Bonfyres of vanities: the pitfalls of a cultural Fyre-Sale

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The great thing about the Fyre festival documentary (Netflix version) is that it works on so many levels. I think it’s a must-watch for anyone in the creative industry, media and the entrepreneur/VC space. Spheres of influence where realities are constructed and promoted, often with little regard to consequence. Let it be our cautionary tale.

Liar, liar pants on Fyre!

On a surface level, there’s the story of the epic disaster itself — a fractal-shaped clusterfuck of clusterfucks.

Early on, as a viewer, even if you had no awareness of the news story at the time, you think you know what’s coming because you know the premise. Well, guess again because it gets more and more extreme and peculiar –twist upon twist. It’s one of the things that make it such a weirdly enjoyable film to watch. I don’t want to drop any spoilers, but two moments that left me picking up my jaw off the floor were around the toxic ethos of ‘taking one for the team’ and the inevitable ‘force majeure’. More on those later. Continue reading

Has Gillette made a mistake? Marketing meets politics

So apparently some men out there are throwing their toys out of the pram because of Gillette’s ‘The Best Men Can Be’ advert.

Gillette dares to suggest the rising awareness of toxic masculinity, and its harm is an opportunity for growth. Perhaps (GASP!) for change, or even a commitment worth making. That’s just too much, man!

However, some men are raging, because, you know, #notallmen.

So let’s sort this thing out first, shall we? THEN we can discuss whether it’s sensible marketing… Continue reading

Ideas, meaning, purpose and fluff: when brand strategy goes wrong

(This is an archive find and one of my few longer pieces. I wrote it just before leaving Landor back in 2011 and later edited it with the help of Frances Gordon. It’s seeing the light of day for the first time and I believe it is still relevant. Hell, every project is a Déjà vu…)

Mission, worldview, vision, values, personality, role, insight, opportunity, story… Has your brand strategy proliferated so much that it’s hard to see the wood from the trees? If so, you’re not alone. Read this article to understand how it’s happened, why it’s happened, and what you can do about it.

Smart and succinct brand language is proven successful

Most celebrated brands find their articulation through simple phrases: Apple has “Think different”; GE has “Imagination at work”; Sony has “Make.Believe.   Google’s mission statement is simply “to organise the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful’’.

While corporations may have more detailed versions internally, it is these surprisingly short phrases that are most often cited as best practice by marketers and most often admired by everyone else. Because once the fundamental creed of a brand is identified, very little strategic language is necessary. So instead of focusing on endless wording and rewording, corporations can focus on taking action to make their strategies live.

‘’Brand language” plays a greater role than that of a slogan. These words become central to the ethos of the brand. These short statements serve to rally together internal and external communities of a corporation. At its best, this “strategic language” gives communities focused, lucid creeds that have clear strategic imperatives and imply real-world action.

But if smart and succinct wording is recognised as best practice for brand strategies, why – more often than not – do we see reams of overcomplicated text used to articulate what should be a clear concept? Continue reading

Made in Provenance: global brands and the second coming of origin stories

4291-Paul-Smith-sale(Originally published on The Crossed Cow)

Where do great brands come from? Iconic brands often seem like they’ve always been great. That myth is propagated by both companies and agencies. It’s the branding equivalent of the dying myth that success stories come from nowhere and are largely led by individuals rather than by communities.  An often overlooked part of the answer is hidden in plain sight within the question: Where?

One of the earliest roles of a brand was to signify origin. To this day, provenance plays a vital role in many brand narratives. In categories, such as food, fashion and pretty much anything with a design angle, provenance is always a fundamental ingredient these brands use to engage with consumers and position themselves among their peers. When it comes to Italian Gelato, French Champagne (from Champagne, naturally), Savile Row suits etc., provenance is used as shorthand for the authenticity and heritage that product heralds.

It’s tempting (but naïve) to think that in a globally networked market the question of origin is no longer as important as it once was. However, with people having more access than ever imagined to information about brands, it has arguably become even more important. It can still signify quality, authenticity and character but additionally, it now relates to new selection drivers such as environmental sustainability, social responsibility and ideological compatibility.

