Great video

July 9, 2008

Thanks to Artie Isaac for putting this one on his blog. Excellent concept and execution … and a worthy topic for a change.

Branding Disorder

July 2, 2008

Thanks to John Moore at Brand Autopsy, my next summer book will be Obsessive Branding Disorder, by Lucas Conley. I always love to read stuff that validates my personal philosophies! Here are a couple of quotes from the Fast Company essay that spawned the book:

A brand is a result, not a tactic. One cannot go about branding an organization or a product or a service; the organization, product, or service is what creates the brand. (italics mine). In a brilliant twist, the experts have bottled an end and sold it as a means. (emphasis mine).

Lucas sees a connection between the decline in advertising and the rise of branding as a business religion. He points to a 14% drop in Madison Avenue employment from 2000 to 2005. I think it’s more likely that both are symptoms — there is correlation but not necessarily a causal connection.

In my view, the rise of branding with its focus on “being understood” and “knowing who you are” comes from the increasingly narcissistic mood of the culture. And that in turn might be flowing from the trends which have conspired to make “one” — the self — into the ultimate economic unit.

Whatever the cause, we agree on the results: the advertising world focuses on “what we say” and “how we say it”. But the reality is that true branding, minus the hype, is really just “what the business does.” Conley cites Jiffy mix, Disney, and Apple as his examples of strong brands that are strong because of their product, not their advertising. And my personal favorite, In-N-Out Burger:

The $310 million In-N-Out Burger chain, another iconic brand that rarely advertises or speaks to the press, has been putting the rest of the fast-food industry to shame for years. McDonald’s spent an estimated $1.5 billion on branding efforts last year, producing little more than one day’s worth of sales more per store than In-N-Out. Have you ever met anyone who’s had an In-N-Out Burger who doesn’t believe it’s one of the best burgers they’ve ever had? Meanwhile, just who, exactly, is really “lovin’ it”?

For colleges, the message is clear: focus on the delivery of a transformational education experience in keeping with the traditions and values of the school. And in the marketing area, focus on authentic portrayals of how real students are actually experiencing that transformative time in their lives. In that way the authentic brand for that college will emerge. And the branding techniques that are so faddishly au courant, can be left to the McDonalds’ of the world to obsess on.

Postscript on another great summer read:

Today it seems normative for members of a family, company, team, or band to find the current of success more rewarding when they wade into the deep waters alone. Fame and fortune are easier to manage solo, without the vulnerability and accountability of team participation. Using music as a metaphor, it’s easy to think of examples from my generation: the Beatles; Peter Cetera; Michael Jackson; Paul Simon; Enya. Of course, the ones whose sound was defined by the team brand, rather than individual stars, are also noteworthy: the Beach Boys; the Rolling Stones.

A great book about the difficulties yet rewards of team-building is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni.

Another College Video spoof

June 23, 2008

Here the target is political correctness, and the silliness of using on-camera spokespeople to sell a college like it was a used car.

“Whiteman” college….

College Humor spoofs College Videos

June 20, 2008

A well-placed set of barbs really raises the question: does any college really need a video? Certainly, not, if it ain’t authentic and substantive. Enjoy.

Back on Barack

June 5, 2008

No, I didn’t leave to join the Obama campaign. And no, I haven’t been recently released from the Hillary campaign either. I just got too busy to blog, too focused on client projects that were pressing and proprietary.

Hopefully, I’m back. But I couldn’t pass up this little college marketing gem: a Brussels college that wants to advertise that it’s a combination of academic oil and water:

Barackary Clintama

Here’s how Hogeschool-Universiteit illustrates that it’s a college and university all rolled into one! Any reactions to their advertising chops or their taste? Image courtesy of adpulp.com through one of my commentors, Big Yellow Forehead blog.

