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OK, the sun came out yesterday. And again today. I can’t promise it’ll stay, but I think it’s actually finally summer.

Portland just had the wettest May in history and broke the record for the wettest June by the 16th of the month. We’veĀ  had no sign of summer until now.

So, with the new-found sun we finally get to post our summer reading list. And here it is:

Flipped: How Bottom-Up Co-Creation is Replacing Top-Down Innovation. John Winsor.

Just began this one, but it’s looking good already. Written by the man who started Radar Communications, which was bought in 2007 by Crispin, Porter, Bogusky. Just recently helped start the crowdsourcing agency Victors and Spoils. Promises to challenge most of what you think and know about how branding should happen. Victors and Spoils has just attracted Jon Bond (as in Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners) as an investor. These guys have something up their sleeves, and it ain’t paper flowers. A must read.

Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation. Grant McCracken.

What? You haven’t read it? What’s your problem? He’s telling corporations to hire the cultural capabilities we agencies are supposed to own. He’s describing a job most of us would want. And if you haven’t discovered the other writings of McCracken yet, or his blog, I hope you’re a professor of medieval history somewhere. (Mmmm…medieval history.) Sheesh. Get this book.

A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.

Yes, we’ve started it before, but who ever finishes it the first go-round? Or ever? But if you want to know who predicted the whole future model of branding and brands, you need to read this. Actually, you only need to read the first chapter on the Rhizome. Because it’s the second-best metaphor (after “culture“) for how brands need to act and live in this era. Benefits include looking like a mysterious post-modern philosophical type to the babes (of either gender) on the beach. Also good for crushing greenheads on Plum Island, or for swinging at Donny Deutsch to keep him away from your girlfriend in the Hamptons. Impressive tome.

Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth. Juliet Schor.

Yes, she’s an economist. But her book doesn’t read like she is. Except it’s smart. I heard her on NPR and had to pick it up. She could turn your head around about all kinds of things, especially your definition of sustainability. As in, human sustainability is connected to economic and environmental sustainability–surprise! You might just decide to work less and raise chickens as your own small way of preventing the next Gulf oil disaster (or personal disaster). Provocative indeed.

Designers Don’t Read. Austin Howe.

We’re reading this because some of us haven’t read it yet. Soon all of us will have read it. And by all of us, I’m including you. Reading Mr. Howe is like eating pots de creme. It’s absolutely delicious and over far too soon. Austin has abandoned his own people (advertising) to live with the Others (designers). Find out why. A must read for everyone going into or still slugging away in the business of branding. Each (short) chapter even tells you how many minutes it will take to read it. (Not many.) Yum.

Envisioning Information. Edward R. Tufte.

OK, it’s not his latest book, and it’s not new, but people here are reading it for a reason. I don’t know what that reason is because I haven’t read it. But Melissa, our senior strategist, highly highly recommends it. And Josh, our creative director, thinks everyone’s already read it. Is he right? (Oops, not quite.)

Livability: Stories. Jon Raymond.

Josh admits that he’s promoting the book of his co-editor of Plazm magazine, but I told him that was OK, as long as he was actually reading it, which he assured me he was. A review on Powell’s says: “These nine gorgeous stories from novelist and screenwriter Raymond find pallid Northwesterners testing the moral perimeters of their decent lives.” Beach-y, don’t you think?

Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers. Alexander Osterwalder.

This is another Melissa recommend. Josh asked if maybe putting it on our list was giving away a secret, and Melissa said No, everyone should read it. Melissa is smart, so I guess I’m going to be reading it. Sometimes I’m a Game Changer, but mostly I’m a Lyrics Changer, which drives my wife crazy. Ignore my digression and listen to Melissa.

The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage. Roger L. Martin.

I found this on Dennis’ desk. So he must be reading it. He just left for a Disneyland vacation with his family. So that might be an indicator that The Mouse and this book don’t go together. I don’t know. Looks interesting. Smells new. Got that nice, new tight binding when you lift the cover. And he’s emblazoned his name on the top of the pages with a Sharpie, so he’s committed to it. Ooh, and it’s published by Harvard. Dennis has good taste in books so that’s a recommend.

That’s it for now. Dive in, bibiophiles, and read your summer away.

– Doug

I just watched the movie Pirate Radio, with Philip Seymour Hoffman et. al. Clients, if you want to understand the commitment of creatives to great work on your behalf, watch this movie.

In it, the disc jockeys are willing to go down with the ship to keep playing rock and roll on behalf of the audience. This is a direct metaphor for how creatives feel about the work they do on your behalf.

They, like the djs in the movie, are professionals. They have devoted their lives to understanding what your audience really wants from your brand. They are the very select number of people who get it at a cellular level. They have spent their careers understanding the nuances of what is great and what is crap — just like the djs in the movie. They have gone through hell to get the training and then to work at the agencies that will allow them to hone their skills, their instincts, and their insights. They have done what doctors or lawyers or mergers and acquisition experts do to learn their craft and to become experts. They have made immense sacrifices, often in terms of significant dollars, to work at places that value their contribution, rather than work at places that just care about placating the client.

