The Ritualization of Buying

Really great soundbite from Design Anthropologist, Dori Tunrstall taken from the book Brand Thinking.  The book is a sort of compilation of interviews with leading thinkers across a wide variety of fields about their thoughts on branding and design.  Dori’s comments on the ritualization of buying were of most interest to me:

We almost always used “things” as a way to identify ourselves and to identify others. Let’s start with the human body. In traditional cultures, the art of tattooing was about social coding. A certain number of tattoos meant you’ve been married. Another number of tattoos meant that you’ve had children. This many tattoos meant that you’ve killed a lion.

Nowadays, we have a tremendous emphasis on dress and makeup and in our rituals of buying. I use the word “rituals” very specifically. But our rituals of consumption are no longer as satisfactory to us … because they are empty of human relationships.

There was recently a wonderful study done on garage sales. When people go to a garage sale to buy something, they actually feel very satisfied about the interaction. Most of the time, it’s because the object they buy comes with a story—a very real, personal story about where the object fit into someone’s life.

Whether it’s real or not, you connect with that person through the object. So when you take the object, your purchase of it is more satisfactory. Whereas right now, when you go now to a store, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on branding that tells authentic stories in order to … sell more stuff.

Dori’s last part about the derivation of meaning through purchases is supported by Rob Walker’s Significant Objects experiment performed a few years back.  In it, he purchased a number of thrift store trinkets for an average of $1.25 each.

Those objects were then listed on eBay, but in place of the item description he included a short fictional story about the object written by one of numerous professional writers. Some of the stories described the objects role in a crime or historical event, others about their role in rituals or as good luck charms, etc.

In the end, the objects sold for a total of over $8,000, signifying the importance of story and, by extension, meaning, in the purchase experience.

[via Brainpickings]


Levi’s Acts As If…


You may be familiar with the Levi’s Archives.  If not, I’ll give you a quick run down.  Essentially, it’s a meticulously maintained collection of artifacts from Levi’s 150 year history.  The collection was built from the ground up by Lynn Downey a historian and apparent icon among denim fans, and now contains a significant array of garments, posters, photos and more.

Among some of the noteworthy elements in the collection, as mentioned by Levi’s, are:

  • The XX, the oldest pair of 501 jeans in the world, dating back to 1879
  • Denim jackets redesigned and decorated by Elton John, Queen Latifah, Yves St. Laurent, Elizabeth Taylor and more
  • A jacket and pair of jeans signed by The Rolling Stones
  • Letters to Levi’s from Cary Grant, Henry Kissinger, Clint Eastwood, Lady Bird Johnson and silent-movie cowboy William S. Hart

I love that Levi’s invests in preserving it’s own history.  The act serves to solify the brand’s place in our historical and popular culture. But, even more than that, I am reminded of the old catchphrase “act as if”, which encourages us to carry ourselves as if we have already achieved the thing we are pursuing and that orientation alone will help to get us there.

Although, Levi’s is already the most iconic denim company in the world, they’re treating their products as treasures worthy of preservation, a sort of record of the evolution of fashion, as it pertains to jeans.  This simple act elevates their product to new levels in the eyes of their fans. Where most brands are merely purveyors, Levi’s has evolved to become collectors and even protectors of their specialty. Well done.

Selectivism recently received a look at some of the collectibles.  Check it out here.

[Image via Selectivism]

The New American Superstar

Gone are the days of trying to Be Like Mike.  The connectivity brought forth by the digital age has removed the protective veil that once insulated and propped up the athletes of old to super-human status. But, with or without new media technologies the perceived level to which we vaulted athletes in our mind, was doomed to collapse.

And bit by bit, it did.  For years, we’ve witnessed downfall after downfall, from Ron Artest climbing into the stands to attack fans to Elin Nordgren chasing Tiger down with his own golf club, hilarity and irony so extreme they borderline on the poetic.  Over the years we’ve seen too many lapses in character that media and brands can no longer use sponsorships and commercial spots to sell us the primped, primed and overly-engineered identity of yesterday’s athlete.  It’s not new and it’s not believable anymore.

This progression reached an inflection point in 2010, when LeBron James announced that he was going to play for the Miami Heat on a live television special.  The event was so significant it is now known only as The Decision.  Nearly three years later, James is still working to regain his credibility among sports fans.

And, while I used to think the root of fan frustrations came from the fact that LeBron renounced the humble, hard-working city of Cleveland for the tan skinned, botox-injected fakeness of Miami, a dynamic that now occurs regularly in sports, I now realize it boiled down to something else.  What we hated was the seriousness and over-inflated air of importance that this event conveyed about LeBron.  So, important you need a TV special to tell the world who you’re going to play for next year?! Fans went berserk and everyone overlooked the fact that the ad dollars from the :30 minute program raised over $2 million for Boys and Girls Clubs.

Today’s athlete must be willing to explore another approach if he or she wants to reach the mountain top of endorsement dollars.  I’ll elaborate.  Thanks to the creative minds of Madison Avenue and the wild success of campaigns like Old Spice’s Man Your Man Could Smell Like, advertisers are heading in a new direction with their use of celebrity talent.  Instead of the super-serious, “you want to be like me” commercial spots of old, they’ve taken the athlete’s already over-inflated ego and boosted it further to the point of comedy.

Simply put, today’s athlete makes his fame through commercial spots that enhance or underscore his peculiarities and insecurities.  No one likes a person who takes themselves too seriously.  LeBron learned this the hard way. 

But, we do like people, and especially athletes, who have no problem laughing at themselves.  Remarkable commercial spots are now achieving this with some regularity.  Some going so far as to become popular culture in and of themselves as evidenced by the Cliff Paul Statefarm spots (below).

All of these commercials are fantastic. I light up each time a new one comes out that progresses the narrative forward. But, on the flip side, it’s also somewhat sad to think about the fact that athletes have fallen to a more human level in our lives. Once immortalized as hero’s, they’re now just entertainers.

Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches


The latest iteration of Dove’s Real Beauty campaign is marketing at its best: honest, insightful and artfully delivered.

The Underground Library

The Underground Library from Keri Tan on Vimeo.

[via Miami Ad School blog]

The World’s Fastest Agency

Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 3.40.29 PM

Interesting concept.  About them:

World’s Fastest Agency is a new kind of marketing and communications agency.

From briefing to a creative solution within 24 hours, WFA helps time-pressured clients keep pace with the lightning fast 24/7 global media and social culture.

Clients can say goodbye to 100-page PowerPoint decks, meetings, weeks of fee negotiation, countless emails, more meetings, lunch, meetings, scope of work to-ing and fro-ing, meetings, more emails, Q&A sessions, tissue meetings, inaudible conference call, pitch, feedback, feedback on the feedback, re-briefing, re-pitching, another meeting, more feedback, focus groups, another meeting, more emails….

Check em’ out.

Why Isn’t Netflix Social?


Netflix has received a lot of good press lately due, in part, to the success of it’s newly released original series House of Cards.  It’s created a solid first season for the show and will only continue to build it’s credibility for original programming with the highly-anticipated release of Arrested Development this spring.  Publications across the web are predicting what the brand’s success will mean for the future of television and whether it can truly become a leader of the medium’s emerging “Golden Age.”

All of this is interesting commentary, but what I find myself more curious about is why Netflix still doesn’t have any social functionality integrated into it’s site.  This only recently dawned on me when a colleague and I were sharing movie recommendations with one another in conversation (ha, god forbid).  Regardless, one has to believe that some level of social functionality is on it’s way, and this gives us with an opportunity to discuss the evolution of the web experience and how Netflix could provide greater benefit to it’s customers while extending it’s reach.

