Archive for June, 2009

On Thursday I was walking to lunch when I happened past the Ira Keller Fountain and stopped.


Originally called the Forecourt Fountain, it was created by the famous landscape architect Lawrence Halprin. I still remember when it opened in 1970. My friends and I were among the multitudes who happily splashed about in its cool cascading waters. That was part of Halprin’s radical proposition – that the fountain was meant to be actually waded in, not just politely observed.


As I looked at the fountain these 39 years after it was built, I was struck by how mesmerizing it still is. With its multiple layers and the different angles of water produced by the horizontal and vertical facets, everywhere my eye went there was something enticing and rewarding. I felt like I could stand there for another half-hour – long enough to be significantly late for my business lunch.forecourt2

How many things in the world do that?

As I tore myself away, I started thinking that brands need to aspire to be like Lawrence Halprin’s fountain. Why can’t a brand deliver meaning to the world at this level? Why can’t a brand give people something more than just the utility of its products or services?

Halprin was tasked with producing a piece of civic landscape architecture. His fountain could have been just as functional and forgettable as most, and he would have essentially earned his fees. Yet he gave something to Portland that cannot be measured in mere dollars and square footage.


Brands have the same opportunity. Whether it’s Patagonia or Apple or Ferrari or a Michael Graves teapot from Target – any number of brands have proven that a brand experience can be imbued with lasting value and meaning beyond just earning its price. It’s a matter of intention, determination, and heart.

– Doug


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Please see the groups below and join us for 1 of 3 Friendship Dinners – and no, it’s not a religious cult meeting, it’s actually a night of great conversation on your favorite subjects…and you get to try out new stuff among like-minded people. And great food and alcohol is always part of the deal.

Which group do you go to? Read the descriptions below and if it’s you, email carriem@idbranding.com

Oh, and bring a friend. They are friendship dinners after all.

Group 1 – Thursday June 18th, 6:30-9pm “Digital Music Lovers”  Aged 25-44, male or female (6 spots still open!)

  • Passionate about music
  • Makes your own playlists, share it with friends
  • Always looking for new music to try, loves to explore and discover new bands
  • Is a user of Pandora.com, last.fm, Pitchfork.com, lala.com, or similar type sites

Group 2 – Tuesday June 23rd, 6:30-9pm – “Gamer Fanatics” Aged 25-44, male or female (2 spots still open!)

  • You own an Xbox 360
  • Have an Xbox LIVE Gold Membership
  • Is a user of ign.com, gamespot.com or similar type sites
  • Plays against other gamers, friends over Xbox LIVE
  • Participates in online forums or other social media discussing gaming features, scores, latest technology
  • Passionate about music

Group 3 – Wednesday June 24th, 6:30-9pm “Techie Gadget Enthusiasts”  Aged 25-44, male or female (4 spots still open!)

  • Is a first adopters of cutting edge consumer electronics, you HAVE to have the latest
  • Know about the latest technology before anyone
  • Gizmodo.com or other “gadget” related site users
  • Participate in online forums or other social media discussing the features of devices

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Prasoon Joshi

OK, in the midst of eating my Qdoba burrito today for lunch I am putting down my fork and writing this post.

Because I just discovered I have a brother in India. In fact, all of us here at ID Branding do. Weird. We never knew it.

His name is Prasoon Joshi and he has a ridiculously long and convoluted title, but let’s just call him Executive Chairman McCann India. Close enough.

Here’s the quote that diverted my attention from a rather tasty pork burrito, no beans. He’s responding to a question about the future of the global campaign:

“Consumers are deriving their own meaning from the brand and expressing it freely. In many cases, consumers will co-create a brand – one brand will mean different things to different people. The question then emerges: is there anything in the control of the brand, or that of the market and advertiser? Yes: the core value system. The emphasis should not be so much on creating a global campaign but on the global value system of a brand.”

Yee-ha. I feel like the Stanford marching band while they were waiting their turn to play

The Stanford Marching Band

The Stanford Marching Band

at a university band showdown on Marina Green in San Francisco back in 1986. Their arch-opposites, the highly-regimented USC Trojan marching band, was performing and started playing a song which, apparently, was also in the Stanford band’s repertory.

The sidelined Stanfordites all gave out a loud hoot, jumped up, grabbed their instruments, and quietly played along with the Trojans while doing some mad synchronized movements like the Temptations on peyote.

Yeah! Nicely done, brother Prasoon. We play that song, too.

– Doug

[Note: can’t find the little article online, but he’s quoted in the June 15, 2009 print edition on page 4.]

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Happy Bloomsday.

The first edition

The first edition

The Random House edition

The Random House edition

Ogilvy's inspiration for the Man in the Hathaway Shirt?

Ogilvy's inspiration for the Man in the Hathaway Shirt?

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GM_logoThe whole way GM handles marketing would be fascinating in an academic way if it weren’t for the fact that you, me, and everyone else who pays taxes is going to suffer because of it.

If you want to weep over your own dollars, just read the AdAge interview with Mike Jackson, former GM VP of marketing and advertising talking about the internal culture and the way GM treats its agencies as vendors, not partners, and the countless levels of approval it puts work through.

Even sadder is that I’ve had relationships just like that with clients far smaller than

Mike Jackson, former GM vp

Mike Jackson, former GM vp

GM. It’s a sickness that manages to propagate itself generation after generation. Where does it come from? I mean, is this stuff taught in business school?

On the other hand, the clients we continue to seek out and work with are capable of a wholly different kind of relationship, one based on common purpose, collaborative problem solving, and a belief that creativity has a place in the conference room, as well as the board room.

I suppose you can grossly divide the business world, no matter which industries or disciplines we’re talking about, into two kinds of people: those driven by fear, and those driven by aspiration.

Thank heavens there are just enough of the latter to make this business incredibly satisfying – most of the time.

As for GM’s chances of changing its ways, read the comments under the article for some far more informed opinions than mine. It doesn’t look good, though – for them or us.

– Doug

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SkyOur thinking about Brand Culture has raised some big questions, both internally and out there in the world. New employees especially are concerned about some of the apparent implications of our new model of branding.

Fundamentally, they’re asking: does the theory of Brand Culture say that humans today are so shallow that brands and consumption are the font of our spiritual and ethical beliefs? Are we suggesting that brands have usurped religion and morality as the ultimate source and authority in people’s lives?

Whoa, scary thought! Glad you asked, we reply, because the answer is no. But the answer is far more complex than just no.

First, if there is one fundamental belief driving everything we do, it’s that people areFludd_man not shallow. They are anything but shallow. And we will neither hire employees nor work with clients who believe people are shallow.

Quite the opposite. The theory of Brand Culture comes from a belief that people are fantastically complex, rich, baffling, compelling, aspirational, and brilliant creatures.

We believe people are driven by a hunger for meaning. Provided, of course, as Maslow pointed out a long time ago, they’re not madly trying to avoid being eaten by a bear.

Here’s a provocative quote from one of our favorite anthropological articles from the book, Brand Culture.

“A brand may be viewed not solely as a sign added to products to differentiate them from competing goods, but as a semiotic engine whose function is to constantly produce meaning and values.” –Heilbrunn

TikalIf we assume that people are hungry for meaning, as evidenced in everything humankind ever builds, from towering Mayan ruins and gothic cathedrals to the elaborate ornamentation of everyday objects such as a Haida spoon, then doesn’t it make sense that the act of consumption itself would be a meaningful act?Haida_spoon

Doesn’t it make sense that if our houses and our clothing and our jewelry and our canoes and our baskets and our body ornamentation have always, since time immemorial, been expressions of our values and our beliefs, that this would carry forward to the production and consumption of such things today?

Here’s another good quote from a different article in the same book:

“In a consumer culture people no longer consume for merely functional satisfaction, but consumption becomes meaning-based, and brands are often used as symbolic resources for the construction and maintenance of identity.” –Elliott & Davies

Navajo_rugWhat Elliot and Davies are calling attention to is the change that’s occurred over all these millennia. And that involves the source of the meaning. Because an anthropologist will tell you that the culture a person was born into used to be the source of meaning. The culture used to give us our ethos (an understanding of how to act in the world) and our worldview (a picture of how the world really is). But in the post-modern era, fewer and fewer of us are given an ethos and worldview, and more and more of us are left to compose our own.

What do people compose their ethos and worldview out of? Well, it can be aTattooed_Woman combination of many symbolic systems. It can be the values we learned from our parents and family, plus the insights we choose from various religions and spiritual practices, and maybe some philosophy courses we took in college. And maybe from the novels we read, the music we listen to, the art we see, the friends we keep, the places around the world we visit, the careers we work in, the movies we watch.

These are all potential sources for composing our own ethos and worldview, and our own sense of identity. Included in that mix, today, are brands. That’s all we’re saying. Brands are just one possible source of meaning.

Which leads to a third quote, this time from a paper called . “Brands as Symbolic Resources for the Construction of Identity.”

“ The self is conceptualized in postmodernity not as a given product of a social system nor as a fixed entity which the individual can simply adopt, but as something the person actively creates, partially through consumption.” –Elliott & Wattanasuwan

apple-tattooSo our theory of brand culture proposes that today, in this current smorgassbord of beliefs and values, where people are shopping for both their values and their identity (sometimes quite literally), brands can step up and be a source of meaning. And when a person chooses to have a relationship with a brand, they are using that brand as a symbolic representation of themselves. They are using that brand to represent their own ethos and worldview.

In place of the concept of “empty consumption,” we propose that today the act of consumption is loaded with meaning and significance for people. And brands, rather than trying to manipulate people to buy their products and services, need to give people something far richer and more substantive than they have in the past.

Brands, and the experiences they provide, need to be just as meaningful as art, music, fashion, architecture, literature, religion, family, careers, friends, and all the other symbolic systems which people are using to both compose and express their values and their sense of self.

If anything, it’s brands that have been shallow, not people.

– Doug

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Laura, one of our strategists, just pointed me toward this blog posting about Brand Cutlure. The blogger is asking whether brands can be cultures or not. And whether Facebook is a culture.

I’m looking forward to reading other peoples’ responses to his questions.

– Doug

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