Watermelon Grudge: Your Customer is the Hero of Your Brand Story

By Steve Evans, Wikimedia Commons

As a 50s housewife with three pre-school kids in La Crosse, Wisconsin, my mom, Lois, spotted an ad in the paper for 50¢ watermelons. When my dad got home for lunch, she rushed out with their only car to take advantage of this bargain.

To her dismay, when she got to the store she found a stack of watermelons with a sign reading “Watermelon $1.50.” So she showed her ad to a clerk, who said, “I’m sorry, but we ran out of the 50¢ watermelons. However, we have a new shipment of watermelons that are priced at $1.50.” Not satisfied, she asked to speak to the store manager, who told her the same thing.

Angry, she left the store and never shopped there again. Twenty-some years later, she was with my little sister at a ski race in Vermont and met a Marketing VP from this retail store, which had become a national chain. Chatting with him, she said, “I used to shop at your store when we lived in Spooner and really liked it. I’m so sorry that you don’t have a store in La Crosse.” He looked at her with surprise, “We have two stores in La Crosse,” and described the locations.

In a flash of memory, she recalled the watermelon story and shared it. He laughed, “I think I should write off this trip! You just provided me with very meaningful market research. Not only did you stop shopping over a watermelon, you also forgot our store existed. While I don’t have a watermelon to give you, at least let me buy you a drink!” Charmed by his attention she opened her mind to shopping there again. She still enjoys telling how her victim story eventually led to satisfaction.

The Customer Is Always Right

Most retailers today honor advertised prices, offer rain checks, and refrain from squabbling with customers over perceived injustices. So, on the surface, this story seems trite and the moral so obvious it’s boring. But if we look at it in the context of brand storytelling principles, we can find some deeper truths.

Sonia Simone, describes “The 5 Things Every (Great) Marketing Story Needs,” in her article on the Copyblogger:

  1. Hero: To tell a compelling marketing story, your customer must be the hero.
  2. Goal: To solve your customers problems, you need to understand where your customer-hero is today and where she wants to go.
  3. Obstacle: Bringing to life the internal and external obstacles your customer must overcome to achieve victory over her goal is what makes the story enticing.
  4. Mentor: If your customer is the hero, your business/brand is the mentor who helps her succeed.
  5. Moral: Connect the dots between the hero, the goal, the obstacles, and how your brand helps her be victorious.

Applying Sonia’s principles to my mom’s watermelon episode, she left feeling like a victim. Her goal as a 50s housewife was to nurture and care for her young family on a limited budget. Tied down with three small children and limited access to a car, Lois was on a mission to bring home a prize watermelon. The store dashed her hopes and dreams because they imposed an insurmountable obstacle. The experience struck a deeper chord because of this underlying narrative. Fast-forward to her next experience with the brand 20+ years later, the Marketing VP played the role of the mentor. By listening to her story, he validated her frustrations. When he conveyed (with humor) the lesson he learned from her story, he reframed the marketing narrative. She became a hero rather than a victim.



  1. Hycent Hyt on December 5, 2019 at 10:37 pm

    Have learnt a lot from reading your article, can’t say thank you enough

  2. Chris B on December 4, 2019 at 2:07 am

    Thanks for sharing such a valuable leasson Jean!

  3. JG on October 22, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    I’m using these powerful & practical insights RIGHT NOW as I put together my start-up company’s marketing story. Thanks, Jean!


  4. Molly Pelzer on October 18, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    Great story Jean! We can all relate to your mom’s frustration and eventual satisfaction. Lessons to apply to the dairy case for sure!

  5. Jodie on October 17, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    Great story and valuable lesson. Sadly, I don’t think many in the service industry today would even understand this. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Bryce Winter on October 17, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Brilliant story. So much with so few words. I continue to be impressed with your narratives!

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