When Sub Cultures Influence Brands

Quick Read: There are several fascinating Sub Cultures and Urban Tribes around the world that could give us insights and compelling perspectives into consumer behaviour by way of their unique shared values and behaviours. In each such instance they exemplify how anthropology can influence advertising and vice versa. The Floggers in Argentina and The Sapeurs in Congo are two cases in point.

As a Youth sub culture, THE FLOGGERS originated in Argentina at the end of 2004 and have become popular through their unique fashion and went on to popularise the concept of picture sharing via photo blogs.

Essentially the floggers have two key characteristics:

  • They are dressed up in unique style: Floggers wear bright coloured unisex clothing – commonly tight trousers , V-neck T-shirts and canvas trainers and have dyed hair with long emo side fringes which cover their eyes and lip piercings. They have even developed a particular way of dancing to electro/techno music called Electro. 
  • They share their pics on Fotologs: Floggers take photos of themselves and friends and post them on photo blogs. Among FloggersFotolog.com is one such popular platform and lists more than 5.5 million users in Argentina, which is one of the two biggest markets for the site (Chile is the other). Here users comment on one another’s photos. The more comments, the more famous the flogger. (source)

floggers09(Flogging Frenzy, Source –  The Argentina Independent)

As a sub culture, if you come to think of it, the Floggers represent an interesting niche that are at the intersection of fashion, photography, social media, music and dance. Elite members of such a unique urban tribe naturally become trend setters in fashion and are the de facto voice of their generation cutting across class, creed and hierarchy.

Augustina Vivero a.ka. Cumbio is one such Flogger. She has a fotolog site that is said to be the most viewed Internet sites in Argentina logging 36 million visits in a single year alone! She is known to be the most popular and by many accounts the most influential flogger in the world and by age 17 has catapulted herself to stardom and unexpected affluence by transforming her Internet fame into marketing muscle –  signing modeling contracts, promoting dance clubs and writing a book about her life. (source)

Not surprisingly Nike enlisted her for a three month campaign including a giant sneaker-shaped slide that the floggers could slide down while posing for pictures.

cumbio(Agustina Vivero a.k.a Cumbio holding a NIKE poster featuring her, Source)

 Active members of sub cultures like the Floggers being ‘extreme users’, make for a rich minefield of emerging trends, attitudes, values and vibes of a whole generational cohort for the marketers. Thus they make for an interesting case study on how Anthropology influences Advertising (and arguably vice versa).

The Gentlemen of Bacongo

Take the Sapeurs – one of the world’s most exclusive fashion clubs in a city that you least expect – Congo.

SAPE – which loosely translates to The Society of The Elegant Persons of Congo – are a group of people whose life is not defined by occupation or wealth, but by respect, a moral code and an inspirational display of flair and creativity by way of their stylish dressing.

SAPE(Of Style and Swagger – The Sapeur. Picture by Daniele Tamagni. Also a cover page of his book)

In the words of Hector Mediavilla – who photographed the Sapeurs in his outstanding project, the SAPE can be considered to be the most interesting anthropological phenomenon for several reasonsDespite being surrounded by poverty and civil war the Sapeurs:

  • Dream on and survive the harsh reality.
  • Bring joy to those around them by way of their clothing and
  • Are required at funerals, parties and other celebrations to bring a touch of stylishness to these events.

Essentially, while everybody knows their elegance is just a façade but nevertheless, they perform an important social function for their fellow citizens. And in journalist Tom Downey’s words “when men dress as Sapeurs they become different people. Their gait, their gestures, and their manner of speaking are all transformed. The clothes are the gateway into a whole other way of being in the world.”

No wonder, the Sapeurs have inspired some fascinating photography projectsbooks and even music videos. More recently Guinness has brilliantly weaved the sartorial sub culture of the Sapeurs into their latest campaign, as part of which they enlisted Hector Mediavilla to shoot an inspiring documentary and a TVC.

Don’t miss this 5 mins documentary and the TV Spot.

Sapeurs Documentary

Guinness Sapeurs TV Ad, Agency AMV, BBDO London

For me, the connect between Guinness as a brand and Sapeurs as a spirit is a creative masterstroke truly befitting the flair and the flamboyance of ‘The SAPE Spirit’.

Do you know of any other marketing initiative that has sought to tap into a sub culture or an urban tribe

(Featured Image:  Sapeurs of Congo, Hector Mediavilla, Source.)