Obama/Hillary fusion

Eclipse

February 21, 2008

Hand held but clear enough to show what was happening on a very cold night, here are two views of the eclipse. The first shows the umbral shadow, the terminator between the blown-out normal moon brightness and the sharp shadow of earth cutting across. The illumination of the penumbral shadow shows how the earth’s atmosphere bends the red rays of the sun around the black disc of the earth (as seen from the moon) and puts a distinct reddish glow across the lunar landscape. It is this light that bounces back to us, revealing what would be in darkness if the earth didn’t have an atmosphere.

The second shot shows the moon just before the edge of the umbral shadow covers the moon entirely. Now the colors in the penumbral area are much clearer. I’ve brought Saturn and Regulus into the shot … they weren’t that close in real life.

Eclipse in progress

Eclipse almost full

Obama’s Logo

February 20, 2008

Here’s a postscript to my comments on how effectively the Obama campaign is resonating with Millennials, as well as a wide cross-section of older voters. Look at the logo and think about how well it communicates his brand:

Barack Obama logo

First of all, it is an O. Without any words, the O connects to his name.

Secondly, it’s a blue sky and a star-white sunrise. That says hope and a commitment to a united nation. The center or core of Obama’s graphic icon claims that ground. In a very tangible way the logo supports the Obama emphasis on ignoring race as a divisive issue, while embracing race as an inclusive issue. It reflects his penchant for making whites feel honored and unthreatened by his candidacy, and for making blacks and other minorities feel empowered in a way that is hopeful, energetic, and community-spirited.

Third, the red and white stripes convey a graphic impression of the heartland, hills with furrows or fields of grain. Thus for Obama the foundation of his vision of America is a midwestern ethos, a farmers’ and workers’ ethic.

The red and white stripes are also an emblem, of course, that taps the visceral afinity that all Americans have for their flag. And so another note in this chord is a subliminal feeling of passion, sacrifice on the field of battle.

The third note of the foundational chord is a rainbow. In fact, many of the unauthorized uses of the logo turn the lower sector into a rainbow with alternating fields of color. This resonates with the broader reaches of the Obama brand’s constituency — all the various hues and shades that people identify with in a multicultural pastiche like today’s young and yearning America.

The end result is that the impact of this logo, I believe, will be warm feelings, optimistic outlooks, a sense of inclusion and hope and high aspirations. It’s a brilliant example of iconography, and I’m sure it will help to strike a response with a wide swath of the electorate.

The branding point is this: a logo’s best hope is to support a brand… and Obama’s brand is beautifully and elegantly supported by this very effective graphic tour-de-force.

ObaMac

February 20, 2008

Millennial sensibilities appear poised to determine who our next President will be. All of the research has been showing us that Millennials are diverse, are brand oriented, are media savvy, and most importantly, public spirited and community oriented. So it shouldn’t surprise us that they’ll begin to flex those muscles in ways that will impact the culture in far more significant ways than clothing styles and music genres.

Several articles in the press recently underscore the arrival of this Gen-Y phenomenon in our political decision-making process:

Is Clinton a PC and Obama a Mac?

Clinton as PC, Obama as Mac

The important thing to emphasize here is that indeed Obama is a Mac. His website reflects his brand – cool, intuitive, imaginative, well-designed, interactive, respectful, authentic.

Hillary’s website, by contrast, lacks the Apple-esque human engineering, the sensibilities that show careful listening and an ethos that is comfortable with handing the keys to the Millennials to let them take the culture for a spin.

I concur with Noam’s assessment, as well as the article by Doug Kendall which triggered this current media stampede.

Not from a political perspective, mind you, but from the jaded mindset of a branding guy and marketer-to-Millennials. The reporters have done their homework, and their assessment rings true. I predict it’ll play out that way in the political process … though I claim no expertise in that arena.

Another incisive commentary by Frank Rich adds observations about the impact of Millennial ways of thinking on the McCain candidacy. He says,

Whatever the potency of his political skills and message, Mr. Obama is also riding a demographic wave. The authors of the new book “Millennial Makeover,” Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, point out that the so-called millennial generation (dating from 1982) is the largest in American history, boomers included, and that roughly 40 percent of it is African-American, Latino, Asian or racially mixed. One in five millennials has an immigrant parent. It’s this generation that is fueling the excitement and some of the record turnout of the Democratic primary campaign, and not just for Mr. Obama.

Even by the low standards of his party, Mr. McCain has underperformed at reaching millennials in the thriving culture where they live. His campaign’s effort to create a MySpace-like Web site flopped. His most-viewed appearances on YouTube are not viral videos extolling him or replaying his best speeches but are instead sendups of his most reckless foreign-policy improvisations…”

Barack compared the Boomers to the Moses generation, and the Millennials to the “Joshua” generation which followed it — doers instead of idealists. Of course, this could all be empty rhetoric, and I’m not personally interested in the politics. I’m interested in the branding. The point is that the Obama brand does seem to fit the style of both the candidate and his helpers, while the attempt to fly a “change” flag appears ineffectual from a branding standpoint when either Clinton or McCain make similar claims. You can rely on the Millennials ability to interpret visceral media signals, in deciding whether a candidate’s message and person align with their stated brand. And it appears like Obama will definitely win that battle.

Whether the Millennials will display historic perspective, or political wisdom, is another question entirely.

For colleges, the lesson is clear. Make sure your brand is clearly and authentically implemented in your website and your use of media.

Unreason and me(dia)

February 18, 2008

This video is the latest YouTube example of what Susan Jacoby writes about in her new book, The Age of American Unreason. The question is, are Americans hostile to knowledge?

What do you think I am? A clique chic geek? How should I know?!!!

Inspiration – III

February 11, 2008

Enjoying some personal recharge time in San Diego, I met a couple of committed walkers who taught me some great insights into authenticity as a personal and institutional lifestyle.

I was climbing Cowles Mountain, the highest spot in San Diego county. It’s a great spot to enjoy the sunrise — an hour up, 15 minutes down. While on the way, I stopped to rest and as Del (on the right) passed with his friend, we struck up a conversation. I asked him about walking as metaphor of life, and he hit me right between the eyes with, as Kenny Rogers put it, an ace that I could keep. Del’s formula?

“I have two feet. The first is rethinking/change. The second is confidence/assertiveness.” (I’m translating from more religious terminology – repentance and faith). Del went on (I’m paraphrasing): “When I start out, I have to listen and respond to my environment. I need to rethink, based on who I impact and where I don’t measure up. Then, I am free to confidently go forward, seize opportunities, be effective at what I can do and who I am. And then comes another step of listening, responding, rethinking.”

Del’s comments inspired me with a fresh insight into both personal and institutional authenticity. Being “me”, honestly projecting who I am, is not enough if I want to be perceived as authentic — if I want to be an organic and productive enterprise. I also have to respond to “you”. I must be committed to self-improvement, and work that out through a cycle of receiving and sending, give and take, listening and expressing.

The brand of an institution does not emerge from what it repeats about itself. As John Moore said in Brand Autopsy recently, it flows from being, not “branding”.

Being “me”, personally or institutionally, involves a recognition that if a “me” has value because of my story, my unique experiences and perspective, then every “you” has value, too. If one individual is golden, a diverse community brings infinite riches.

If there were only one university it would be a boring and provincial world of ideas. But Oxford has greater value because there is Cambridge. Harvard is interesting because it shares many qualities with the other Ivies, as well as because of the nuances which differentiate it.

Each “me” becomes actualized as an authentic brand because of its response to its environment. I can attempt to assert my independence from my peers, but when I do so it only cheapens my actual brand, the authentic “me” which is not what I think of myself, but what I actually am as an organic member of a community of interrelated, interdependent organisms. My ability to project a distinct perspective, a valuable set of values, tarnishes whenever I grow sluggish in my efforts to be accountable.

In fact, I would argue that if there is one foot more important than another in Del’s metaphor, it would be the rethinking foot. By rethinking and changing as rapidly as possible to changing conditions and needs, I earn the right to assert my identity as valuable, as useful, as worth consideration. I have a valid reason to hold forth my brand. And I have a decent chance, thus, of my brand being perceived as authentic.

Thanks, Del, for your helpful insight!

Archetypical Climbers