The Reddit ad started out like a clichéd car commercial, with two S.U.V.s racing across the desert. Then the signal seemed to fry, and Reddit’s orange-and-white alien-head logo commandeered the screen, followed by a lengthy printed statement that left viewers scrambling to grab a photo or screenshot...
The Kellogg School Super Bowl Advertising Review, an annual ranking from Northwestern University’s business school, reported shortly after the game on Sunday that Reddit’s commercial was among the most effective commercials of the broadcast. The Kellogg School’s list measures the execution of the commercial, the quality of the attention it generates, its memorability and other factors...
When one analyses this ad from Reddit and attempts to theorise the ‘how and why it worked the way it did’ one is sure to run into the concept of ‘schema incongruence in brand messaging’.
Schema incongruent advertising
When incoming information can be well organized into one’s existing knowledge structures, it can be called as schema-congruent information. When the information does not easily ﬁt into the existing knowledge structures, the information is schema-incongruent.
In a seminal paper in 1982, George Mandler from the University of California, San Diego proposed his Theory on Schema Incongruity. His thesis centered on the notion that although people generally like things that match their expectations, moderate incongruity can be arousing and thus intriguing. Furthermore, because moderate incongruity can be resolved with minimal effort, it tends to result in favourable evaluations. (source)
Over the years, several researchers have validated the impact of schema incongruence on brand messaging. For example, in an oft quoted research paper by Halkias, G., and Kokkinaki, F. (2012) titled ‘Cognitive and affective responses to schema-incongruent brand messages‘, the authors empirically investigate and validate that incongruent stimuli may attract more of the recipients’ attention, increase their cognitive arousal, and may finally elicit more positive judgements.
And in another research paper by Hye Jin Yoon (2015) titled ‘Understanding schema incongruity as a process in advertising‘, the author states that strategies evoking schema incongruity have often been used in advertising because information incongruent to schema has the potential to increase interest, memorability, and persuasiveness in consumers.
And to help elucidate this further, she proposes a four-stage process model (see below) and discusses each stage in detail with a focus on the impact factors that need to be addressed for using a successful incongruity strategy in advertising.
So the next time you see an ad that seems irreverent, fun and provocative (the tropes most often employed by ‘impulse brands’ like candies, chewing gum etc) you know the method to the madness behind their creative work – a dollop of ‘schema incongruence’ strategically thrown in to serve as powerful stimuli.
Quick Read: Sometimes narratives could have ‘violations’. And sometimes, what might at first appear to be a ‘violation’ could prove to be intrinsic to its narrative. Knowing the former from the latter could help unlock great value – across verticals or contexts.
Making sense of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” is said to be difficult.
It is considered by many to be one of the most revered and feared compositions in Jazz history. In fact generations of Jazz musicians are known to approach ‘Giant Steps’ as the pinnacle in Jazz improvisation.
Why? This video could provide a delightful crash course of an answer.
Or take Afrobubblegum – the new film genre redefining on screen representation of Africa.
It refers to fun, fierce and frivolous African art that has joy and hope at the centre of it. The pioneer of this style, Wanuri Kahiu a TED fellow and a Kenyan filmmaker says “We’re so used to narratives out of Africa being about war, poverty and devastation. We believe that Africa is joyful and full of pride and respect and hope,” and continues to champion the need for such art that captures the full range of human experiences to tell vibrant stories of Africa.
In 2018, Wanuri Kahiu’s story of young lesbian love, Rafiki, made international headlines for being the first Kenyan film programmed at the Cannes Film Festival in 71 years of French Riviera cinema history.
What is common between Wanuri Kahiu’s ‘Afrobubblegum’ and John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’?
The genre of Afrobubblegum or the Jazz track ‘Giant Steps’ standout because they ‘violate’ the popular narratives around their respective art forms or subjects. They are examples of what venture capitalists call Narrative Violations.
