From Fargo to the World of Brands: My Story So Far


David Aaker

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David Aaker has become the guru of brand strategy with his impact research, twelve books, hundred-plus articles, consulting, and speaking. From Fargo to the World of Brands details the intellectual journey that led to a focus on brands—with stops in marketing models, market research, advertising management, emotional advertising, and business strategy—and chronicles his attempts to influence management practices. It provides a profile of academic life, the story of a brand consulting company, and a description of the rich experience associated with his second professional home in Japan.

This warmhearted autobiography also describes Aaker’s personal life—growing up in the Midwest in the ’40s and ’50s, his roots, how a Fargo boy over his head survived at MIT and Stanford, his entrepreneurial failure, his passions and relationships, and how the Aaker family evolved over forty years.


I wrote this book for two reasons. First, the exercise was a good chance to relive some good times and some difficult times, an excuse to talk to people that have been important to me at one time or another, and a reason to review the many picture albums and files that have been gathering dust. The journey has been awesome. I recommend it to anyone.

Second, I wanted my children and their children and perhaps others that have crossed my path from Fargo to the “World of Brands” to have a record of what happened to me and why. What was it like to develop a career, to experience events, to see a family grow, and to enjoy friendships in the times and places in which I lived? What people crossed my path? I know that I would have appreciated such documentation from those that came before me. It is a bit sad to think that all those events, emotions, opinions, and relationships will so soon be lost to posterity.

I have four concerns. One is that others will feel that I am presumptuous to think that my life story is of interest and worth writing, and that reflecting on the good things that have come my way will appear as bragging rather than telling a balanced story. A second relates to the discomfort in sharing my life in such detail, sanitized though the story may be. A third is that there are a host of people important in my life whose photos and even names do not appear because I forgot some details or was missing some information or a photo. I’m afraid they will make the wrong attribution to this omission. A final concern is that that no one will read the book because they do not know it exists or, worse, they have no interest. At the end of the day, the book went forward despite these concerns.

The book covers everything. It is not limited to a period or a particular part of my life such as my professional background or my family life. It addresses questions like:

  • What was it like growing up in the Midwest in the ’40s and ’50s?
  • Who were the Aakers going back two generations? What did they do and value? How did they influence me?
  • How did a Fargo boy in over his head survive at MIT and Stanford?
  • How did three highly qualified entrepreneurs fail? Why was failure a good thing?
  • What is an academic life like? What processes and people populate it?
  • How did my academic research stream evolve toward the study of brands? Why did portions of my research lack impact?
  • What were the drivers that led to new research directions or to impactful work?
  • Who were the five key Aaker coauthors and what were their roles?
  • Why is academic research interesting, even fascinating?
  • What is life as a public speaker and author like? What are my eight speaker rules?
  • What is it like to have a second professional home in Japan?
  • What is Prophet, and what role do I play in growing this small consulting company?
  • How did the Aaker family with three daughters evolve over forty years?
  • What were the activities, the lifestyles, and the relationships that represented those forty years?
  • What makes a good friend, and what are the characteristics of a successful marriage partner (according to Dave Aaker)?

I have tried wherever possible to provide not only detailed descriptions of activities, events, and people with anecdotes to illustrate and inform, but also the associated feelings. I wanted, where possible, to get beneath description and offer insight into who I am, why I did what I did, the passions that motivated me, and the nature of the relationships that I developed.


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