The Big Idea
Communities. I got my cultural passport stamped more than my fair share over the last week. It started last weekend with a trip to Chinatown in lower Manhattan. It’s always a bit odd when you play the role of Johnny Foreigner, but even more so when it’s happening just 30 minutes from your house. On Sunday it was out to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, for the Hasidic wedding of my cousin. On one level, a world away from Chinatown, yet the same feeling of community that exists to itself. The traditions, clothing and food a world away from what I know. Then, just two days later I found myself running just yards away from the Pacific Ocean, along Venice Beach. The locals, as mixed (whites, Rastafarians, Philipinos, Hispanics) as Chinatown or Crown Heights was homogeneous. And then this weekend, perhaps the strangest, most exotic group of all: A group of 13-year old boys. Their language and customs as strange and other-worldly as any I had experienced.
When I was experiencing these communities first-hand, I was listening to some top community managers discuss what they do at the re:working conference at the Museum of the City of New York. The panel, which featured Social Media Week founder Toby Daniels, General Assembly’s Matthew Brimer and Alex Flether fromLocal Motors, shared great insights on how to build, grow and engage a community. This is an absolutely vital area for marketers to understand. Communities, or Tribes, are what can drive a brand, or take it down. The panels advice? 1)Start small 2)Develop a strong core group 3)Empower the community 4)Build camaraderie 5) Reward Pro Users 6) Understand that community members have shared values, not necessarily shared goals. And here’s the one I thought that was most interesting: The CEO is a Community Manager. The CEO has to treat his company like it’s a community too.
Whatever the community, no matter how much you study it, you can’t really understand it until you are a part of it. That’s a lesson far too many brands and marketers fail to understand. I’d have about as much success selling a product to a woman in Chinatown as I would to a guy in Crown Heights (and forget about the 13-year olds). Brands that try to market to a community instead of trying to become part of a community have a long road ahead of them.
Stephen Colbert, Wheat Thins and the desperation of the advertising industry
This week the good folks at Wheat Thins (and their ad agency) ran head first into culture in the shape of Stephen Colbert and The Colbert Report. The thinking seemed sound I’m sure. Let’s reach a young, hip demographic with a brand integration play on one of the hippest shows on TV. The result was this 6:00+ minute segment. The folks at Nabisco probably started getting a little nervous when, 1:25 into the segment, Stephen addressed the audience thusly: “You think you know Wheat Thins? [Bleep] you. [Bleep] you and the cracker you road in on.” Stephen spends the rest of the segment deconstructing a memo he received from the brand managers that describes “what is the role of the brand” and “what is not the role of the brand;” explaining that Wheat Thins are the “the perfect snacking sidekick, whenvever, wherever and for whatever.” The absurdity continues as the memo assures us that Wheat Thins are “a snack for anyone who is actively seeking experiences.”
Ok, we’ve all read those sort of client memos/creative briefs and rolled our eyes. But we usually don’t pay handsomely to have a comedian read them on television. But these are confusing (desperate?) times for some brands. Wheat Thins came across like that pathetic dude in high school who let’s his girlfriend treat him like crap as long as she doesn’t dump him. Read the Adweek recap of the episode and watch the segment for the whole absurdity. Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about (a distinct possibility), but shouldn’t the entire brand positioning for Wheat Thins be: “It’s a pretty tasty cracker, goes great with cheese and it’s better for you than pork rinds.”? Seriously, does any consumer pick up a box of Wheat Thins and, as the memo suggests, think that Wheat Thins are a “a connector of like-minded people, encouraging sharing.”? Compare Wheat Thins approach to Colbert to that of Ben & Jerry’s and you see who gets culture.
Everything is a Remix, Pt. 4
If you aren’t familiar with Kirby Ferguson’s “Everything is a Remix” project, I can’t reccomend it enough. It’s a brillant dissertation on the creative process and what it means to be creative in the 21st century. Part 4, which was just recently this past week, explores the ramifications of decisions made via the legal system regarding intellectual property. If you care about creativity and the creative process, make sure you check this out.
And the winner is…
Social TV. As I mentioned, I was in Los Angeles this week, speaking at a Social TV conference. Social TV is a growing industry, one that will be absolutely critical to the advertising industry. There were dozens of platforms, tools and apps mentioned during the conference and more are being introduced every week. Earlier this month we saw greater awareness of Social TV by advertisers during the Super Bowl, as hashtags, apps and Shazam-enabled spots were a frequent sight. Most brands failed to truly capitalize on these efforts though. Tonight is the Oscars, and the Social TV engagement, like the Super Bowl, and the Grammys, will be big. I’m going to predict will see between 8-10 million Social TV comments surrounding this event, and many will come before Billy Crystal’s monologue. Watch for huge chatter during the Red Carpet pre-show and people flock to Twitter to talk about dresses, hairstyles and jewelry. Here’s the question: Which smart brand will leverage Pinterest (80% women) to create conversation around the beautiful clothes and people?