The Business of Belief

Quick Read: Every business that we know of can be said to be in the ‘business of belief’. While a majority of these business thrive on building and sustaining our beliefs, there are also ones that thrive on breaking down and challenging our beliefs. 

Arguably every business that we can think of can be said to be in the Business of Belief.

While most businesses that we see around can prove this point, RIEDEL glasses are a very straight forward example.

RIEDEL is an expensive line of glassware designed to deliver the wine’s ‘message’ via the carefully crafted form of the receptacle. In other words, Riedel has built a thriving business of glassware by driving a belief that the shape of their glasses can make wines test better!

Skeptical? The story goes that even experts and wine critics were – several of them skeptical of this seemingly implausible claim.

And yet today, hundreds of wine experts, and thousands of customers now swear it’s true. Taste tests throughout Europe and the U.S. were said to have proven time and again that wine — expensive or inexpensive — tasted better in Riedel glasses.

riedelo

Except it’s not true. At least not empirically. (source)

When subjected to double-blind testing that doesn’t let the taster know the shape of the glass, people found no detectable difference in taste between glasses. Objectively, the shape of the glass just doesn’t matter.

But subjectively, when belief in the story and the experience of the glass are added back in the mix, it matters. And the wine does taste better to these people. Today some Riedel glasses sell for more than 100 dollars each and people covet these over other lower priced glass ware!

Therefore, sensing a branding opportunity that is waiting to be leveraged, Coke has recently tied up with Riedel to come up with a glass that “is designed to enhance the drinking experience”. The Coke site goes on to explain..

Shaped by trial and error by a panel of industry experts and Coca-Cola lovers, this form captures the distinct spices, aroma, and taste of Coca-Cola and creates a magical sensorial experience… A unique glass for a taste like no other.

RIEDEL+Coke(Riedel + Coke, Source)

While this ‘glass act’ by Coke drew myriad views from the F&B industry, it nevertheless makes for an interesting commentary on Riedel as a company that has thrived by systematically building a business of belief.

Meanwhile elsewhere…

Interestingly there also exist businesses that build a following for precisely the opposite reason – by belying beliefs and tearing down expectations each single time they offer something to the consumer.

Take The Art of Dining – a business that sets up theme based pop up dining experiences – as an example.

As part of their model, Ellen Parr and Alice Hodge, put on theme-based pop up restaurants mostly in London. The venues – always unusual and unexpected – have so far included a 16th century mansion, an eel and pie shop, the Victorian Dalston Boys Club, and the army barracks on City Road while the themes range from wartime rationing to the Food of Love. The whole experience is like eating within an interactive art installation. Each of their dining event is thus an experience that belies conventional expectations and common beliefs on what is to come.

A Night With The Mistress(Themed as ‘A Night With The Mistress’, guests were required to put on a blind fold when they ate, Picture Source)

Their recent series called Say Cheese – the photography of Martin Parr in five courses, is the duo’s latest example on how they have cemented their expertise in their signature experiential model – Set up expectations, evoke the guests’ pre conditioned beliefs and pull the rug off their feet as they take the plunge. 

This is how it works:

  • You enter a typical English café setting: gingham table cloths, plastic flowers on the table, pictures of Lady Diana and Mrs Tatcher, copies of the Sun etc
  • The waiting staff are mostly English, wearing floral pinnies
  • And this is where it starts to get interesting -You don’t get a conventional menu, but a set of 5 photos by Martin Parr – the legendary photographer
  • And here is the twist: the food looks just like the images but tastes completely unlike what you expect.
  • For eg. An English tea cup is filled with a tea coloured liquid, poured from a tea pot, which turns out to be a delicious Tom Yam Soup. A doughnut is actually a South Indian savoury, made from lentils and served with a coconut chutney. And it goes on

Martin Parr(Each of the five courses saw Martin Parr’s pictures come to life in bizarrely unexpected ways. Compilation of pictures from here)

See the short video here to get an idea on the actual execution

http://vimeo.com/69361520

Say Cheese! The World of Martin Parr in 5 Courses from GOLIGA on Vimeo.

This pop up experience was also offered in Tokyo in 2013 and as per Time Out Tokyo, the tickets costed  ¥12,000 per person, and were limited to 50 people per night. Food, it says, doesn’t get much more high-concept than this.

Now that’s a business that is actually built on belying beliefs!

(Featured Image, Of Wine Glasses and Beliefs. The Riedel Wine Glass Company Brochure, Source)

Commodities and Fakes. Branded

Can fakes be branded? 