While the term could seem like a fancy jargon to reference the essential characteristic of what makes something a ‘contrarian bet’ to a VC, I should admit that it serves its semantic purpose of helping us put a label on something specific through descriptive and non ambiguous terminology.
The letter in its entirety is eloquent and makes for a great read and ends on an inspiring note saying..
“..As our keystrokes hunt for the next narrative high, thousands of possibilities that will never be remain trapped beneath our fingertips. When we allow popular narrative to dictate who, where, and what is worthy of our time or capital, breakthroughs that could transcend remain overlooked, underestimated, or simply fade away.
Against all odds, a few brave entrepreneurs violating the narrative today will come to define profound new truths tomorrow. We’re on a mission to find them“
To be clear, the concept of ‘Narrative Violations’ has also had its fair share of critiques for being too reductive. It was even declared 2019’s ‘VC Bingo’ buzzword of the year.
Nonetheless, I find the concept to be a clarifying filter that helps me process or question most things with a healthy dose of scepticism and encourages me to seek out edge cases in popular rhetoric, including say even that around the concept of ‘Narrative Violation’ itself.
Consider this question.
What if, sometimes, narrative violations are part of the narrative?
i.e., what if a ‘violation’ is actually an inherent part of a larger pattern that constitutes the narrative itself? Like say, a recurring motif that becomes apparent if only one were to step back and consider the big picture. Being able to see if and when that is the case could help us identify emerging paradigms and recognise how such paradigms propagate.
For e.g., after the dotcom bubble burst in 2000, Carlota Perez published her seminal book Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital arguing that the ‘burst’ was completely normal and qualified it by drawing patterns from four similar epochal periods over the last two centuries: the industrial revolution, steel and railways, electricity and heavy engineering, the automobiles and mass production.
Across each of these periods, she pattern matched its associated moments of ‘crash’ (the equivalent of the dotcom bubble burst from 2000) and recognised such instances as inalienable parts of larger cycles that play out over several decades (as opposed to say some inexplicable violations to the popular narratives of their times).
The master stroke of her framework is that it inherently provisions for moments of ‘big bangs’, ‘bubbles’, ‘crashes’ and then again necessary ‘recompositions’ as part of a single unified narrative that cohesively explains the interplay between financial capital and technological revolutions. And then continues to shine a spotlight on how this narrative seemed to have repeated itself across ages almost inviolably.
To reiterate, a key takeaway for me here is the idea of the narrative as a paradigm that propagates.
Such a narrative construct that propagates needs to be essentially indivisible, should have a full self contained arc of a structure to serve as a standalone story if need be and be able to play out as a cohesive whole even with trivial variations in contexts or actors.
In one of the most intellectually stimulating podcasts I have listened to in the recent past, Matthew Ball joins Patrick O’Shaughnessy to discuss movies, the Metaverse and more and refers to the concept of ‘Narrative Primitive’ to explain why the worlds of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the Star Wars stand out as expansive and immersive. The following lines from the podcast’s transcript shine light further.
… “how would you have told the story 80 years ago if you had all the tools available? How are those stories going to change in the next 10 years?” And in some instances that is unlocking what you might call a narrative primitive, that’s perhaps some of the reasons why the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the tales of Star Wars are so expansive today, so immersive.“
Now, when I consider these two concepts – Narrative Violation and Narrative Primitive – together, I am tempted to posit the following.
The essential insight that rock star traders, venture capitalists and story tellers possess is this – they know a good narrative when they see one. And more importantly they have an eye for a narrative violation. Because they think in narrative primitives.
Noteworthy ingredients – that may or may not have gone into the making of this blog post:
It has no title except the date of release, 3.15.20; no artwork; and except for 2 songs, none of the 12 tracks has a title. Quoting Sanjoy Narayan on mint:
On Sunday, 15 March, Donald Glover Jr, better known by his stage name Childish Gambino, launched a new website called Donaldgloverpresents.com and released a new album, which streamed on a loop on the site for most of that day. There was no fanfare; no announcements; no publicity.