Yet so often, because what they know is not something you too can know, their expertise is dismissed. Dismissed because you, the client, don’t understand what they understand. And you shouldn’t. Because we are all called to play different roles based on our different capabilities. We cannot play each other’s roles. Because we are not all the same people.

We need each other. And we need these differences.

But no role in the branding game is more easily dismissed and belittled than the creative’s role. Because it is not a quantifiable, measureable, linear, or scientifically provable role. It is a role whose value can only be recognized through faith.

Faith that someone is really good at something we don’t understand. And faith that they are sincere, as well as skilled.

I have, in twenty years in this business, really never worked with a creative who was cynical and jaded and manipulative. I have worked almost exclusively with people who deeply cared about creating something great on behalf of the client and their brand. Why? Why have I not seen the very thing that so many clients fear — the self-serving, award-seeking, career-improving creative?

Because the truth is, creatives are the same rare creatures you see in Pirate Radio — people of immense integrity and of silly, ridiculous idealism. These are people who are willing to spin their own intestines into something meaningful and delightful. People who might, in a wartime situation, be considered ideal canon fodder because they are so idealistically committed to what they’re doing.

And so they march bravely forward, as if bullets or the north sea could not cut them down. As if what they do is important, and valuable, and really necessary. They pour their very essences into what they do. Because they know, and they are right, that this is what your audiences hope they will do.

Your audiences are dying for wonderful things from your brand. These creatives are willing to make it. And so often they are met with a cynical doubt. A cynical dismissal. A cynicism that projects itself upon these people as if they, too, must be just as cynical as you are.

Will these creatives always be right. No, not always. Will they be right more often then they’re wrong? Absolutely, especially if they’ve been informed by strong strategic insights. Will they ever be intentionally leading you down the wrong path? They’d rather die.

So, you might not go along with everything these creatives show you. But by God you’d better not doubt that they totally and completely believe in what they’re showing you. And you’d better not delude yourself that you know better what your audience wants than they do. Not if the strategic insights were strong. Not if the brief was right.

This is the one thing that, in my experience, clients do not understand. Except the good ones. And God bless the good ones. Because you’ve got a creative department that will die on your behalf. I will die on your behalf.

(There’s a literal as well as an emotional truth to this. A recent study shows that working the kind of hours creatives work leads to a 60% greater risk of heart attack.)

I hope you can start to understand this, and possibly appreciate it.

– Doug

What happens when a petroleum company claims to be green, but really isn’t? Putting solar panels on a few concept stations doesn’t offset the environmental disaster in the Gulf.

Of course for British Petroleum it is much more than an environmental disaster, this is a publicity disaster of the highest magnitude, and likely a big hit to quarterly profits.

The lesson for other brands is simple: if you market around values that you don’t have, customers will find out. And they won’t be your customers anymore. When your brand suffers a public relations snafu that exposes such a values-based hypocrisy, the negative perception will only increase exponentially.


I just noticed that my post on US Airways and the beyond-horrendous experience I had with them has attracted 2,559 visitors since it was launched one year ago today.

I like to think that my blog post might have had something to do with the failure of the attempted merger between US Airways and United. I also like to think that the 49ers only win if I watch their game on TV. And that my poo is actually platinum.

Witness, then, the power of the digital soapbox, which every human now has at his or her command. Bad experiences are not just punished in the afterlife anymore. Ka-pow, US Airways!

– Doug

We are cranking on a very cool project for our Bozeman, Montana client, RightNow. It’s a brand book. Perhaps the most fun brand book we’ve ever done. Smart, sassy, inspiring, all that stuff. We’re also working on a new made-for-youtube video for them that’s way fun as well.

Great product, great mission, a great company that actually makes the world less painful for all of us. At least for those of us who ever buy anything.

– Doug

Just saying.

– Doug

Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs

A Landor study, as reported in AdWeek, shows that 70% of people are willing to pay a premium for products from brands that are socially responsible.

This is what we’ve been saying about Brand Culture and the role of values in the world of today’s consumers. People are voting with their pocketbooks. People care about doing the right thing, and not supporting the wrong thing. People want corporations and brands to stand for something larger than the profit motive.

Hear that, business schools? Hear that, Goldman Sachs? The pure profit motive days are over. You’re just the last to know.

Are you listening, brands? Are you listening, C-suite? The way to sell more whatever it is you sell is not to try to manipulate people with advertising. The way to sell more is to be a values-driven organization. To stand for something important. The opportunities for doing so are vast and exciting. The rewards are many.

Thank you, Landor, for quantifying this.

– Doug