6 months ago

The story behind the creation of YellaWood’s iconic Yella Fella character and campaign

In 2004, audiences were taken back to a time reminiscent of television in the 1950s — when cowboys ruled the airwaves and there was a good guy to save the day. That was the thematic inspiration for YellaWood’s Yella Fella when he was introduced in a commercial called “Bad Bart.”

Over time, the Yella Fella caught on, and the YellaWood® marketing team expanded on the idea, eventually creating four seasons of cliffhangers, patterned after the old Hopalong Cassidy shorts that used to play in theaters. When the Yella Fella serials launched in 2008, television audiences were greeted by the Grand Ole Opry members Riders in the Sky, a Grammy-winning quartet of singing cowboys intoning these lyrics:

Here he comes sittin’ high in the saddle,
Rightin’ wrongs wherever he can.
A man of the West in a hat and vest
Yella Fella, what a man.
On the mighty steed named Lemon Drop
He can ride like the Western wind.
Whoopin’ villians it’s a fact
‘Til they won’t come back
Yella Fella, yup, that’s him.

It was quite a turn from the previous ad campaigns that focused on college football and basketball coaches or just Jimmy Rane, the company’s founder and CEO, extolling the virtues of Osmose Pressure Treated Pine and the little yellow tag. In fact, a year and a half before the Yella Fella commercials even launched, it occurred to the marketing team at Great Southern Wood that, while successful, their advertising was putting a lot of effort into promoting the brand of “Osmose,” the name of the company that manufactured the preservatives, perhaps even more than the company that was providing the treated lumber, Great Southern Wood. It was becoming obvious that it was the yellow tag and the color yellow consumers were recalling at the moment they made a purchase.

“Jimmy was spending a lot of money to promote the Osmose brand, which he didn’t own,” noted Slats Slaton, creative director at The Slaton Agency. “Although the commercials created a backdoor demand for lumber treated by Great Southern, the timing was right to explore the creation of a brand name that the company would own outright.”

“We had talked for years about creating our own brand,” remembered Chief Marketing Officer James Riley. “We would still use the Osmose preservatives, but instead of promoting Osmose, we’d promote our own brand of pressure-treated pine. It seemed like if there was ever going to be time to do it, this was it.”

Fortunately, thanks to the strong partnership built over the previous 30 years, Great Southern’s decision to drop the mention of Osmose in its advertising did not damage the relationship between the two companies. In fact, even though Osmose had trademarked the “little yellow tag,” it assigned all rights to Great Southern so their advertising could continue to focus on the distinctive yellow tag. Because color is often the first thing consumers remember when it comes to brands, it was logical to not only center the advertising on the yellow tags, but to go one step further and rename the product, too.

The task of creating a new name for the brand fell on Slaton Agency copywriter Leon Barwick. He came up with a list of potential names, which was eventually culled down to five or six. In focus groups, YellaWood received the most positive comments. “It was affirming to hear each of the focus group participants speak of it like it was already a household name,” Slaton said. The new YellaWood name worked perfectly with Great Southern’s “little yellow tag” and made it easy to continue using yellow in future commercials. As an added bonus, the new treatment formula left the wood with a more natural yellow finish.

The unique spelling of “Yella” also had a natural link to the company, Slaton noted. “The spelling was relaxed, the name rolled off the tongue easily, and it was entirely Southern, which was fitting for Great Southern Wood and Southern Yellow Pine. It was a perfect transition. There was almost instant brand recognition because of the focus on yellow in the previous ads.”

By now, though, everyone agreed the “Jimmy” character used in the coaches’ commercials had run its course. It was up to Slaton to come up with a new concept in time for the 2004 advertising season. His goal was to create a single commercial direction that could run in all markets, rather than creating a different spot for each college football sponsorship, as had been done in the past. Slaton first presented a paintball-centered concept before moving on to an ad featuring a cowboy. “I knew Jimmy was a cowboy fan, and his eyes lit up when I started talking about it. I don’t remember if we even got to the third idea.” Slaton remembered.

Thus began “The Tales of the Yella Fella” series and a new chapter in Great Southern Wood Preserving advertising. “I envisioned shooting the spots at the old stockyard in Abbeville,” Slaton remembered. “But Jimmy said, ‘If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right!’ And suddenly, we’re going out West to an old movie ranch.” Despite the new location, Jimmy was determined to keep his old team together, again enlisting Norton Dill with Birmingham, Alabama-based Dill Productions to shoot and direct the spots. “Until we started doing the cowboy commercials, Jimmy always had his thumb on the budget,” recalled Dill, who suggested shooting the new ads at Gammons Gulch in Arizona. Located north of Benson, Gammons Gulch is, for all practical purposes, a small western town with numerous historic buildings, not storefronts. The new location gave the commercials an authenticity they wouldn’t otherwise have. But, according to Dill, it was something else that made the location especially appealing. “I think what really cinched the deal were the owners of Gammons Gulch — Jay and Joanne Gammons. Jay is the son of John Gammons, who was John Wayne’s bodyguard, and Jimmy is a huge John Wayne fan.”

