippo lighter "the most coveted item on the battlefield." I guess it's only natural that in tough times, things can become strongly associated and meaningful- survival is like that. So survivors returned and they brought their Zippo's back. The Zippo embodied that rugged manliness. In the 50s everybody smoked. According to AdWeek, the average smoker in the 1953 lit up 3,650 times.
But if there was a lifetime guarantee, how would they ensure a growing market? Well one Zippo was just not enough! You needed to collect them and give them as gifts.
Today we look at ads where Santa is smoking and little kids are giving their parents gifts of Zippo lighters and we are horrified. The 50s mentality where smoking was normal and nothing was going to hurt you or your kids seems so unreal.
In my research on Zippo, I found Zippo collectors, a Zippo car, a Zippo museum, Zippo in movies and Zippo in song. And I found people who wrote about the cultural changes and how Zippo had adapted by bringing out product extensions like Zippo watches and hand warmers and all sorts of products to ensure they still sell things in an era when smoking is declining.
My own feelings towards the Zippo are so mixed. There is a strange kind of smile that comes to my mind when I think of that innocent time, but damn I hate cigarettes. They killed both my parents. So how can I feel fondly towards the Zippo?
Well, as always there is a story. And stories do have that magical way of solidifying memory, and this one is no different and I'm quite sure it is one of the main reasons the flick of a Zippo does bring a warm smile to my face-kind of a Victory smile.
I was just a kid and no different than today, I was always willing to help, so when my dad asked that I fill his Zippo with lighter fluid, I was up for the challenge. I ran off to the cupboard, got the can and filled it right up. Proudly I ran back and gave him his newly filled lighter. Flick, flick, flick, flick..no light, flick, flick, still no light. I am perplexed!
"What's going on?" says my dad. "It smells funny. What did you put in it?"
I run off to the cupboard to get what I thought was the lighter fluid and bring it back.
My dad bursts into laughter. " That's not lighter fluid. That's Three-in One Oil!" "You killed my Zippo" "You know, no one has ever killed a Zippo! That's why they are guaranteed for life!"
I felt pretty dumb, but it only took a few weeks before I felt a certain sense of satisfaction.
My dad shipped the Zippo off to be repaired, but instead of repairing it they sent him a brand new Zippo. He told me that they had replied that they had never ever seen that happen to a Zippo before. They were quite amazed.
OK, I killed a Zippo. But I had done something that no one had done before. There is victory and honour in that!
Posted by Karen H at 1:38 PM