Brands Need A Little More Flog Gnaw

Reinvention, 21st Century Style

One of the over-riding themes in marketing communications for the past few years has been the imperative for brands to become more nimble. Move quick, innovate, or die. I think no other industry in this country has done this as successfully, or for as long, as Hip Hop.

In fact, the world of Hip Hop, because of this ability to adapt and change, has become the predominant mode of culture in our country, if not the world, today.  For more on my thoughts on the impact of Hip Hop on modern culture, check out my post, The Cultural Singularity Paradox.

Hip Hop is constantly re-inventing itself, borrowing elements from other parts of culture, and producing wildly diverse product on an ongoing basis. East Coast, West Coast, Gangsta, Back Pack, Pop, Southern… all different flavors. Each one building off the others, yet producing something entirely new and fresh. Where other musical forms seem very much of a certain time, Hip Hop continues to sound alive.

I find Hip Hop’s relationship with persona and identity quite intriguing, especially when contrasted with the conventional wisdom associated with brands.  Brands are often very protective of their identity. Logos and marques, names and colors all must be protected. Now contrast that to the world of Hip Hop. Quick, name a rapper who goes by his real, full name? That’s a tough one, right? But even one nom de rap isn’t enough for many. Marshall Mathers, better known as Eminem, added the additional fictional layer of Slim Shady. Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA created the alter-alter ego Bobby Digital. There are other examples.

Sure, people call Chevrolet “Chevy,” and BMWs are Beemers (and Volkswagon Beetles are Bugs. Hmmm, perhaps there is something to cars and nicknames…). But in general, brand nicknames are derived directly from the traditional name.  But nowhere in corporate American do you find the kind of “name flexibility” that you do with the Hip Hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All.

Let’s put aside their music, which is not for everyone. I’m fascinated by their branding strategy. I’ve seen them referred to by the following monikers:

  • Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All
  • Odd Future
Now, if we stopped there, I think we’d all be pretty comfortable. Long name, acronym, shorter version. Pretty standard. But then something strange happened. I’ve also seen them as:
  • Wolf Gang
  • Golf Wang
  • Flog Gnaw
Wolf Gang is easy to understand, and in fact probably best describes the group of wild, feral, raw characters created by this group. But then Golf Wang came along. A quick transposing of the first letters in Wolf Gang. But Golf Wang doesn’t seem to make any sense. Surely, this isn’t something the group itself would promote. Oh, wait, the name of their 2011 tour? Golf Wang.  They’ve even created an art book called Golf Wang. Here’s the Golf Wang tumblr.
But why stop there? We’ve switched the letters, now let’s flip them: Flog Gnaw. Check out the Twitter account for Tyler the Creator, the leader of Odd Future. Yep, right there in the bio – Flog Gnaw.
Odd Future seem totally committed to piling on more layers of meaning. Name tweaks, side projects, splinter groups. They continue to reinvent themselves in ways large corporations are struggling to understand and on some level emulate. The best brands, the ones that understand culture have figured out ways to play in this space. At one time, young recruits at Nike were known as Ekins and the Nike Flagship store in Manhattan with the New York school gymnasium theme features detailing in the architecture labelling the store as P.S 6453. P.S. for public school; 6453 is code for Nike (look at your telephone); and the “school’s” nickname is The Knights (after Nike founds Phil Knight).
I’m sure there are other examples from corporate America of this sort of coding and playfulness, please share below.  But in general, I think brands can learn from the innovation and adaptability of Hip Hop culture, and not just brands associated with Hip Hop culture.