Can fakes be differentiated and charged a premium for? Two recent examples show they bloody well can be!

1. Fakes with an accompanying personal escort flying first class  

A 24 hour escort is the norm for valuable paintings when they are transferred between museums. But a set of forged paintings have been recently extended security arrangements that rival that of the originals. Why?

Because these are not just any other fakes. They are imitation paintings by the world’s most notorious forger Han van Meegren the world war II era painter and master forger – who so well replicated the styles and colours of the legendary artists that the best art critics and experts of the time regarded his paintings as genuine and sometimes exquisite. His wikipedia page says that he is considered to be one of the most ingenious art forgers of the 20th century, so much so that his paintings including his signature have been subsequently forged as well!

Van_Meegeren_signatures(Source, Wikipedia. A collection of genuine and fake signatures of Han van Meegeren)

Today his forged paintings are a brand on to themselves and are treated as prestigious artworks that require the same measures of security as the authentic ones.

2. 3D printers being used to fake Vincent van Gogh 

Now this time, the story to brand the fakes of none other than the works of Vincent van Gogh comes with  its own coined term and a trade mark! Introducing Relievo™

Relievo

(Source: PDF on the Relievo Collection by the van Gogh Museum)

Interestingly this initiative to develop and sell the fakes of the legendary artist is being led by none other than the official van Gogh museum.  Accordingly to this post, the museum is hoping to increase access to pictures which, if they were sold, would go for tens of millions of pounds to Russian oligarchs or American billionaires.

The replicas, called Relievos, are being created by the museum in partnership with Fujifilm, with which it has had an exclusive deal for three years. Such is the complexity of the technology, known as Reliefography, that it has taken more than seven years to develop. It combines a 3D scan of the painting with a high-resolution print. The “super-accurate” reproduction even extends to the frame and the back of the painting. Every Relievo is numbered and approved by a museum curator. And best of all – there is a limited edition of 260 copies per painting.

A limited edition of fakes with each copy uniquely numbered and approved by the curator!! 

Clearly, some fakes are more equal than others!

Commodity Branding 

On a related note, even among commodity products, some brands can be more equal than others. And when they are, as always they make for an interesting marketing case study.

Double A – the paper brand for office supplies and photocopiers has an understandable challenge. Drive user preference in an extremely commoditised category.

So how did they do it? The recent ad campaign by Double A is a case in point. Read the full story here and see all the 4 featured ads in the post by L.Bhat. My favourite 25s spot below. (For email subscribers the URL to the video here)

(Turn on closed captions for subtitles)

So, a paper is a paper? Or is it? 

[Featured Image: Wheatfield Under Clouded Sky by Vincent van Gogh. One of the paintings to be reproduced using the 3D printing technique Relievo™]

Remarkable And What Lies Beyond

When you look at a photograph, read a novel or eat at a good restaurant what do you expect?

A good capture of a single moment in time, a nice story and a decent meal. Right?

What if these expectations are messed up and you need to discover for yourself a whole new experience in consuming these products/services? Let’s start with Stephen Wilkes.

The Photograph

Each photographer tends to have an area of interest. i.e., a fascination of architecture or people or nature etc. But what if as a photographer, you are fascinated by architecture and people and cities and also nurture a love of ‘shooting history’? Stephen Wilkes is one such guy and has a way of going about it.

  • He starts at a vantage point that can afford a panoramic view of the location of an iconic land mark
  • Then he shoots what he calls the ‘naked plate’ – a shot of the land mark with absolutely no one in it – in other words  a completely deserted landscape of the location
  • Then over a span of over 12 to 15 hours from dawn to dusk in a day, he takes nearly 1,500 pictures of the same location from the same angle, while also taking mental notes of the shifting landscape and the random events unfolding below him
  • After this action at the location, he then selects about 50 final shots from which to over lay the final composite picture that seamlessly merges the action that had unfolded between dawn and dusk at that single place in a single shot!

Result – pictures of a place that are panoramas in ‘Day to Night’ that can throw your brain off the hook. Each picture in this series can look like a magical landscape suspended along a tapestry of time. Don’t believe me? Then let his pictures from his newest body of work titled ‘Day to Night‘ do the talking.

Shanghai

(Stephen Wilkes, Source, Shanghai, Bund)

Times Square

(Stephen Wilkes, Source, Times Square)

The November 25 Edition of TIME features a photo essay based on Stephen’s work. As the article puts it,

A lot can happen between sunrise and sunset especially when Stephen Wilkes is photographing it. 