The cowboy Slats Slaton created was to be nothing like the Duke or any of the other Western actors that were so popular during the 1950s and ‘60s that Jimmy grew up admiring. “I envisioned the character to have a comedic flavor and put him in a yellow cowboy suit,” Slaton admitted. “We had a guy in Atlanta design the original costume, which was intentionally ridiculous with fancy chaps and all kinds of yellow fringe.”

While Jimmy was “still playing a sort of a goofball” in the initial Western spots, according to Dill, that began to change. According to Slaton, little by little, the comedic lines he’d written for “a cowboy in a yellow cowboy suit” were being delivered by Jimmy Rane in a manner more like the real cowboys from Jimmy’s childhood — more like John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Dale Robertson, and later, Clint Eastwood. The transition was accompanied by slight changes in the Yella Fella costume. Jimmy started adding brown to the outfit. “The more brown he wore, the more like these other actors he became,” Slaton recalled. “He single-handedly changed that character into someone who displayed the values of the Old West. The character went from a funny man to a western hero. The new Yella Fella was to be taken seriously. He was loved by many because he stood for justice and all that was good and true.”

(YellaWood)

The transformation was complete by 2005 when “Someone’s in the Kitchen” aired. Unlike the other Old West commercials, “Someone’s in the Kitchen” was shot in black and white in Abbeville. Rather than fighting bad guys, the Yella Fella appears in a 1950s-era kitchen at breakfast time to counsel a young brother and sister about character, civic duty and other moral obligations.

In addition to altering his character, Jimmy had even bigger changes in mind when it was time to shoot ads for the 2008–2009 season. Instead of making standalone spots, he wanted a continuing series with a cliffhanger at the end of each spot. “The idea of cliffhangers was Jimmy’s,” confirmed Dill. “I think it dated back to his childhood days at the movies when they’d show serials before the main feature. Hopalong Cassidy would be in the middle of some crisis at the end, and you’d have to come back the next week to see if he survived.”

The new spots were again shot out West, this time in Arizona, Utah and Monument Valley, near the Arizona-Utah border. “Monument Valley has special meaning for Jimmy because John Ford shot so many of his movies there. Monument Valley is iconic,” said Dill. “There’s no place like it, and it just says ‘Old West’ because it remains mostly untouched.”

Before shooting began, the Great Southern team stopped in Wyoming, where Jimmy purchased Yella Fella’s horse, Lemon Drop. Funny enough, Lemon Drop’s real name was Duke.

Jimmy’s wife, Angela, who had appeared in three earlier ads, was a reluctant co-star for several 2009 commercials. In the first two, she was an extra, but for the third, she took a more active role, portraying the surprised mother in “Someone’s in the Kitchen.” Angela was pressed into service a fourth time when the actress hired to portray “the lady on the stagecoach” became ill the morning of the shoot. “I told Jimmy, ‘I’ll do the commercial if you promise I will not have to say anything.’ That’s why my character only nods and makes gestures.”

In 2010, commercial production was moved to the Bonanza Creek movie ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Like the old Westerns that inspired them, the cliffhangers celebrated good triumphing over evil and emphasized the values of honesty and integrity. Launched during a period of tough economic times which began in 2007, the campaign was designed to lift the spirits of viewers in addition to promoting the benefits of YellaWood.

“At the time, there was doom and gloom about the economy,” Jimmy noted. “People were just downright depressed. We set out to create something that would be both entertaining and encouraging—and to do something that you don’t often see done with advertising. We wanted to reinforce the values that made America great and the Old West so significant. The Code of the West is all about principles like honesty, service, integrity, patriotism, strong work ethic, loyalty and family.”

Courtesy of YellaStories ,which is commemorating the 50th anniversary of Great Southern Wood, one of Alabama’s legendary business successes.

2 hours ago

Barry Moore lands Trump endorsement in AL-02 following Oval Office visit

Former State Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise) on Wednesday visited with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the Oval Office.

After the meeting, Trump tweeted his endorsement of Moore’s Republican campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives in Alabama’s Second Congressional District.

