Why the Greatest Brand Ambassadors are 'Punching In'

Alex Frankel Goes Undercover to See How Commercial Giants Win the Hearts of Front-Line Employees (or Don't)

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Our uniforms say a lot about us. They indicate where we work, and often hint at what company culture is like behind closed doors. (Heck, with the way we at Bookstore dress it up, you'd be quick to mistake the Ad Age newsroom for an Armani runway; alas, it's not...by a long shot.) I wondered how much could be said of biz journalist Alex Frankel after hearing he eagerly donned five uniforms in just two years as an experiment to figure out what drives brand loyalty, from consumers and employees alike.

The story that results -- shared from Frankel's experiences inside a green apron at Starbucks, brown shirt and shorts for UPS, a car salesman get-up for Enterprise Rent-a-Car, khakis at Gap and Apple's plain black tee -- yields surprising truths about how to better empower front-line employees with corporate values.

Frankel's writing is candid and constructive; not one of the five companies profiled escapes criticism of its management or training styles. ("After just three days on the job, I began to dread punching in," Frankel writes of the boredom that ultimately consumes him at Gap.) It's juicy, investigative journalism in the style of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle"...minus all that contaminated beef.

I won't say where Frankel ends up happiest -- or what he learns about himself as a team player (hint: he's not) -- but I guarantee you'll appreciate playing passenger in his cross-country quest for a genuine business culture. There's a bit of soul-searching here for everyone.