The Novel

OK, so this is going to be difficult. For how do I write about a book that redefines the very experience of a book?

S. – a novel by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst, released on Oct 29th 2013 is a first of its kind experiment in book design, layout, narratives and structure. It is a book that stands out because of its unprecedented ambition, creativity and inventiveness.

For the first time you might actually feel a need for a ‘guide’ on how to read a novel! There are three enmeshing story lines in S. :

  • First you have the story in this book by name “Ship Of Theseus”
  • Second you have the mystery about the fictional author of this book by name V.M. Straka
  • And third you have the dialogue between the two readers of this book by name Jennifer and Eric, who communicate to each other via hand written notes along the margins and inserts

Designed by the New York-based design firm Melcher Media, this is a book that can easily be an inspiration for a generation of designers, writers, novelists, publishers and marketers to come for years! Read this FastCompany article for more details.

As the article says..

It’s difficult to decide exactly how to start reading S.–a sort of 3D Infinite Jest with a pop sensibility–and nearly impossible to imagine how it ever got written.

See this video to get a feel of what is inside the book

Trying to explain this book is like trying to explain the plot of ‘Inception‘ and raving about the genius of its concept. The only way to appreciate the ingenuity of this art form is to get a book and start reading. I – for one – cannot wait to begin my magical adventure with S. and discover a whole new experience of consuming a novel!

The Restaurant

Earlier this month, DiverXo has become just the eighth Spanish restaurant to win an unbeatable third Michelin star. With an unassuming kitchen that measures just 30 square meters, it is the only establishment in the Spanish capital to hold the honour. But that’s not the big deal.

The big deal is how DiverXo – led by the Spanish chef David Munoz – turns every single convention on its head as a restaurant.

  • For starters, upon entering, every diner is given a one page manifesto on how to best enjoy the food in the restaurant. All they need is to surrender every preconceived notion and suspend judgement and just do as they are told
  • Once seated, DiverXo offers a choice between a ‘short menu’ (7 dishes,  €95, lasting 2.5 hrs) and a ‘long menu’ (11 dishes,  €140, lasting 4 hrs).  Both menus are exquisitely choreographed as unprecedented gastronomic experiences by the chefs
  • For e.g., as per TripAdvisor,when a dish arrives on the table prepare to be instructed to eat with even a spatula!
  • And as per this AFP article, no sooner do you dig into say – a raw cod fillet drizzled with boiling olive oil and accompanied by potato skins and pickled chilies, don’t be shocked if a cook bursts in to you and lays on hot mayonnaise
  • Later, as you chew more another chef could arrive with a cream of cod and sea urchin

And the shocks and surprises continue.

rp-diverxo-1

(DiverXo, Artful dishes that push the limits of fusion cuisine, Source)

Besides, as per this AFP article ..

  • Even the design of the food can tend to defy expectation. For e.g., a fiendish ketchup of chili and tabasco makes the dish of duck dumplings and fried ducks’ tongues resemble a blood-splattered murder scene
  • The menu lists not ingredients but rather sensations: sweet, sour and, in the case of one star dish, the “Hannibal Lecter”, sharp

As the article says..

The self-proclaimed “brutal” approach of this tiny eatery, where the cooks rush to add ingredients to diners’ plates mid-bite, has made it one of the most unusual restaurants ever to join the world’s gastronomic elite.

In summary DiverXo is a first of its kind restaurant where the rules are simple: Come with an open mind, trust the chefs, expect to be shocked and prepare to be surprised as you embark on a culinary adventure like never before.

May be food is almost besides the point here. Or may be it’s all about the magically shocking experience of what a restaurant has never been yet!   

All about experiences that redefine the product, category and consumer expectations

So the next time when we think of ‘elevating consumer experience’, it could be worthwhile to remind ourselves of these extra ordinary examples that go beyond this ‘elevating the experience’ mould. Three brave, ingenious and creative examples where the very experience of the product has been redefined, our expectations as consumers defied and all norms of the category disbanded.

So now you know. What lies beyond remarkable?

Magic –  after all –  could indeed be serious business!

Marketing Lessons From Emerging Markets

Successful marketing examples from emerging markets teach us many a lesson in getting the basics right.

Let’s take Indonesia for example. While Coke is the beverages leader globally, it is NOT so in Indonesia!

Teh Botol Sosro – The Indonesian Beverages Leader

After 80 years in Indonesia, Coke sells around 80 million cases per annum. Interestingly a local player by name Teh Botol Sosro (TBS) sells 2x that volume. Fascinatingly, TBS is not even a cola, it is a Ready To Drink Tea format and has become Indonesia’s favorite beverage in less than a decade! (source).

sosro

The reason? As per this insightful post on Occasion Based Marketing, it is two fold:

(1) TBS’s positioning is grounded in 3 local truths

  • Indonesians eat several times each day (3 square meals and 3 to 4 more snacking occasions)
  • Indonesia has a strong tea culture
  • When Indonesians eat or munch, they feel the need to drink something as well

Given these, TBS positioned itself with the simple and straight forward tagline

“Whatever the meal, Teh botol Sosro is the drink”  –  (“Apapun makanannya minumnya Teh botol Sosro”).

(2) Discipline in executing marketing strategy

Not only did TBS get the basics right w.r.t the beverages segment, it also ensured robust execution through:

  • Consistency of the brand messaging across all touch points
  • Ensuring Physical Availability i.e. solid distribution across retail and popular fast food chains like McDonalds and KFC
  • Building Mental Availability i.e, driving top of mind awareness and salience by leveraging on all media channels: ATL & BTL

TBS-Iklan-Ramadhan-01

(A Ramadan promo material for TBS,  shows the extent of its ‘Physical Availability’ – Image source)

McKinsey & Co Report On Building Brands In Emerging Markets

In many ways, each of the above principles strongly resonate with the findings of a recent McKinsey report titled “Building Brands In Emerging Markets”. Read the full article here for an elaborate report based on research conducted in nine product categories (including food and beverages, consumer electronics, and home and personal-care products) across various developed and emerging markets.

Essentially the report highlights 3 key differences between emerging and developed markets and its implications as:

  • Harnessing the power of word of mouth is invaluable, as it seems to play a disproportionate role in the decision journeys of emerging-market consumers.
  • Getting brands into a consumer’s initial consideration set is even more important in emerging markets, because that phase of the journey appears to have an out sized impact on purchase decisions.  
  • Finally, companies need to place special emphasis on what happens when products reach the shelves of retailers, because the in-store phase of the consumer decision journey tends to be longer and more important in emerging markets than in developed ones.

McKinsey Report On Emerging Markets(Exhibit Source, McKinsey Report On Emerging Markets)

While the above example and theory are inspiring and instructive in many ways, these miss out a commentary on an important characteristic of an emerging market.

How about speaking about building CATEGORY RELEVANCE first?

Emerging markets are essentially those where the categories / segments in question are under developed.  i.e., the target consumers in these markets don’t find the category/segment relevant to them – at least as yet. So if a segment itself is not seen as relevant in the market place, how crucial are word of mouth / perfect in-store experiences / or consistency in communications for a brand?

As a corollary, brands that start off by ‘setting up the dialogue on a category relevance’ can be said to be leveraging the opportunity to drive awareness of the category/segment and thereby establishing a strong salience of its branded offering in the market. If this key – setting up the context – activity is handled right by a brand, it can naturally have a solid advantage in the market place in the emerging category.  Let’s take 2 examples, one from a marketing strategy stand point and the other from a creative execution stand point.

1. Wines in India – Marketing Strategy In An Emerging Market

Wines in India is still an emerging market.  In 2012, wine (including imported varieties and sherry) only made up 0.45% of sales of 9 liter cases of alcohol in the country! (source). In other words (for various reasons) wines as an offering in India are still not seen as ‘relevant’ in the consideration set of alcoholic beverages category by most target consumers. So how do you build relevance for wines?

Sula Wines – a pioneer at the forefront of the Indian wine revolution shows by example. It embarked on a set of relevance building initiatives for the segment by going all out to promote wines domestically.For example, it holds about 1,600 wine tasting sessions a year to educate people on the finer points of enjoying a glass of wine, off late it has also been actively developing ‘wine tourism in India’ with vineyard tours and a music festivals held at its winery.

As a result the company produced 550,000 cases of wine last year and expects the number to rise by 25% in 2013. (source)

Sula Kebab Fest

(Image Source, Kebab Fest @ Sula Wines)

2. 4×4 Drives in Venezuela – Creative Executions In Emerging Markets

Venezuela has 147 motor vehicles per 1000 inhabitants. Compare this with 797 motor vehicles per 1000 that USA has (source). Motor vehicle here is defined as  automobiles, SUVs, vans, buses, commercial vehicles and freight motor road vehicles.

So how does Jeep communicate in each of these two markets?

You guessed it right! In a market like Venezuela,  Jeep focuses on setting the category context first – i.e. it’s communications are tuned towards building relevance of GETTING OUT as an activity ; and not so much on its technical specifications or competitive claims. See the following print ads by Leo Burnett developed for Venezuela. I love how Jeep manages to drive relevance of its segment without losing its tongue in cheek tone.

Jeep_Climber_ibelieveinadv   (Source, See the other ads in this series here, agency Leo Burnett)

On a related note, see how Jeep communicates in Bolivia here.  Similar theme here too –  More focus on setting up the category relevance than on proclaiming its uniqueness / superiority vs competition.

Now, as a contrast, how does Jeep communicate in the US?

It still speaks in its tongue in cheek tone, it still speaks about getting out or making the world your playground. But here, it also focuses on what makes Jeep the best in its segment by rattling off the pertinent technical specs or superiority credentials. See the following print ad from the US.

wrangler_garage(Source, Click on the ad for the enlarged version, agency BBDO)

The copy says: “Dana 44 solid axles, heavu duty Rock-Trac 4WD system, Tru-Lok fornt and rear differentails, front and rear mounted tow hooks, CD player, and seven speakers.”

On a related note, see Jeep’s print ad for Germany (another developed market) here and here.  Similar theme here too as that in the US – The focus here is on reinforcing its uniqueness and/or technical superiority vs competition and not so much on setting up the context / category relevance.

In Summary..

Whether it’s about a marketing strategy or even a creative execution,  whenever we see a success/failure of a brand in the context of an emerging market, probably the first questions to be asked could as well be:

  • Who was the first to drive the category/segment relevance in the market place? (who initiated the dialogue)
  • And How?  (is the dialogue grounded in local consumer truths?)

Once you have these answers, often times, you might not need to see the market shares for validation.

Don’t you think so?

(Featured Image –  BRIC Countries, Source)

The Wabi Sabi Edge

The Ise Grand Shrine – a Shinto Shrine – in Ise, Mie prefecture in Japan has been preserved exactly like it was around 2,000 years ago. Despite such a rich legacy, the UNESCO has refused to list the shrine in its list of historic places.

Why?

Shinto Shrine

(Shinto priests walking beside the Ise Grand Shrine, Japan. Source)

This is because the shrine is not built of a ‘permanent structure’. The ISe Grand Shrine is built of wood and hence it  gradually loses its structural integrity over years. So the Shinto priests have a solution;  every 20 years they tear down the structure and rebuild another – in an adjacent plot –  in exactly the same specifications as the original using the wood from the same forest that the original structure was built from. Result: the shrine  is  forever new,  ancient and original! The present structure, dating from 1993, is the 61st iteration to date and is scheduled for rebuilding in 2013!

A centuries old Shinto belief of death and renewal of nature and the transience  of all things called Wabi- Sabi underscores the philosophical and artistic significance of this shrine. To quote the wiki  page ….

Wabi Sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.

Burning Man

Further to the west, in northern Nevada US is the Black Rock Desert –  an open swathe of desert land where a week long annual cultural festival called Burning Man is held every August/September. This iconic event is described as an annual experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance – a week long celebration of extreme creativity, art, spirituality and innovation. Often compared to TED for its potential to provoke, inspire, connect, indulge or just ‘let be’, Burning Man regularly attracts stalwarts like the Google founders, Eric Schmidt, Chip Conley among many many others. But what makes Burning Man stand out as an exceptional event is the fact that it is transient by nature. The whole venue, the structures and the shelters for the event are practically built from scratch and again torn to dust without leaving a trace at the end of the week!

See below the time lapse video of 2011 Burning Man to appreciate the ‘dust to dust’ cycle typical of the Burning Man.

As Business Strategy

Transience as a method, an approach or a strategy is not just  an expressionist arts style or some exotic charm of a shrine.  It also has far reaching implications on contemporary business strategy. The June 2013 edition of Harvard Business Review features an interesting article by Rita Gunther McGrath on what she calls as Transient Advantage. She argues that  in a world where competitive advantage often evaporates in less than a year, companies can’t afford to spend months at a time crafting a single long-term strategy. She introduces what she calls as The Wave of Transient Advantage and explains its ‘curve’ (below). Companies possessing this edge constantly start new strategic initiatives, build, exploit, re configure and if need be even actively disengage from an initiative as a means to reprioritise, reinvent and renew their approach to growth.

Transient Advantage

(Wave of Transient Advantage, Source)

She posits that the thinking in this field “has reached an inflection point” leading to an acknowledgment from a multitude of strategy practitioners that “Sustainable competitive advantage is now the exception, not the rule. Transient advantage is the new normal.”

The latest post in the Gaping Void newsletter by Hugh Mac­Leod pays an artistic tribute to this concept through this delightful piece of ‘office art’.

permanent_state

(You must subscribe to his newsletter, sure to make your day!)

Essentially from which ever perspective you look at it – artistic, personal, emotional, professional or even strategic, the ability to accept transience as the new normal, the ability to let go of the status quo to rethink, re-invent and renew our  approach forms the bedrock of the new competitive edge – The Wabi Sabi Edge.

Gyotaku And The Trailer

What is common between Gyotaku and Movie Trailers?

Gyotaku Trailer

1. Both are traditionally forms of ‘advertisements’ of another art form

2. And both have evolved into specialized art forms unto themselves

Let’s start with Gyotaku

Gyotaku is the traditional Japanese art of fish printing dating back to the mid 1800s. Before you read any further, you might want to begin with this fabulous TEDEd video to get a quick introduction on this fascinating art form.

As you can see, the purpose of the early Gyotaku print was to serve as an advertisement and proof of the fisherman’s skills as reflected by the quality of his catch.  The emphasis was thereby to capture just the basic proof of the size and species of the fisherman’s “trophy fish” and to record this permanently.

Now Gyotaku has become so popular around the world that it has dedicated competitions, hobby clubs, instruction classes, museums, books, textile prints etc;  and has currently evolved to the point where the actual activity of fishing is almost besides the point.  The craft has now become a unique representational art of Japanese Culture that honors realism and story telling.

The insight for me here is that,

A good piece of Gyotaku art captures a moment in the ocean and not just a piece of dead fish.

Gyotaku2

In other words each piece of Gyotaku tells a story where:

1. The narrative often comes from what you don’t see – the negative space: A good Gyotaku composition is known to make use of the negative space within the frame and brings to life the concepts like idea, flow and freedom of movement that come with the ocean.

2. Our minds are lead into the frame and then set free : A good Gyotaku ‘hand holds’ our mind by gently leading us into the exquisite form and finish of the fish. But a great Gyotaku takes it a step further by then carefully setting our imagination ‘free’ as it allows ample space for the mind to take the fish on its journey.

Moving on to Movie Trailers

Just like Gyotaku, the movie trailer has come a long way from being a plain advertisement (of a full length movie) to becoming a genre unto itself. Today it is a thriving industry that is almost as popular as that of the movies they’re teasing, with legions of fans following, dissecting, analyzing, reviewing and rating them on a regular basis even as they are feted out at forums like The Key Art Awards and The Golden Trailer Awards (the Oscars of movie trailers).

From being just a linear montage of title cards, voice-over, a few key scenes followed by a cast run-through, movie trailers today are part art, part marketing wizardry and part awesome creativity. Result: They can tease, titillate, shock, seduce, awe, thrill or even hypnotise us via subliminal messages, imagery, and music and lull us into the cinema for the actual full length fare.

The latest edition of the WIRED magazine has an insightful feature on the Art Of The Movie Trailer. Two insights that emerge from the construct of great trailers:

1.The narrative of the trailers doesn’t necessarily come from what you see, it comes from what you hear (the negative space of trailers = music): Trailers are all about rhythm, pacing, and feeling. That’s why music plays a vital role as a key narrative device and can more often than not make or break a trailer. Mark Woollen, the man behind the trailer for The Social Network shares a secret of how he came up with its music for an evocative narrative ..

I’d had “Creep” on my iTunes for five or six years kind of kicking around before the Social Network trailer…And then when this project came along, I started to consider that song. There are a couple of qualities to it that I thought could do a lot for the trailer. It was a fantastic piece of music—the build, the message, the flavor.

And the rest as they say is history – with the trailer going on to win both The Key Art Awards and The Golden Trailer Awards for 2011 for its outstanding achievement in advertising movies. See this trailer here:

2. Our minds are lead into the plot and then condemned to a free fall: A good trailer gently leads our minds and imaginations into the centre of the plot or the tension that is eventually created in the act 2 and then sets it on a free fall. E.g., Alfred Hitchcock’s trailer for Psycho (though being a tad bit long at ~ 6 mins) very gently teases us bit by bit till almost the end before throwing us off the cliff! See the iconic trailer here: (don’t miss the last 2.5 mins at least)

The trailer for Alien is another master piece that stands out for a similar reason.

