Nonprofit Branding: This American Life Amulet Mug (My Version, by John Burke)



This mug raises money.....BUT it reveals what a dope I can be!

Background: Ira Glass did it again! The This American Life Flash Drive was a an enormously successful contributor incentive. It raised over $4,000,000 for public radio stations during the last two fundraising seasons!

Here is the story stations should use . Be aware that this is my summary. Ira may have a different recollection. His version may be even more embarrassing to me. So use mine when pitching this premium. Please!

THE OLD NEWS: although TAL Editorial Premiums have become such powerful fundraising tools, the TAL Amulet Mug, (pictured above) – a veteran premium from 1998 –  has remained productive for 13 years. 13 YEARS! The reason?  This mug is imprinted with an idiotic comment I made – a comment that just invites on-air pitchers to have fun at my expense in a way that makes listeners want to pledge so they can own their own TAL Amulet mug.

THE BACKGROUND (My version): Not long after This American Life began national distribution, Ira Glass and I discussed offering his carriage group a ceramic mug with the TAL logo. He wanted no part of the idea. Over the next few years Ira and I had intermittent conversations along these lines:

JOHN: Stations really need This American Life mugs for their pledge drives.

IRA: No they don’t. TAL premiums must be unique. Mugs aren’t necessary. They don’t fit. I want something different.

JOHN: But every major program has a mug with its logo.

IRA: Exactly my point. Mugs are common.

JOHN: It’s not just the stations – your listeners also want a TAL mug. They want to use it and show the world that they are part of your audience.

IRA: You’re not convincing me. Instead of a mug, let’s develop another really unusual TAL premium.Something great. Let’s look for the WOW Factor! (About that time he came up with the  temporary public radio tattoos – with skulls, crossbones, snakes and other graphic delights. Against my advice. The tattoos were spectacularly successful. But that’s another story.)

Each time we discussed mugs I got more frustrated. So the pomposity of my argument increased. I could actually hear myself slinging the BS – but I couldn’t stop myself. I was determined that TAL offer its audience mugs with the program logo. My arguments escalated. My hyperbole flourished.

One day I trotted out a flamboyant sermonette, nearly claiming coffee mugs are the hinge on which the future of public radio swings. Ira chuckled. Expressed continuing skepticism. Told me to go to my room.

SURPRISE!! A week later he called back. Said he been thinking it over. Wanted to hear more about mugs. Why did I think they were so important?

The trap was sprung. The conversation resumed.

IRA: Hey, John, I have the whole TAL staff  sitting here. We’re on speaker phone. They want to hear what you’ve been saying about coffee mug premiums. Tell all of us why we need a mug for This American Life, OK?

This was my chance. I took the bait. Puffing up my chest I went on an oratorical roll, spouting fulsome nonsense about the righteous glory of coffee mugs in the world of public radio.

The TAL staff responded with applause and laughter. Laughter? My comments were completely serious. Maybe a little effusive, but serious nonetheless.

Then Ira went in for the kill!

He explained that they had been recording my comments. NOW he was willing to authorize a TAL mug. FINALLY!

But he would give his OK only if my explanation of Mug Power – the nonsense they had just recorded – was imprinted on the mug!

That’s how the TAL Amulet Mug was born 13 years ago. It has been a huge fundraising success.  As Ira predicted back then, during fundraisers  stations throughout the country would have a great time mocking me and my fatuous assertions. Then, using my idiot statement as a springboard, they discussed how  mugs mean so much to the pubradio audience and how those mugs help brand the programs and the stations they love and support.

For 13 years station on-air talent and listeners did as Ira Glass predicted.  The broadcasters mocked me. The audience contributed.  The Amulet Mug was, and is, a great success. Now it’s your turn to laugh. Below is a photo of the quote imprinted on the Amulet Mug. I actually did say that:












4 thoughts on “Nonprofit Branding: This American Life Amulet Mug (My Version, by John Burke)

  1. I remember well that conference call with Ira and TAL staff on speaker phone. And John’s raging pomposity. What I can’t believe is that it took place 13 years ago. Wow.

  2. My daughter broke mine (and it was my favorite mug), and I want to replace it so badly. Know where I can find one?

    Send me your home address. I think I saw a few ramaiining mugs in the warehouse. If the staff can dig one up, we will send it as a freebie.

    John Burke

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *