Archive for September, 2009

The current issue of Package Goods magazine has a nice article on our designs for Integrity Spirits and features 12 Bridges Gin on the cover.


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I couldn’t sleep last night, so I started reading the ancient Greek philosopher, Parmenides.



My sense is that Parmenides represents a part of the Western business mind that has been lost.

In his preface the translator, Stanley Lombardo, says ” Men like…Parmenides…did not distinguish science from poetry or religious experience from philosophical understanding. They represent an older cultural type – in many ways they resemble Siberian and American Indian shamans – that disappeared from the Greek world in the classical period…”

Lombardo goes on to characterize the work of Parmenides, which reports of a visit and conversation with The Goddess (to the ancient Greeks, she was very real and very serious stuff), as proposing that “the universe and our minds form a mutually committed whole.”

Yep, that’s the major takeaway from his surviving fragments of writing. Parmenides was describing a picture of the world and how to act in it. It’s a very simple perception. Yet it forms the core of some of the most enduring belief systems humans have created. The universe is all a unity.

When Socrates was a young boy he actually met Parmenides and described him as “a man towards whom one feels reverence tinged with awe.” It struck me, reading his work last night, that the strength of Parmenides is his simplicity. As Western philosophy advanced, it got far more complicated, but it didn’t necessarily get any wiser.

It seems the shamans, visionaries, or, as they have become in the last thousand years, the artists, have been

A scapula used in divining

A scapula used in divining

more and more marginalized from our society as a whole over time. Today we call them the “creative class.” It used to be, in Inuit cultures, that when the hunting party couldn’t find the caribou, no matter how hard they looked, the shaman would throw a caribou shoulder blade (scapula) into the fire, pull it out, and read the cracks in the bone. It’s called scapulimancy. He would then tell the hunting party where to hunt next, no matter how little sense it made to the hunters. Often the shaman was right.

As my beloved Intro to Cultural Anthropology professor revealed, what was really needed at that moment was a significant change up in how the team was thinking. If they kept hunting where they expected to find caribou, the whole community would starve. The shaman helped them get beyond their own rational minds and try hunting in a new place.

Business, over the last several hundred years, has lost that kind of thinking. Business has (and I’m not the first to say this) homogenized itself so that it’s a bunch of really bright, really rational people talking to each other in the same language with the same ideas. But the most creative minds are not included. What business can deny that? All the alternative thinkers get separated out back in high school and college. The future business leaders essentially tell them they can take their weird selves and go form a band or wrap a building in fabric or something.

Much to our mutual loss. Because the business conversation today needs some radical, quantum leaping, right brained shaman-type artistic philosopher thinkers. It needs creative minds. And, mostly, if those people have gone into business they have gone to advertising and design and interactive agencies. Yet they’ve mainly been trained to create campaigns, not to solve sticky, complex business problems.

LEHMAN/CAPITALIf business had the advice of someone like Parmenides, would so many of them have managed to completely lose their moral bearings and disregard consequences the way they have? If people who intuit the complex interconnectedness of the world had been integrated into leadership, would so many inexcusable actions have been taken with so many people hurt in the name of a quick profit? Would so many businesses be so out of touch, as they are today, with everything Western Civilization has held dear since its inception?

The Parmenides of today is working in the truly adventurous agencies, the ones which are bringing together all the disciplines to create a powerful problem-solving organization that thrives on teamwork and collective intelligence. These are the people business needs to round out their mind, and they’re already here and ready to go to work. But the clients need to ask them to solve more than just the question of what the next campaign should be. And the agencies need to train their people to be brilliant on behalf of any problem, not just brilliant at advertising.

Bob Schmetterer talked about this in his book Leap: A Revolution in Creative Business Strategy. Essentially he talks about the need for advertising agencies to win a seat in the board room. And to do that, they have to generate creative business ideas. Various agencies are moving more toward that model. We’ve been doing so for the last several years here at ID Branding. But it’s all still quite new. And it is vital, in so many ways, that this new model succeed. Because it’s more than the repatriation of a resource. It’s a healing of the Western business mind. A unification, once again, of the rational and the creative.

– Doug

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So here’s something I’ve learned in a new way recently. It’s that we, the advertising, branding, design and interactive firms of the world, are being re-valued by our clients every day. It’s like there’s a stock ticker inside the client’s head and the numbers are constantly going up and down.

transvestiteNot that clients haven’t always evaluated us, but it used to happen over much longer intervals. Once or twice a year rather than constantly.

I’ve seen two Portland agencies shut their doors in the past year, both of which had been around for decades. And I think I see another one teetering on the brink.  Many others have cut back employees or cut back pay.

Heck, we’ve all had our scares recently. But I think the problem is some agencies are assuming they’re offering value to their clients when, in the client’s head, maybe they were yesterday, but not today.

It can be very unsettling to embrace doubt and self-questioning. It’s one of the great paradoxes of this business – that we must act boldly and confidently and yet we must constantly wonder if we could be doing things differently.

An agency can go from attracting millions of dollars in revenue one year to closed down the next. And, (more…)

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A quick scroll to the bottom of the today’s AdFreak blog found me actually paying attention to a banner ad. As you can see from the adjacent image, Kleenex® Tissue has embarked on a polite campaign to protect the sanctity of their registered trademark name. The legal department over at Kimberly-Clark Corporation is apparently going through some late-blooming self esteem meltdown after decades of “Kleenex” becoming a generic word for all soft paper-based manual wiping apparatuses. The jpeg for the ad even had a ‘TM’ in the filename. Legally awesome.

This is not exactly a hard-hitting attempt to Take Back Our Name. I assume it’s targeted towards the industry and the press, all of us horribly guilty of dropping the “Kleenex” brand name as often as we can just to impress our peers and score free drinks. After spending two intense seconds on their site educating myself to be one o their Trademark Ambassadors, (http://www.kleenex.com/NA/About/Brand-Trademark.aspx) I was sold. Every mention of trademarked names in print and conversation should be accompanied by a circle ‘R’ lest the Republic turn to ash.

But as I moved on to other pages I also thought they might want to spend a little more time looking inward. Maybe some less provocative copy in the nav bar might help.


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TalentSteals_logoThank you, Deborah Morrison of the University of Oregon’s advertising and journalism program, for pointing me towards this paper called “Logocentrism: Brands as Modern Myths,” by Faris Yakob, who is obviously a kindred soul and long lost brother of ID Branding’s. Read his blog posting and then click on the download link at the bottom to get the whole thing.

His insights and instincts around the anthropological significance and role of brands today very nicely dovetail with our thinking on Brand Culture. Nice thinking, Faris.

– Doug

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