For an artist as high-profile as Glover, this was an unusual approach….
…Shortly after his new website stopped streaming the album and went blank, Glover’s, or, rather, Gambino’s, new album got more conventionally released on music-streaming services where you can hear it now. It has no title except the date of release, 3.15.20; no artwork; and except for the second and third songs, Algorhythm and Time, none of the 12 tracks has a title. Instead, Gambino has chosen to title his tracks by time codes—the points in time that they come up on the album. For instance, the first track is labelled 0.00; the fourth is 12.38; the fifth 19.10; the sixth 24.19; and so on.
What’s truly unusual about the album, however, is how it mocks at our assumptions and shatters our accumulated biases about his music. Quoting Sanjoy Narayan again:
It’s an astonishingly experimental album on which Gambino is, in parts, a rapper, a soul, funk and R&B guy, and a sonic innovator who composes melodies and harmonies and melds them to make songs that push every boundary…
..It’s a super ambitious album that traverses so many genres and styles that it would require multiple listens to try and list out or even describe. Funk and soul collide with electronic music; modern hip hop gets to mate with elaborate orchestral arrangements; and smart lyrics comment on the state of the world and other serious issues.
Unique juxtapositions, delightful blends, unexpected connections, inventive remixes and surprising twists. That’s always been the recipe for great story telling across formats from stand up comedy and sci-fi thrillers to food and fashion.
It is compelling how consistently it works every single time – get people to default to their baseline expectations and add in an unexpected twist to move the carpet off their feet and presto, you have a winner! In fact an entire movie was made literally off this very premise.
Turns out getting us to default to our baseline world views/expectations is not that hard after all. Simply because we tend to base our assumptions of a likely future basis our previous experiences. In fact, research suggests that humans predict what the future will be like by using their memories.
Imagining the future then becomes a kind of nostalgia.
This fallacy could sometimes be evident in sci-fi movies.
Let’s take a classic example: the original Blade Runner from 1982.
In the film, Harrison Ford’s character Deckard makes several calls to other characters using a “videophone,” which is essentially a glorified payphone with a VHS-quality video screen glued on top. Incidentally, the film is supposed to take place in a futuristic 2019, but it makes a faulty assumption that human beings will still be using pay phones as their primary form of communication by then.
Back to the Future II also prominently featured payphones and fax machines—both of which were prevalent at the time the film was made, but are obsolete today.
Writers even have a name for this – the science fiction pay phone problem. It essentially refers to how we often assume the continuity of our previous experiences, and subsequently bring our accumulated biases with us, when trying to predict the future.
This could perhaps help serve as an instructive reminder to us that even though we can dream up detailed, novel scenes of things yet to come, our imagined futures could sometimes really just be projections of our past.
And nowhere is this reminder more relevant than in the current times when we are inundated with predictions and discourses about what a post Covid future could look like and how it could potentially impact us, our educational institutions, organisations, cultures, traditions, industries, economies and nation states at large.
As the sci-fi pay phone fallacy reminds us, the future always holds more surprises than we might predict. So instead of stressing about and losing our minds on what a post Covid scenario would pan out to be, sitting back, relaxing and enjoying some Childish Gambino could just be what the doctor ordered for us.
Stay safe. And here’s hoping we all come out of this better, stronger and together. Real Soon.
Quick Read: If ‘brand’ is a story and if ‘we’ constitute a culture, interesting things begin to happen when a culture seeks a story or when a story seeks a culture – all in that classic quest for resonance.
When a Culture Seeks Out a Story
Rovaniemi – is a Christmas lover’s dream. It is a Finnish town that has – over the years – established itself as the home of Santa Claus. This sleepy town of around 60,000 inhabitants manages to attract over 500,000 visitors annually from all over the world all seeking the story of Santa Claus, or in other words the experience of the brand Santa Claus.