Trump wrote that Moore will be “will be a terrific Congressman for Alabama.”

The president noted that Moore was an earlier endorser of his campaign in the 2016 cycle, adding that Moore “is Strong on Jobs, Life, the Wall, Law & Order and the Second Amendment.”

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“I’m truly honored to be endorsed for Congress by President Donald J. Trump. I have never regretted being the first elected official in America to endorse him for President in 2015, and I’m looking forward to working with him in the next Congress during his second term,” Moore said in a statement.

“President Trump has already accomplished so much and kept so many of his Campaign promises despite all that the Establishment and the Democrats have done to obstruct him, but he knows there’s still lots to be done,” he continued. “We must contain and control the COVID pandemic, restore our economy to the pre-pandemic level of growth and prosperity we enjoyed during his first three years in office. We must restore and maintain law and order on our streets and in our cities. We must finish building the wall, and then fix our broken immigration system.”

Moore outlined, “We had great meetings at the White House with the President’s Domestic Policy team. Larry Kudlow, Director of the National Economic Council was also there. We discussed a new Healthcare plan being introduced, economic recovery, trade with China, and expansion of opportunity zones in depressed areas. The President has a bright vision for America.”

“I’m convinced that Donald J. Trump is the President we need to lead us for the next four years, and I hope the people of Alabama’s 2nd District see fit to elect me to work with President Trump as their Congressman on November 3rd,” he concluded.

Moore will face Democrat Phyllis Harvey-Hall on November 3.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Jerry Carl visits White House, gets endorsed by President Trump in AL-01

Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl, the Republican nominee in Alabama’s First Congressional District, on Wednesday visited the White House and met in the Oval Office with President Donald J. Trump.

“It was an incredible honor to spend over half an hour in the Oval Office with President Trump and Vice President Pence today,” Carl said in a statement to Yellowhammer News.

After the visit, Trump in a tweet endorsed Carl for the Southwest Alabama congressional seat.

“He Loves our Veterans, Stands for Law & Order, and is Strong on Jobs and the Second Amendment. Jerry has my Complete and Total Endorsement!” Trump wrote.

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“The President is focused not only on his own race, but also on down ballot races nationwide,” Carl told Yellowhammer News. “He cares about the people of Alabama, and we had a good conversation about issues that are affecting Alabama’s 1st District.”

“I’m looking forward to working with President Trump to address some of these critical issues – stopping the spread of socialism, supporting our law enforcement, and getting our economy back on track,” he concluded. “Thank you, President Trump!”

Carl will face Democrat James Averhart on November 3.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

5 hours ago

Sara Evans is a 2020 Woman of Impact

One of country music’s most popular artists of the 21st century, Sara Evans, has adopted Alabama as her own, and she is not slowing down.

Earlier in 2020, Evans released a new album, “Copy That,” where she covers 13 classic songs, and published a new memoir, Born to Fly.

She came to the Yellowhammer State after marrying former University of Alabama quarterback Jay Barker in 2008. They now make their home in the Birmingham area along with their seven children.

The singer performs and releases music under the name Sara Evans, which is how Yellowhammer News is referring to her for the purposes of this article. Evans does not shy away from her married name; just in 2019, she released a six-track EP titled “The Barker Family Band” which featured herself, her son Avery and daughter Olivia.

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Evans was born and raised outside of a small town in Missouri and began her lifelong connection with music at age four. She had recorded her first CD and was attending country music events by the age of 9 or 10, according to a 2011 interview.

Aspiring to a career in music, she moved to Nashville in 1991 and worked as a waitress while trying to find her big break.

“Three Chords and The Truth” and “No Place That Far,” Evans’ first two albums, were released in 1997 and 1998 respectively. They earned the artist solid reviews from critics but did not make a big impact on the charts.

“If I’m going to have the career I came to Nashville to find,” she told a newspaper at the time. “I’ve got to get on the radio and give today’s fans what they want.”

“Born to Fly,” the album that resulted from this change in sound, achieved everything Evans aimed to accomplish. The Recording Industry Association of America has certified it as double platinum; meaning it has sold over 2 million copies. Singles “Born to Fly” and “I Could Not Ask for More” placed first and second on the U.S. Country charts.

After the breakthrough success, Evans never left the country charts for very long over the next decade; buoyed by singles like “Suds in the Bucket” and “A Little Bit Stronger.”

Evans’ albums “Restless,” “Real Fine Place,” and “A Little Bit Stronger” are certified platinum and five more albums by Evans are certified gold.

She won Top Female Vocalist at the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2006.

