Workers are back

071114-thumb iamxBY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR

Words and images touting the American worker are cropping up everywhere. Do worker-based marketing campaigns signify anxiety about the plight of the working class? Or pride in its resurgence?

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“This is my craft. I am Madden.”

Ever since I saw the TriMet ads for Madden Industrial Craftsman, a Portland staffing agency and one of our 2014 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon, I haven’t been able to get a certain catchy slogan out of my head.

“I am Madden,” I like to say around the office, prompting confused — and amused — looks from my colleagues.

But I was onto something. Because in the past few months, I’ve started to notice what we in the news business like to call a trend:

To wit:

  •  “We are Henningsen” (print ad for Henningsen Cold Storage in Salem)
  •  “I am R & O Construction”  (print ad for a Nevada construction firm)

And this:

Anecdotal evidence to be sure. But images and words touting the American worker are cropping up everywhere in marketing campaigns and in names of new restaurant venues.

Some businesses, like Madden Industrial Craftsmen, say the blue collar brand is a good fit for their products and services.

“It has the connotation of the American worker: the pride, the craftsmanship,” says vice president Paul Madden

I called Paul yesterday to inquire about the origin of the “I am Madden” spot, which features in-house welders, contractors and other “real workers” employed by Madden.

Coincidentally, Paul had spoken earlier that morning with his “ad guy,” who said it might be time to launch the next phase of the campaign.

What would that would be? Switching over to “We are Madden,” Paul said.

Then there’s Warren Becker, owner of Blue Collar Baking Co. in Old Town. “My dad worked at the American Motors plant; my mom was a union steward, working in a bakery,” says 52-year-old Becker, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin native. “I grew up in the hey day of unions. I was raised a blue-collar baby.”

Becker says he chose the name because of his working class upbringing. His store serves cookies, scones and Bundt cakes: nothing fancy, he says. “No galettes, tarts.”

“But I’ve noticed other businesses capitalizing on blue collar and I find it interesting and amusing,” Becker adds.

In the Pearl District, not known for being an epicenter of the working class, Tilt diners get red mechanics rags instead of napkins, the better to sop up the “blue collar biscuits.” 

The owners were on vacation and unavailable for comment.

There is a certain irony to the new wave of worker-centered advertising, as union membership is at an all time low in this country. On the other hand, domestic manufacturing and the “maker movement “is experiencing a revival, in Oregon and nationwide.

Do the American Worker campaigns signify our anxiety about the plight of the American working class? Or pride in its resurgence?

I’m guessing both, as marketing campaigns tend to capitalize on our contradictory hopes, dreams and fears.

In the meantime, watch for Madden Industrial Craftsmen at the Washington County Fair, where the company will set up life-size cutouts of workers.

 “People can stick their heads in the cutouts and say: ‘I am Madden,’” Paul said.

I could hear him grinning over the phone.

“I can’t say the phrase has a cult following yet,” he said. “But we’re having fun with it.”

Spotted any other examples of blue collar marketing campaigns? Drop me a line.