The global, cosmopolitan consumer may still seek out the international superstar brands, but these brands are successful because their provenance equity is built in. Globalisation is actually one of the main drivers of the importance of provenance. Continue reading

Marketing plots: the usual suspects (and two ways to beat them)

Judge me by my size do you?

This is a story about advocacy and rigid leadership-sets.
It begins with a seemingly simple question:
Why do “the usual suspects” keep winning?

“The usual suspects” is a marketing pattern/plot familiar to anyone in the venture capital business:
1. The best venture capital funds get more chances to invest in the best startups.
2. The best startups have better chances to making big exits with big multipliers.
3. Having the best exits further cements a fund’s reputation as being among the best.
4. Repeat.

A virtuous or vicious cycle, depending on a VC’s rank.

A similar dynamic will be found within engineering:
1.The best engineering firms will get a disproportionate amount of opportunities to tender for bigger, better, higher profile projects.
2. High profile projects draw more attention to their best of breed work.
3. Having best of breed high-profile projects further establishes them as an industry leader.
4. Repeat.

How about universities?
1. The best universities are/have the first choice of the best students and faculty.
2. The best students and faculty are mutually drawn to each other.
3. The work/results/success perpetuates the university’s status as among the best.
4. It stays up in the rankings/league tables year after year. (The closer you get to the top of rankings the less movement you will find from year to year).

The usual suspects plot is especially common in professional services and large B2B businesses. Notable categories are legal services (where the leader-set is known as “the magic circle”) and accounting/audit firms (“Big Four”).
Indeed, success begets success.

But what else is there?

The dynamic plotted here is the tendency of big scale advocacy-led categories to have highly rigid leader-sets.
Two questions come to mind: First, what drives this rigidity at the top? And then – What can second tier players and challenger brands do about it?

Continue reading

The 10 habits of highly creative people, applied to creative companies

You and What Army
A couple of months back, I was once again falling down the rabbit hole that is the theory of creativity. While revisiting the useful and inspiring concept of “Mental Flow” I discovered a later book by the psychologist who coined the term, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

The book Creativity : Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (previously titled: Creativity: The Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People) contains an exploration of the common personality traits of creative people. The traits are articulated as a series of ten paradoxes. Before listing them, he writes:

Of all human activities, creativity comes closest to providing the fulfillment we all hope to get in our lives. Call it full-blast living.
Creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives. Most of the things that are interesting, important, and human are the result of creativity.
What makes us different from apes–our language, values, artistic expression, scientific understanding, and technology–is the result of individual ingenuity that was recognised, rewarded, and transmitted through learning.

You’ve got to love the man, I’m sure he’d be against speculative work and 6-way creative pitches.

The list itself is delightful on its own, and will feel intuitively familiar to anyone who has an appreciation for creativity and creative people. An interesting thing, is that while going through the list you discover that the principles apply not just to creative individuals, but also to innovation and to creative companies and organisations.

So here are Csikszentmihalyi’s Ten paradoxical traits of the creative personality, translated to the the traits of creative companies.

1. Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest. Continue reading

Valve software doing what they must, because they can. For science. (and gaming, and marketing…)

Too busy to write a full post report, but here is a story told in links… To gamers, this will all be taken for granted, but many people in the creative industry are simply oblivious to what’s going on in this arena, and they shouldn’t. We should all pay real attention to this category, because it is the avant-garde of post-modern marketing.

If you have any interest in transmedia storytelling or the future of marketing, what Valve is doing as it promotes the release of Portal 2 (probably tomorrow at this pace) is simply amazing.

Links:
Portal 2: The game
The wiki of the game about the game which is played across social media, other games, podcasts, magazine websites, email, IRC … involving the gathering of clues to aid the gathering of “potatoes” required to overclock the AI antagonist of the game (=Valve releasing the game earlier). But also includes the release of branded content across the other games, new content about the game’s universe and its meta-universe (which is a version of our’s).
Which all results in this accelerated countdown to the release.

Single handily revolutionising the PC gaming industry through their Steam platform (an app store for PC games, installed on pretty much every gamer’s PC on earth) is apparently not enough.
Seriously exciting, ground-breaking and creative stuff.

Update 26/4/2011: And here is a good summary of the Portal 2 ARG by Edge Magazine.