It has the Santa’s office where people queue up for a brief 3 minute meeting with him, Santa’s post office that receives a flood of letters from all around the world addressed to “Santa Claus, Lapland”, the Santa’s official elves and you get the drift – essentially the entire Christmas package that you could ever ask for.
While this could constitute a fascinating case study in itself about the power of an iconic brand as an enduring story, the last 18 – 24 months have seen an interesting phenomenon emerge.
Let’s start with the letters. The Santa’s post office is said to have received upwards of 500,000 letters in 2018. Till 2017, most of the letters used to come from the UK. But now China is said to be way ahead. Apparently the Post Office is said to have received more than 100,000 letters from China alone last year. (source)
Now the visitors. By some accounts in 2017 alone, close to 580,000 visitors flew into Rovaniemi (double the number in 2010) and much of that growth is said to be driven by visitors from China. In fact as per this article..
Now, just about everywhere in Rovaniemi accepts Alipay, Alibaba Group’s mobile payment system, which is also available on Finnair flights from seven Chinese cities to Helsinki. …At (hotels) you can pay in Alipay and communicate with reception using WeChat, the ubiquitous Chinese social media/messaging service.
Now this is the interesting thing.
Christmas is not an official holiday in mainland China, and has in fact increasingly been banned in various cities in recent years. On Dec. 15 2018, security officials in Langfang, a city in Hebei province, issued a notice prohibiting the display of Christmas materials and spreading of “religious propaganda” in public areas including schools and plazas. The notice also warned against selling Christmas products and instructed local workers to ensure a “healthy and orderly environment” during the Christmas period. One city even said it would fine individuals caught selling or making fake snow. (more on that here)
But Chinese visitors and letters addressed to Santa from China constitute the majority. Why?
Most Chinese children may not be fully aware of Christmas’s religious background nor of China’s complicated relationship to the holiday. But the story of Santa Claus and Christmas – the universal values of generosity, hope, and gratitude, could be what’s driving them to write to Santa Claus or visit the town of Rovaniemi.
In many ways this phenomenon could be said to be the classic example of a ‘culture’ seeking out a ‘story’.
Nothing represents this sentiment better than the following lines from a letter written by a 19 year Chinese girl to Santa (as quoted in this article)
“In China, we don’t have Christmas, and family is more important than gifts,” she wrote in both English and Chinese. ”But you know, one small present can mean so much to a child, and bring so much happiness. Although you don’t really exist, kindness does. In my heart, you represent kindness.”
When a Story Seeks Out a Culture
If you are not a parent, let me quickly get you up to speed on Peppa.
Peppa Pig is a British preschool animated character that has spawned a multi billion dollar worth empire of TV series, toys, books, films, theme parks, merchandise and even video games. Each day this muddy puddle loving pre-school character has been winning legions of little fans from all over the world.
In 2018 Peppa’s memes were banned from social media platforms by Beijing. So its chances looked dicey in China.
Well that was till early this month.
By mid January 2019, Peppa Pig has been experiencing a huge boost to its popularity in China after the runaway success of a trailer released to promote a Peppa Pig film.In fact the trailer’s Mandarin hashtag #WhatisPeppa had been viewed more than 1.45bn times on popular microblogging platform Sina Weibo and the official video had garnered hundreds of millions of views across various streaming platforms. (source)
This short video, co-produced by Canadian media group Entertainment One and China’s Alibaba Pictures story has supposedly found its best resonance with the Chinese audience given the timing of its release – the Chinese New Year marking the start of the year of the Pig – and for realistically depicting how societal changes such as urbanization and generational culture gaps have had an impact on Chinese families.
Given this, the short video makes for an uplifting story of the potential that could be unlocked when we have a story that successfully seeks cultural resonance.
