This week we're talking about product endorsements. When I am rich and famous (tick, tick, tick), I'll be happy to sign up with the fine folks at Ovaltine, because, in a way, I've already advertised for them.
There's an abandoned Ovaltine factory not far from where I grew up. We used to pass it when we road our bicycles on a path that runs out west, and there was a smokestack that rose above the trees that we could see sometimes from our town. I heard some strange stories about what was going on inside the factory when I was in high school (think of interesting forms of trespassing), but all I ever saw of it were the broken windows that faced the street on the occasions I drove by.
Two years ago, when I was selling my house and looking for a place where I could live for a year until I decided what I wanted to do long term, I decided to go back to apartment living. After a week or so of looking, I ended up at the site of the Ovaltine factory. Someone had finally bought the land and developed the property. They kept the original factory building and converted it to lofts, and built a series of new apartment buildings around it. The complex was built so that the smokestack was in the middle of site.
Every address at the place was "Ovaltine Court." Over the course of the year that I lived there, I don't recall a single time that I gave someone my address and they did not make a comment about Ovaltine.
This might be a good time to mention that I have actually never had a glass of Ovaltine, and probably never will.
However, living at the old Ovaltine site meant I could sneak around and discover the secrets of the chocolate drink. You may recall the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry mentors another comedian who's tag line becomes "Why don't they call it Roundtine? The jar isn't an oval..."
Well, it wasn't supposed to be "Ovaltine" either...(this is privileged information, but I didn't give the folks at Ovaltine Court a forwarding address, so what the heck.)
Back in the early 1900's, a Norwegian by the name of Hagar Handzenpocketz lived with his wife Helga (of course) and their young son in the wilderness of Scandinavia. They lived in a cabin and survived by hunting in the forest, and fishing the waters that flowed through the fjords. One day Hagar sent his son, Olav, to the fjord to fish.
Olav was gone for a while, but when he returned he had more cod than Hagar had ever seen. This meant that they would have more food than normal for the winter. To reward him for being such a fine fisherman, Hagar told his son that he would let him prepare the lutefisk. This was a tremendous honor for the boy, as Norwegian custom generally called for a boy to make the family lutefisk only after he had grown into manhood. Olav had just turned seven, but Hagar was confident.
Soon Olav had taken the cod, placed it in a large tub and soaked it in the lye, where it would sit for at least two weeks. When two weeks were up, Olav and his father went to check on its progress. As soon as the entered the small cabin where the lutefisk was prepared, Hagar knew something was wrong-he smelled nothing. Normally when the lutefisk was ready, Hagar could smell it almost from his own cabin. When they checked the tub they saw that Olav had used way too much lye. The caustic substance had dissolved the cod to nothing more than a powder.
Olav was crushed, but Hagar said it was not anything to worry about. There was plenty more cod for them to eat, the lutefisk was for the holidays. This year, they'd just go without. Meanwhile, there were other things to do. Hagar and Olav were so busy with other chores that they forgot to ever clean the tub.
The following spring, when Hagar went to milk his goats, he was blessed with a great deal more than he normally received from the animals. There was so much milk that he needed an extra place to store some of it. He remembered that the lutefisk cabin; since there had been no lutefisk made, there would be no smell. He could store as much milk there as he wanted.
Hagar was a busy man, so he carried many pails of milk with him. When he entered the cabin, he slipped on some old lingonberries that were left on the floor and dropped the pails into the tub. The milk filled up most of the tub, and aside from his anger Hagar wondered why the milk was turning gray. Then he remembered-no one had cleaned out the tub since Olav's failed attempt at making lutefisk.
Hagar looked at the tub. His first thought was that the milk mixing with the powdered cod must taste awful. His next thought reminded him that he was a naturally curious man. He took an empty cup on a shelf above the tub and filled it up.
"When in Oslo..." he said to himself.
Hagar took a drink and couldn't believe it. He had just tasted the best thing he had ever drank, better than the beer his cousin brought him that was brewed from rotten shark in Iceland. His son had made a perfect drink of lutefisk. It was smooth, creamy and rich. Hagar went and got Helga and Olav, and they spent the rest of the afternoon drinking and celebrating Olav's inadvertent discovery.
Hagar had always been a forward-thinking Norwegian, and he soon had a plan. He would market this drink to the rest of the Nordic world, and he would name it after his son. Hagar soon had hundreds of jars of product, and the only thing left to do was come up with a label. Once that was done, Hagar could ship his product off and become a rich man. But Hagar had no way of creating such a thing, so one day he took his inventory and went into town to visit with a man who had the capabilities of printing labels.
Hagar made it clear that the product was to be called "Olav-nite", which would translate to "Superior lutefisk drink created by Olav." The printer told Hagar he could come back in a week and his product would be ready to ship.
Hagar did just that. On the trip in he dreamed of the places he would be able to see now that he and his family were going to be wealthy, and best of all he would always be reminded of his only son, who created the drink. Hagar was excited beyond words when he arrived at the shop and started to load his inventory. After setting the first box down, he opened it and took out a jar.
The label said "Oval-tine." Every jar in every box had the same label. The gentleman had printed all the labels wrong. How could he have made such a mistake?
It was only after the first shipment sold through that Hagar discovered the problem. Next year, when Hagar asked the printer for "Olav-nite" he again received jar after jar of "Oval-tine." Furious, Hagar confronted the printer, who confessed that he was afflicted with a rare condition, Nordic dyslexia, in which pairs of consonants are frequently reversed.
The second batch sold briskly as well, and demand was so high for "oval-tine" that Hagar knew he couldn't change the name. If his marketing degree he received from the University of Tromso had taught him anything, it was you don't change the name of a popular new product.
Hagar and his family lived happily ever after. He sold the rights to oval-tine shortly after Olav grew up, and he retired to the Faroe Islands with Helga. He spent the rest of his day unaware that his drink had crossed the ocean, become popular in the States and was manufactured close to where I grew up.
So there. Thanks to those of you who stayed awake until the end.