So there you have it – Gyotaku and Movie Trailers:  two art forms that have begun to become bigger than the art forms that these are based upon, two powerful examples where creativity thrives despite the underlying constraints ; or probably examples where creativity thrives due to its underlying constraints.

Icons – The Visual Metaphors Of Our Culture

Ever wondered what could be the primary cause of our childhood fascination with cartoons? I did. Tons of times in fact. With little success very often.  Thankfully for me Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics gives a clear and a straightforward explanation for that.

Understanding Comics Pg 36

(Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics, Pg 36)

Essentially, he posits,  the mental picture that we we have of ourselves is simple and basic . Therefore, we are able to project ourselves into the ‘simple character’ but not the ‘complex one’.

The obvious lesson here that is applicable to advertising could be – if you want your audience to feel like they are the main character, make sure the character isn’t overly elaborate and detailed.

The classic iPod ads of 2001  have smartly taken this theory a step further by featuring just a set of male and female silhouettes.

iPod

(Image Source)

This abstraction of pictures from reality to icons is thus a powerful mode of expression that comics (and comic artists) have deliberately and meaningfully perfected over the years.  For, after all, (visually) quoting Scott..

Understanding Comics Pg 59

(Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics, Pg 59)

“There is no life in an icon except that which you give to it.”

While this insight forms the cornerstone of what constitutes the vocabulary of comics, it lends a very powerful commentary  that is relevant for our practical lives too. Let me explain.

Just like we are said to be exposed to thousands of marketing/ brand impressions per day, I’d wager that we are also exposed to as many (if not more) iconic impressions each day. While a brand’s logo – by definition – could also be called as an ‘icon’, my focus here is more on icons that constitute the typical signage/symbols that we are used to seeing all around us each day – e.g.,  traffic signage, safety signage, industrial signage, traveler signage etc.

dot_pictograms_full

(DOT Pictograms)

Since these signage icons have been around for years, most of us grow up intuitively accepting them as part of our unspoken language. Thereby they practically end up becoming the visual metaphors of our culture.

Armed with this insight – The Accessible Icon Project was born with a goal to  show a more humanized depiction of the differently abled in the International Symbol of Access.

Symbol of Access

I’ll let you read a comprehensive account of the project here, but the highlight of this guerrilla art project was that it succeeded in reorienting the visual focus of the symbol from the chair to the person, while replacing the rigid, static representation with something more dynamic and active.

Result: The idea has been gaining tremendous momentum around globally as we speak, with NYC becoming one of the first cities in the world to formalize and adopt this new symbol with many disability organizations around the world vehemently following suit.

Metaphors are said to have the power of influencing our ideas, challenging assumptions and creating new world views. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, the power of a visual metaphor like this new ‘access icon’ above can be said to be amplified a thousand fold in shaping our collective biases, informing our cultural opinions and influencing our societal attitudes as humanity.

That’s when things get interesting. Symbolically and literally.

2 Executions, 5 Years Of Life

5 Years of life. 

Gripping narratives around this same thing but contextualized against two different ends of the ‘consumer & life spectrum’.

Every year about 2 million children under the age of 5 die of infections like diarrhoea and pneumonia. A lot of these deaths can be prevented by the simple act of washing hands with soap. How do you translate this statistic and message into something real, personal and powerful? Lifebuoy‘s brilliant campaign called helpachildreach5 shows how:

(Agency: Lowe Lintas + Partners)

Over 30 percent of today’s children are obese due to physical inactivity. If action isn’t taken, one billion people will be affected less than two decades from now. Nike’s DesignedToMove campaign lands this through a shockingly powerful message.

(Agency: Wieden + Kennedy)

Two iconic brands, selling two completely different kinds of products, targeting two different sets of consumers with two different ‘need stages’ (w.r.t Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) but with one unmissable similarity: using ‘5 years of life’ as a frame of reference to pack a powerful punch.

The ‘contrasts’ are as compelling as the ‘similarities’ are in these hard hitting campaigns. Just couldn’t resist from juxtaposing them together for their unmissable power of story telling and sheer brilliance of executions anchored around one central tenet – 5 years of life.

(Source for header picture)