Her five most popular songs available on the music streaming service Spotify have been played a combined 101,997,937 times.

Jerry Sharpe, a music writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, described Evans as having a “a strong, spring-water clear voice, which she uses well.”

Evans met her now-husband when they were both in their 30s with kids. They were introduced by Joe Beam, a Christian speaker that focuses on love and marriage who knew them both previously.

“One defining moment was, I made the decision to walk into my office and email Jay Barker and say, ‘Hey, so-and-so told me that I should reach out to you. I want you to know that I’m praying for you, and I’m sorry for everything that you’ve been through,” Evans recounted to music website The Boot.

Barker was the starting quarterback on the Crimson Tide’s 1992 championship-winning team, and at the time when he and Evans connected they had both recently gone through painful divorces.

“He emailed me back within five minutes, and that was definitely a defining moment,” she added.

Evans brought three children to the new family, while Barker brought four.

“Our house is full of children and activities and chaos, but Jay is such a great support to me,” Evans told The Boot about her husband, who hosts a sports talk show in Birmingham.

Radio play by country music stations is dominated by male artists and programmed by male deejays, something that has frustrated Evans in recent years.

She has become an outspoken advocate for more women in country music and voices her opinions on the subject with regularity.

Evans has appeared at events and spoken up for the organization Change the Conversation that aims to gain more representation for women in country music.

“The lack of voices heard on country radio affect not only those who are making music, but those listening as well. Music plays a powerful role in shaping our popular culture. Today’s music does not reflect who we are as a country and sends the wrong message to our girls and women. Too often, country songs portray women as a pretty ornament on the passenger side. It is time to reclaim a woman’s place in the driver’s seat,” the organization says on its website.

Evans has remarked that for her most recent original studio work, the album “Words” released in 2017, she placed a greater emphasis on including female producers and songwriters to give their careers a boost.

At a Change the Conversation event in 2017, Evans said, “When I first got my record deal, women were dominating country radio. We had Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood, Lee Ann Womack, LeAnn Rimes, Shania Twain, Patty Loveless and on and on. I was fortunate enough to join that group of amazing women.”

“[W]e need to change the conversation and figure out why it is not that way anymore. Why are there not enough women on country radio? Women artists are amazing and they have so much great music that we want to hear and we need to hear, so let’s change the conversation,” she urged.

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Sara Evans a 2020 Woman of Impact.

Editor’s note: Yellowhammer Multimedia recently announced the third annual Women of Impact Awards. Honorees are being featured on Yellowhammer News each weekday through October 1. We will tell their stories one-by-one, utilizing written and video formats. Check back daily for more of Alabama’s best and brightest.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

6 hours ago

Baldwin County residents throw parade for linemen amid recovery heroics

Southwest Alabama residents are celebrating the heroic linemen and support personnel who have traveled from across the country to restore utility services following Hurricane Sally last week.

WKRG reported that Fairhope residents on Tuesday night held a short parade downtown to express their appreciation for the power crews.

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The parade reportedly featured bucket trucks honking, with linemen inside waving, to those residents who took their time to line Section Street.

Alabama Power Company has restored power to its service area as of Sunday night, and Energy Institute of Alabama members continue to lead the charge restoring service to Baldwin County electric cooperative members, which was hardest hit by the slow-moving category 2 hurricane.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 hours ago

Shadowy web of 20 ‘news’ sites operating in Alabama, tied to national network that invented quotes, bylines

A shadowy group of websites masquerading as local news agencies has been launched ahead of November’s high-stakes general election.

An investigation by Yellowhammer News uncovered the existence of “Yellowhammer Times,” which purports to be a statewide news organization intended “to provide objective, data-driven information without political bias.” The site’s “people” section, where one would expect its employees to be listed, is blank.

“We provide 100% original reporting, including to share as much data as possible from government and other publicly available sources,” the site claims. “We also provide a platform for all citizens whose views on issues are rarely heard. If you want a voice in your community, we want to hear from you.”

The website is admittedly owned and operated by Metric Media LLC and its parent Metric Media Foundation, a Missouri-based entity just granted 501(c)(3) nonprofit status last year. Publicly available data shows that Metric Media has not yet revealed having any assets, income or revenue through mandatory IRS filings. This means that at this point in time, the organization is effectively operating as a dark money group.

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Metric Media has a glitzy website that asserts, “Metric Media is funded by donations and grants from contributors who care about restoring local news in their communities.”

The website does list a three-person board of directors, which is reportedly chaired by San Francisco-based Rakesh Donthineni. The other named directors are Victor Chen of Los Angeles and Brent Southwell of Houston. Chen formerly worked for then-Beijing TV China, an entity of Beijing Media Network — which is owned and operated by the Chinese government, otherwise known as the Chinese Communist Party.

