A Thought on Brands and Culture

I read Grant McCracken’s latest Harvard Business Review article, called Cool and the Corporation.  Insightful and thought-provoking as always from Grant.

In a nutshell, Grant explains how brands are now in the business of making culture, by creating meaning and experiences among other things for their customers.  However, brands are often unable to create culture without pulling from existing ideas, aesthetics, music, sensibilities, trends, styles, etc.  In short, they have to borrow to build.  The new VW “punch buggy” ad from Deutsche/LA is an example of a brand paying homage to the culture from which it has borrowed from (read his post first hand for more on the details).  In short, creativity comes from others creativity and VW/Deutsche is, as Grant says, acknowledging their debt to those that came before them.  The progression then is from a “cool hunter” model where brands steal culture to the “rebroadcast” model which is more about borrowing and paying homage.

So, this article got me thinking, why is this change occurring?  Is it something about brands themselves or the progression of our culture that’s creating this seemingly conscientious transition?  The answer, I think, lies in the fact that brands must become more transparent about acknowledging their influences as a means to more effectively tell their story to consumers.  The VW ad is a very small example, akin to hitting a single into right field in my opinion.

So, what’s the home run look like?

My first thought (usually my best), went to the Reebok Classics Collective, also dubbed “We R Classic.”  It’s essentially a site dedicated to short interviews, documentaries and performances from musicians, artists and dancers regarding the process and untold stories behind their work.  More than that, it’s a fantastic example of a brand not only acknowledging the culture that its based upon, but also creating something that actively contributes, builds upon or gives back to that culture.  But, again, it’s really a means of drawing connections between themselves and consumers who share a passion for these same pieces of culture.

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