The Birth of a Slogan–the Story of “It’s the Water”

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The following story first appeared in the August 1951 issue of “It’s the Water News,” the employee newsletter of the Olympia Brewing Company in Tumwater, Washington.

The author of this article was Frank Kenney, who was secretary of OBC before prohibition. In 1951, a commemorative dinner was given by the management at the Governor Hotel, and Frank was presented with a 50-year pin.

I remember the day as distinctly as if it were yesterday. Forty-nine years ago. 1902. I had been thinking for sometime about an advertising aid for our beer. I had decided on this particular morning to talk about it to Leopold Schmidt, founder of the Olympia Brewing Company.

Perhaps I should have been more tactful and led to the point of the conversation gradually, but this idea had become an obsession and I wanted to start talking about it. So I jumped right in.

“Mr. Schmidt, we should have a slogan for our beer.”

“So?” he said. “And what do you suggest, Frank?”

“Well, the Seattle Brewing and Malting Company says about their product, ‘there is new vigor and strength in every drop’. That’s really terrible.” I noticed Mr. Schmidt never changed his thoughtful expression. “And the Pacific Brewing and Malting Company in Tacoma has ‘Best East or West’. That’s pretty good. The Schlitz people have a globe with a girdle around it to indicate they sell all over the globe.”

“Yes, yes,” Mr. Schmidt said. “We all know that. What do you suggest for our beer?”

“You know that whenever anyone asks why Olympia Beer is better than other beers we always say that it is on account of the water we use in brewing. So why not use for our slogan ‘It’s the Water’?”

Mr. Schmidt was quiet for a long time. He sat at his big roll top desk, one arm hooked over the arm of his chair. His other hand lay on the desk and he drummed absently with his fingers. He was in deep thought. He always had ideas that were excellent on most any subject. “Very good, Frank,” he said at last. “We’ll call it, ‘The Water Makes It’.”

“That’s pretty good, too, Mr. Schmidt. But not as good as mine.” I blurted it out then held my breath.

The steady gaze of his big, expressive eyes felt like they were boring a hole right through me. I thought I detected the slightest trace of a smile on his lips. It vanished instantly. “So? Then we’ll say, ‘It’s In the Water’.”

“Too long. A good slogan must be concise. The shorter the better. ‘It’s the Water’ tells our story and rouses curiosity.”

Mr. Schmidt waved his hand then in a gesture of finality. His voice was low, authoritative and distinct. “Let’s sleep on it, Frank, and talk about it tomorrow.”

The next day we started all over again. He hadn’t changed his mind on ‘It’s In The Water’. I hadn’t changed my mind, either, so we flew at it hammer and tongs.Being an Irishman, I don’t mind arguing a bit. We talked all day about our slogan. I couldn’t tell him anything I hadn’t told him the day before about conciseness—that a slogan should express much in a few words. But I used all the eloquence at my command to swing the company president to my way of reasoning.

Mr. Schmidt had been known in the past to take the opposite side of an argument in order to discover flaws in a proposed plan. Maybe he was doing that with me. I will never be quite sure.

His mental scrutiny of all problems was profound and thorough. Not that he possessed a suspicious mind—on the contrary. He had a keen, open mind that was shrewd and analytical, penetrating and precise. He really took things apart from all angles.

As the afternoon shadows were growing long across his office and my voice was growing weak, Mr. Schmidt raised his hand in that gesture of finality again.

“All right, Frank,” he said. “Have your own way. We’ll call it, ‘It’s the Water’.”

kenney_0039Frank Kenney and Peter G. Schmidt, Sr. (Olympia Brewing Company’s president), on the occasion of Kenney’s 50th anniversary with OBC.

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