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Culture in a 24 / 7 world

Betabrand Gets It

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This piece originally appeared on the Advertising Week Social Club website.

I want to tell you about a brand I love. Not a product – though I do like those as well – but a brand. Betabrand. I love them because they get it. They understand their customer, they understand culture and they understand how those two things connect.

Betabrand is a clothing company, but sometimes it feels more like they are a content company that also makes clothes. But not your usual clothes. They make clothes with names like the Vagisoft Harka, the DARPA hoodie, Sons of Britches and Japants. Pretty much everything they make looks, feels, sounds or tastes like nothing you are familiar with. Tastes? Ok, so you wouldn’t want to eat their reversible disco hoodie, but if somebody is going to make clothes that taste as good as they look, it will be Betabrand.

In a world where collaboration is an increasingly critical element, and crowdsourcing is a viable option, Betabrand really walk the walk. They have something called the Think Tank, their “community idea factory.” They get ideas for all kinds of items, but as a small company that keeps production in the States, they simply can’t produce things on a whim. So ideas go into the Think Tank and if enough people like the idea, they’ll make a small batch run of it.

In another truly inspired move, they’ve created the Disco Open-Source Project. What started as a hoodie that utilized material replicating the look of a disco ball has evolved into an entire line, including pants, skirts, vests, even a tuxedo jacket. Betabrand’s audience seemingly couldn’t get enough of the disco look, so they created the Open-Source Project. The details:

Every day, Betabrand receives requests for specialty Disco apparel, everything from sombreros to luge suits. Unfortunately, our production facilities are simply too small to make all the fantastic items that fans demand.

That’s why we’re now letting would-be inventors descend into our top-secret disconium mine and haul away as much of this magically shiny substance as they can carry.

We call it the Disco Open-Source (DOS) Project. For a very limited time, you can purchase two-yard swatches of pure, shimmering disconium and transform them into something spectacular — like that Disco Dog Coat, Parachute, or Lingerie you’ve been dreaming of.

Not only will we feature your creations on our site, we might even make some of them permanent members of the DiscoLab!

Brilliant. And notice the language they use. “top-secret disconium mine.” Well, where did you think disco ball fabric comes from? This whimsical tone is evident in much of their copy. Here’s the intro copy for their Bawaiian Wedding Shirt:

Ever heard of the island of Bawaii?

No? That’s not surprising. This poor little chunk of rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is, quite possibly, the most woebegone nation on Earth. What else can you say about an island whose chief export is molten lava? An island known to other Polynesian cultures as “Isle of Infinite Sorrows” and also “Place Where the Poisonous, Bloodthirsty Monkeys Dwell.”

Their email newsletters are equally wacky. As are their user-generated content plays. The ‘Model Citizen’ promotion asks customers to snap a photo of themselves wearing Betabrand clothing. The results are often hilarious. And look how they’ve cleverly integrated their logo into the offer.

I love Betabrand because they continue to double-down on the crazy.  A giant Zeppelinthat will act as their HQ? Absolutely.

The Executive Hoodie.

Sock insurance? You bet. A mobile app that inserts Sasquatch into your pics? Why not? Sure these are tongue in cheek, but in a world where most brands take themselves so seriously, what a refreshing stance to take.  We hear the word ‘authenticity’ thrown around so much, and usually it translates to Facebook status updates from brands like this: “Hey, what’s on tap for this weekend, going to the movies?” That’s why there is a Condescending Corporate Brand Page on Facebook.

I could give you several more examples, but you get the point. Betabrand does all this without the aid of an advertising agency. It’s just a small group of people in San Francisco, having fun. They could teach a lot of us in the advertising industry a lesson or two.

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