I went to an interesting talk today from anthropologist Grant McCracken, who has studied western culture and business for 25 years.
The theme for the session was about how real things fit into an increasingly digital world. He recalled how there was much talk about how we’d all be hanging out in Second Life as if it was a matter of future fact ten years ago, but that in reality we still like to hang out in the real world. So, whilst technology is amazing and important, actually the most important thing for business to understand is culture, and how they can weave their way into it, and ride the crest of it.
Grant highlighted how some companies were destroyed, or serious knocked off track by completely missing cultural trends, confusing noise (short-lived anomalies) with true signal (bigger trends that will last)…like Kodak ignoring the emergence of digital film, or Levi not seeing how Hip Hop meant baggy jeans were going to sell like hot-cakes.
It was suggested that some people believe long-term planning is dead; it’s all about ‘improv’ now…likening it to us all working in a fire station, we’re ready to work but we don’t know where the next fire will be yet. However, in reality, if brands and businesses are constantly monitoring culture then they will be able to pick apart noise and signal to keep relevant and immersed in culture.
“Culturematic” is a word he has coined for real world creations, often technology driven that allow brands to be part of and create culture, in three ways:
1. Experiments at point of sale
- J Crew Liquor store
- Employees only (Bar set up in secret, with a sign saying “Employees only” – fast became the place to go by creating in-the-know hype)
- The secret sneaker store
- Food trucks – making a comeback to bring restaurant food to people on the move and the perception of fast food
- Starbucks creating the “third space” – with no café/pub culture in the US, Starbucks created a place for everyone to go to between home and work. Creating this unique and relaxing “experience” and “atmosphere” for people has been very important for the company as they have realized that this is one of the strongest concepts attached to the company, to which customers have been strongly attracted.
2. The brand as actor
- Paris tiger
- Mayhem – rather than cartoon characters insurance brand Allstate create a human villain
- Virgin Sparah – huge earned media success fake celeb characters Sarah and Spencer
3. The brand as an enabler for other actors
- The Fiesta Movement
- Gatorade Mission G – forget sponsoring top sportsmen, keep it real…
Posted by Richard Desforges, Comms Director (@dickiedes)