I read a research paper by Douglas Holt about advertising and Postmodernism. Holt's takes us through how Postmodern brands by appearing not to care if people bought their products, influenced a whole lot of people to spend.
A good visual example is the 90s Kate Moss ads - there's a clear disinterest for whatever brand she might be wearing. You can sense her apathy, even after the possible three way interlude (with two equally apathetic looking lads).
So, with a skepticism of the "hard sell" rampantly high, brands appearing disinterested were by default seen as more authentic. This is call the "anti-branding" branding and is still very much used today.
Gladly we can thank Kate (not God - he's dead) and the overuse of "anti-branding" for making this technique cliche. So instead of pointing to a brand's authenticity - it makes them look fake.
Why a new strategy?
Apparently we're in the post-postmodern paradigm so advertisers really need a new set of tools. We're also in the era of social media, allowing just about anyone that hits the right social nerve to be heard by a very large uncontrollable audience. This has created a forced transparency on organizations.
The good news for business is there are options:
- Embrace and potentially capitalize on it
- Curl up, shut the door and wait for it all to go away (although it could be a very long wait)
Choose to embrace?
Holt points to the "citizen brand" - that finds social authenticity by actively contributing to society. This is not just about our brands being accountable, but about how much they contribute on a social, cultural or even creative level - becoming a new measure of a brand's authenticity.
The interesting thing is it's actually a very powerful way to create attention, brand advocacy and a lot of sales. There's a couple of recent inspiring TED talks that illustrate this point well.
The power of uplifting stage-change
This is explained well by David Logan's ideas on tribal leadership. He spends a lot of time figuring out how key decisions are being made in corporate environments. Things get done based on the belief systems of groups that Logan calls "tribes". He breaks these belief systems into 5 stages from a "life sucks" angst to a free minded value-orientated "life is great" enthusiasm.
When a tribe moves closer to "life is great" this inspires direct action and an abundance of creativity, innovation and results such as exponential sales. When tribes move towards "life sucks", stagnation and fear-based environments persist. Tribal leaders direct the tribe and are agents of stage change. Here uplifting is not about overdosing on positivity, but expanding beliefs systems that inspire action, energy and produce prosperity.
The economy of experience
I'm typing on a computer and you're probably looking at one now. This couch I'm sitting on and this TV in front of me - all manufactured with a particular human intent in mind - to provide entertainment, comfort, shelter etc. etc. The fact that the majority of things that make up our modern lives are so manufactured, it's no wonder there's a market for authentic experiences.
So, in an over-saturated market, our experience differentiates one brand's offering from countless others. Joseph Pine talks about this in terms of company's achieving the "real real" - true to themselves and are what they say they are. This is how a company creates experiences of authenticity for consumers. Put in another way, when a brand's offering takes our mundane, everyday experiences and transforms it to something else, something renewing or inspiring - not only does it stand out but we're more than willing to pay top dollar for.
What if a company created highly differentiated brand experiences that brings people to a "life is great" mentality? Brand advocacy would shoot through the roof and so would profits.
Say this brand's offering is authentic (true to itself) wouldn't it's marketing need to reflect this (are what they say they are)? So the "real real" marketing practice would also need to be creating transformative (stage-changing) experiences.
Free transformative experiences
From the consumers side, marketing is free (it comes out of the company's pocket) and if that company's marketing is creating transformative experiences, an interesting thing happens - people start seeking marketing. There's no push with this style of marketing - it's all pull and that makes a lot of sense because it's uplifting, transforming and free!
What about the bottom line?
I subscribe to a lot of "internet guru" emails who seem to love talking about "the law of reciprocity". It's basic premise is this: when you give something of value, you'll receive not only equal value but a lot more. Others call it "positive guilt" - I get a lot of cool stuff from you for free, so I'll soon feel obliged to give back and even show my appreciation for your kindness by giving more.
So if the advertising and marketing becomes about creating highly differentiated stage-changing experiences for consumers, we might even see the situation where brand advocates "fund" such marketing experiences by buying the product/s.
Who's already moving in this direction?
I'm just going to pull a few from my very short term memory but there's a lot brands putting "experience" at the forefront of their marketing. Stage-changing might not be at the forefront of these campaigns, but uplifting generally would be.
- Volkswagen, Fun theory - replaced every day items fun versions of the same in a cityscape - to test the idea that fun changes the way we do things
- McDonald's, Inner child - created a large scale McDonald's children's playground for adults in a cityscape
- Coke, Open happiness - Non branded music video celebrating happiness - connection to Coke only found after an internet search
- TED, Ideas that spread - the whole uplifting experience is what TED is all about: bringing together multidiciplinary thought leadership in one forum. It's "free" marketing is really the free content available online.
Some more WHAT IFs?
Potential ideas that came to mind while writing this.
- An international brand creates a social media run competition inviting budding documentary film-makers to mark-out a virtual (global-reaching) logo and share doco-stories about people and places on the way (could be a Guinness Book of Records contender - biggest logo).
- Some sort of telecommunications brand creates a tree style (3D) browsing connection application - see who is near you that likes the same thing - combines mobile phone positioning technology with social media connections and your various interests / associations
- A software brand creates user nurtured virtual tree ("The Self Tree") as an mobile app that grows in relation to a user's daily goals and intentions. Users can interact and see their trees in a virtual forest of others
- An information brand creates a social media voting space that enables people to tweet-vote on a policy by policy basis - about understanding the pulse of the people to affect change
- A youth brand via a Facebook application enables users to build virtual artworks that identify themselves / groups - like a virtual graffiti tagging that could appear through online spaces or in virtual worlds like Second Life
- A charity brand donates $1 for every 10 tweets that uses the brand name and a unique uplifting tagline
- A major global brand social crowd sources everyone needed to produce a full-blown movie around an uplifting theme
- A digital brand creates a dedicated online space for an impoverished person (i.e. homeless), so rather than begging for change that person gives printed flyers with a web address where people can hear his / her story - hopes / dreams / struggles and donate via Paypal (changing lives through digital!)
That paper by Douglas B Holt can be found here: http://www.lombard-media.lu/pdf/0308_brands.pdf