Metric Media’s explicit presence in Alabama does not stop at the statewide Yellowhammer Times. The bottom of this website links to 18 more sites, all appearing to be local or regional news agencies across the state. These publications are identical in format to Yellowhammer Times and are as follows: Auburn Times, Baldwin Times, Decatur Times, East Central Alabama News, Gadsden Today, Huntsville Leader, Jefferson Reporter, Mobile Courant, NE Alabama News, NW Alabama News, North Birmingham Times, River Region Times, Shoals Today, South Alabama Times, South Birmingham Times, Tuscaloosa Leader, West Central Alabama News and Wiregrass Times.

Publicly available domain information shows that these sites were all registered in May of this year.

That same month, Yellowhammer Times published its first “original story,” which was about COVID-19 related liability issues. The author is listed as a “T.H. Lawrence.”

Almost every story posted since then has been a completely automated story, mainly using RSS feeds to populate the stories on the site. This includes republishing press releases from Governor Kay Ivey, Alabama State University and the University of Alabama. The automated stories also include a lot of identical templates that simply display federal government-released data.

In all, Yellowhammer Times as of Wednesday at noon hosted more than 2,300 stories on the site — with only two listing a human author. The automated stories name “Metric Media News Service” or other entities such as “Locality Labs News Service” as the author.

One short story about lost Alabama tax revenue related to the pandemic simply does not list an author.

The second story to actually list an author, Juliette Fairley, advocated in July to fully reopen the economy and return students to school in the fall. This story was based on exclusive quotes from Alabama-based John Chamberlain, board chairman for Citizen Health. Citizen Health advocates for subscription-based medical services and disrupting the healthcare industry.

Yellowhammer News dug into the two authors listed on the site. Fairley is a national freelance author specializing in finance, while T.H. Lawrence’s name popped up across several sites in Metric Media’s network of more than 1,000 sites nationwide.

Yellowhammer News’ investigation also uncovered that T.H. Lawrence is indeed Tom Lawrence, a career journalist from South Dakota who was once executive editor of the state’s Black Hills Pioneer. He is now a freelance writer and blogger, appearing in local publications (under his real name) such as the Dakota Free Press, American News and South Dakota Standard. He also has his own blog, the Prairie Perspective. It should be noted that American News is owned by national conglomerate Gannett.

Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) in December 2019 published an in-depth investigative report that revealed some disturbing findings about Metric Media and its related entities, including Locality Labs. The investigation concluded that the network can be traced back to Illinois-based businessman and conservative activist Brian Timpone.

CJR was able to find at least 450 sites, all linked, operating under the banners of Metric Media, Locality Labs, Franklin Archer, the Record Inc. and Local Government Information Services. The entities at times — while being aimed at different states — shared IP addresses, Google Analytics IDs and other technical identifiers. Since December, the network has more than doubled in size, according to Metric Media’s own website.

CJR further traced Locality Lab’s origin story. The entity was once known as Timpone’s company “Journatic.” Journatic had to rebrand in 2013 following a national scandal over “faking bylines and quotes, and for plagiarism,” per CJR.

The CJR report followed a story published in October 2019 by a Michigan paper about Metric Media’s network that had popped up in that state. More local and national reporting followed, including by the New York Times and Guardian.

Yellowhammer Times republishes stories from other named entities in this Metric Media web, as well. For example, the publication ran a story from Empire State Today of New York.

This also includes another Alabama-focused site not directly linked at the bottom of Yellowhammer Times. Alabama Business Daily stories are republished on the site, and CJR previously reported there is an identical entity curated by Metric Media in each state. Yellowhammer News found that Alabama Business Daily’s domain was registered in February 2018.

With the 2020 election rapidly approaching, the existence of this network of sites in Alabama should raise alarm bells across the state.

Alabama was already besieged in the 2017 special election cycle by “Project Birmingham,” which utilized “Russian tactics” by Democratic operatives to aid the campaign of then-Democratic nominee Doug Jones.

Alabamians will hope that this type of disinformation campaign is not repeated this time around through Metric Media or its sister entities.

Secretary of State John H. Merrill has previously warned residents to arm themselves with the truth and to be wary of unknown sources spread on social media, especially.

“It is of paramount importance that the 4.8 million people who make up our state are informed with up-to-date, complete, and accurate information,” Merill has said in a statement. “All election-related information should come directly from our website or from your local election official. We are your trusted source for information related to the elections process.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn