Archive for October, 2008

elvis-blondIf there’s one thing that everyone in this business seems to agree on, it’s that the old ways are dead. Pushing up daisies. Gone Elvis. No breakfast forever.

Every trade mag has at least one article per issue proclaiming this. Not that anyone seems to be proposing a new model, except to say that it’s going to be different, Yep, that’s for sure. Mighty, mighty…different.

Really, people, is that the best we can do? I am so disappointed.

Admittedly, predicting the future is a chump’s game. But I think we owe it to our clients, to our employees, and to our own sense of pride as professionals to take a shot at proposing a new model of branding.



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There’s a reason I love reading Grant McCracken beyond the fact that the man can write. Or the fact that he’s an anthropologist studying pop culture and branding. Or the fact that he’s been on Oprah. It’s because he so obviously relishes dashing our old and dear mental constructs against the rocks of the present moment.

As he does so nicely in his blog posting about the Microsoft answer to the Mac campaign – the “I’m A PC” campaign. Being an old member myself of the avant-garde (specifically the post-Beat post-modern post-Language Poets school of poetry in San Francisco), reading that distinctions such as avant-garde and bougeoise are no longer valid is both jolting and liberating. Wow. So that’s what I did when I took a job in advertising back in 1988. I was fragmenting, not going over to the dark side. Phew.

Dichotomy. Oh that the world were still so simple.

Mr. McCracken’s writings have had a significant impact on our thinking about building Brand Cultures. Although, as an anthropologist he might hate that we borrowed the anthropological concept of “culture” as a metaphor for building a brand. I don’t know. But his take on this business, and human kind, is always illuminating and inspiring.

– Doug

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If you’ve been on any consumer trends blog lately, the latest buzz word for brands is authenticity. Whether it’s packaged as sincerity, approachability, or transparency – it’s all the rage. Perhaps you know this, unless you’ve been living under your anti-brand rock (I can say that – I live in the anti-brand capital of the US – Portland, Oregon). Ironically, though, the anti-brand movement probably shows us the best examples of what ‘authenticity’ really means for a brand in real time.

So why bring this up when nearly every branding firm has been blogging about this for upwards of a year now? Consumer confidence at an all time low, credit crisis blah blah – brands don’t have time to deal with issues of authenticity. Right? Wrong.

Read more of this trend.


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Given my recent (minor) mishap with a motorcycle I’ve had a fair amount of time to contemplate scabs. (The owie-kind, not the labor relations kind.) Watching them form and then slowly go away, I had a small epiphany about branding firms.

My conclusion is that branding firms, as we know them today, are essentially scabs.

How are scabs born? Well, you start with healthy skin. Add trauma, in the form of friction against asphalt or a 360 pound motorcycle falling on your leg, and the skin is, um, disturbed. Eventually a scab forms over the site of the trauma. Bingo. You now have a tent of dead cells under which the living cells are busy replicating themselves and making something new.

And that’s how it is with traditional branding firms. At one time, they were healthy skin. They were alive and working, and their model of branding was quite adequate. Then trauma arrived in the form of change – change in how people relate to brands, change in how brands function, change in the marketplace, etc.

Ouch. That hurt. At that point the branding firms of today became shields of inert headbandage1protective matter while beneath them living cells began to reproduce themselves. As the skin heals, the old dead scab becomes less and less vital and is eventually sloughed off to reveal the shiny new skin.

Now, if the big established branding firms like Interbrand, FutureBrand, Landor, and Siegel and Gale decided to reinvent themselves after the trauma of change, they would be the new, living and therefore vital skin, not the scab. They could have used the trauma to transform themselves. But they didn’t.

Not too long ago Dennis talked to a veteran strategist in New York who has worked at several of the big branding firms. She said she was bored. The tools, she said, the thinking, and the methodology of branding was completely interchangeable among the big shops. They were all performing the same old studies, using the same old tired language, and making the same old recommendations. You could put any one of their logos at the tops of the deliverables and no one would notice. She was looking for something new.

Her experience is confirmed by the work we see from these firms.

That’s why we’re not a branding firm. At least not as defined by the current branding firms. We understand what they do, we know how they do it, and it’s no longer sufficient. The world is demanding something new. So for the past few years we’ve been bringing together people from the four main disciplines – interactive, advertising, design, and, yes, branding – to make a different kind of agency.

We’re the busy little cells under the big brown tent. And that’s how we like it.

– Doug

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This article from AdAge, New Dunkin’ Spots Say Chain Beats Starbucks on Taste, caught my eye today so I decided to check it out. Basically, this story reports that Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee tastes better than Starbucks, according to an “independent taste test” the company commissioned. Dunkin’ Donuts has decided to exploit this “strategy” in an advertising campaign by running TV spots and a microsite called dunkinbeatstarbucks.com. Down with the man, and up with the people. Hurrah.

In our white paper, Give Them Something to Believe In: The Value of Brand Culture, we talk about how the old model of brand image is dead and that the new model of branding is based on values that drive a company’s every action and communication. Maybe the folks at Hill Holliday who created the campaign didn’t read our paper. Or maybe they are too busy discussing how they are “Rethinking Marketing” on their blog, which seems to be fancy talk for how to sell more advertising. In any event, this campaign reeks of the same old tired ad-driven approach. And a taste test no less! Is this the best you could do?

Instead, maybe Dunkin’ Donuts should be focusing more on what it really stands for as a brand, and then building a culture around it for its employees and its fans (of which it has many). But no, they’d rather run ads that focus on product features (e.g., the taste of the coffee) which frankly nobody cares about that much anyway. People are going to get their coffee at the place that aligns with their own personal values, not because the advertising tells them which one is better. Is that how you decide where to buy your coffee? I didn’t think so.

And if you think what I’m saying is nonsense, then let’s look at the numbers. Dunkin’ outspends Starbucks by $69M per year in measured media, has been in business 21 more years than Starbucks, but generates $4.4B in revenue per year LESS than Starbucks. Yes, that’s Billion folks. So who has the better game plan? It’s time to wake up people and find a better way. It’s out there—are you looking?


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As I sat through a lively group of architects, artists, industrial designers, and craftsman argue the virtues and vices of the furniture design industry the other night as part of SHOWPDX, I was struck by the fact that we are witnessing within product design, and perhaps other disciplines in general, a discord – perhaps discords of sorts – the discord between those that create as an expression (and call themselves artists), and those that create for someone else and someone else’s purpose (we’ll call this person a designer as a defacto term). Add into the mix the notion of mass production and industrial manufacturing and it all goes to hell in a handbasket very quickly. But why is that?

Perhaps the discord has always existed, perhaps it is exacerbated more now, than ever in our DYI/penny-

Meyer May House Dining Room

Meyer May House Dining Room

pinching economy. As an architect of training myself, I have felt the discord ever since architecture school when we were told that architects were ‘master craftsmen’. We were taught to create according to the principles of design – balance, unity, rhythm, emphasis, proportion. Frank Lloyd Wright was the epitome of total craftsman – even dictating what his clients should wear and eat on in their own dining rooms. He was accused at times of sneaking back into his clients’ homes and (re) arranging the furniture.

But what happened to the person that has to occupy that beauty? At what level does personal expression dictate how someone else has to live, feel, or think?  What do you think the Meyer May family felt when they woke up to find their furniture re-arranged? (Hopefully they know what they signed up with Wright – his reputation as a control freak often proceeded him).

I think there’s a choice that is made when you set out to make something – be it a chair, a space, a painting, a whatever. It is either for yourself with your needs/agenda in mind, or it’s on the behalf of someone else’s

Karim Rashid

Karim Rashid

needs and agenda. Neither is ‘selling out’. In fact, I would like to do away with that term all together.  But the choice should be a conscious one. And knowing when either is appropriate, is all the more important. When rallying against the market for not accepting your ‘art,’ I think we need to remember again its purpose. Neither are bad. But there is something to be said for working with the tide, rather than against it. In fact, I think Karim Rashid has a poetic way of talking about this. Someone who, at first glance, can easily be perceived as a blobitecture artist. But back to the hot button issue of manufacturing – he has chosen to understand its constraints (or freedoms), and work with them rather than against them:

Today poetic design is based on a plethora of complex criteria: human experience, social behaviors, global, economic and political issues, physical and mental interaction, form, vision, and a rigorous understanding and desire for contemporary culture. Manufacturing is based on another collective group of criteria: capital investment, market share, production ease, dissemination, growth, distribution, maintenance, service, performance, quality, ecological issues and sustainability. The combination of these factors shape our objects, inform our forms, our physical space, visual culture and our contemporary human experience. These quantitative constructs shape business, identity, brand and value. This is the business of beauty. (Karim Rashid)


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Check out the newest trend, ‘The New Equation for Small’ on the Trends Page:   https://idology.wordpress.com/trends/

Americans are finally downsizing. I think it still remains to be seen as an across the board trend, but I have been seen encouraging signs that the days of the McMansion are coming to an end. As we become more conscious of the spaces we occupy and the energy we consume, I think the notion of quality over quantity may be hitting the mainstream. Or at least I am encouraged by the signs of a potential tipping point.


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