The consumer behavior trends are there. Watching television, especially marquee programming is becoming more social by the minute.  Watching the Super Bowl, a Presidential debate or just your favorite show with your Twitter feed in tow adds a new dimension to the experience – more insights, more humor, more well-rounded experience. But, that’s just part of it, networks like FX go as far as to create live programming, like Talking Dead, in which actors discuss the shows you just watched, guiding conversation with the greater public through hashtags while allowing viewers to ask questions, and post comments, addressed in real time.

All of this is well beyond where Netflix currently sits with it’s user experience.  We use the service in a vacuum, oblivious to what our friends are watching and deprived of their reactions and preferences.  But, that’s not all. Despite the service’s highly detailed survey which can be used to narrow down user’s film preferences, it, unlike Facebook, has no idea what bands I love, how I spend my free time, what social issues I’m most concerned about, etc., all of which is data that could be leveraged to enhance the user experience through better recommendations.

If this doesn’t seem like a big deal, think about how much influence your current Netflix recommendations have over what you watch.  In my case very little, although they certainly improve with time.  But, what if the system could actually incorporate more salient data about what you’re reading, what links you’re sharing, or classes you’re taking in school?  It could actually start to generate recommendations based on more timely interests and fascinations and with it become a highly trusted source for what to watch next, at which point Netflix would become indispensable to it’s subscribers.  For more on this specific topic, see a previous post I wrote about the Rise of the Personal Assistant.

All of that aside, the main point here is that Netflix is behind in the social realm.  When the web first came about (and before Facebook) users traveled from page to page in relative isolation.  Now, (and largely because of Facebook) when we travel throughout the internet we carry tons of our personal information, preferences and interests with us.  But it doesn’t end there, we also bring all of our friends and their interests with us as well, hence the social web.

Take Etsy’s social shopping experience which allows shoppers to use Facebook Connect to incorporate the interests from their friends profiles, be it samurai films, classic cars, or Sesame Street to populate super relevant gift recommendations.  It transforms the Etsy shopping experience, making it much faster and more enjoyable to shop for others. If you haven’t tried it, do it.

It’s easy to see the benefit that Netflix could gain from incorporating this type of social framework into it’s site; the recommendations could become more precise and timely, I could connect with my friends to explore their preferences (the ultimate influencers in our lives), and perhaps most importantly, Netflix could grow from the outwardly-focused sharing behavior that would inevitably result.

The question isn’t when they’ll do it, its how well.

[Image via Mashable]

This is What a Really Good Social Media Strategy Looks Like

Wolff Olins: A Model For Social Value

A Wolff Olins post today by the Head of New Thinking, Robert Jones, touched on something I’m thinking a lot about lately, actually in preparation for the AdMap Prize Essay Contest. This year’s topic is: Can brands maximize profits and be a force for social good? Jones lays some solid ground work:

We all know brands create huge commercial value – which places like Interbrand try to put a dollar value on. And we can imagine the chain of cause and effect that creates the value.

But can we do the same for social value?

If commercial value is a product of short-term (profit) and long-term (growth prospects), can we think about social value in the same kind of way? As the product of short-term happiness and long-term sustainability?

Jones does a great job of illustrating the rationale behind commercial and social growth:

Wolff Olins blog, A Model For Social Value,  Dec. 7, 2012

Wolff Olins blog, A Model For Social Value, Dec. 7, 2012

However, the area that we really need to be looking at is the potential relationships between the two. In other words, how does one feed the other and vice versa?

More to come. Enjoy your weekend.

Introducing The Lincoln Motor Company…

Optimism, non-conformity, unwavering belief in what’s possible, and re-birth are all themes that arise in this spot from the Lincoln Motor Company. The groundwork for this re-invented brand has successfully been laid. Their first new product, the MKZ, is special in many ways.

But, of equal importance, and evident through this spot, is the fact that the company has gone to painstaking lengths to uncover it’s reason for being, while translating that into a mantra for automotive design.

At times, the imagery in this commercial spot leaves something to be desired, but it doesn’t matter because the narration strikes a powerful chord, that reminds us of what it means to lead a life of purpose and meaning.

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