Now Try This Exercise
Think of a phenomenon gone viral or a campaign that back fired. And for each such example that comes to your mind:
Identify if the brand or the central theme has a clear story to tell, a positioning that it seeks to carve out in people’s minds with a clear and a consistent narrative. Is it coherent or half baked? Is that rooted/ does it seek to root itself in the zeitgeist of the times or does it look like it is pushing its luck by tapping into a topical trend?
Now, look at the recipients of the story (or sometimes the seekers of the story). Is there a tenet that unifies them – a common characteristic, a cultural theme that binds them? Can there be a common story that could appeal to this culture? Or is the underlying cultural theme too fragmented or too nuanced that no single story could have a satisfying chance to resonate with it?
Chances are that, a successful campaigns/ popular phenomena would always be rooted in strong stories appealing to strong cultural themes or the other way round. Have either one of these stand on weak or flimsy grounds you have a recipe for a backfire.
[Featured Image: Peppa and Her Family Dress up as Santa Claus for Christmas, Video thumbnail]
Quick Read: There are ads that try and communicate a message of ‘contrast’ and there are those that communicate ‘similarity’. While the former type of ads ride on a diverse set of story telling devices, there seems to be an interesting trend in the story telling devices deployed by the latter set. It’s the ‘Split Screen’.
A lot of advertising is meant to tease out / explain / amplify an element of a brand that is supposedly in contrast w.r.t the competition. Think about it for a moment and think of the core narratives behind most of the ads that you see around.
A lot of advertising narratives tend to fall into this camp, where they try to land a message through a narrative that is designed to communicate a contrast – sometimes in a straightforward manner or sometimes in perhaps a tongue in cheek style.
Quick Read: We have all seen those ads that start with “what if…”? But did you know that behind the facade of their deliberate wacky-ness there is a method to their madness.
In a world where Rhinoceros are domesticated pets who wins the second world war?
Or sample this..
In a world where a piano is a weapon, not a musical instrument, on what does Scott Joplin play the Maple Leaf Rag?
Counterfactuals. That’s what Amy and Sheldon call them.
First the definition.
Counterfactual thinking is a concept in psychology that involves the human tendency to create possible alternatives to life events that have already occurred; something that is contrary to what actually happened. (source)
It turns out that counterfactual thinking can have a huge influence over us.
In one experiment referenced in the book, researchers had asked participants to think about a turning point event in their lives – be it positive/ negative /or neutral.
Subsequently these participants were segregated into three groups.
Group 1 (counter factual thinking): these participants were asked to describe how their life would look if the turning point event had never happened
Group 2 (factual thinking): these participants were simply asked to recount the turning point event in detail
Group 3 (meaning association): these participants were asked to reflect on why the turning point event was meaningful.
The researchers then asked these participants to respond to two statements about their turning point event: “It made me who I am today” and “It gave meaning to my life.”
Results showed that that participants in group 1 perceived the turning point events as more meaningful than those in group 2 (those primed towards factual thinking) or even those in group 3 (those primed towards meaning association)!
As Esfahani Smith points out in the book, research suggests that counterfactual thinking helps us find meaning in our lives for two reasons:
We’re able to attribute greater benefits to significant past events. Participants in the study mostly imagined that their lives would be worse if the event hadn’t happened.
It helps us tell more coherent stories about our lives – as though everything we have experienced has happened for a reason.
Influence on advertising response
As per (1) and (2) above, if counterfactual thinking indeed makes us better story tellers and helps us become more cognizant and appreciative of our own narratives, could it also have an impact on how we assess and internalize the narratives and stories that we are exposed to on a daily basis a.k.a advertising and marketing?
In a nutshell their research proved that invoking counterfactual thinking before an exposure to the advertising message can prime us up to be more receptive to and become more critical of the (key persuasive) message that follows.
No wonder many NGO marketing messages are structured around counterfactuals.
Or even those ads like the following recent ones from Amtrak that are made with the objective to persuade the viewers and drive a behavioral change.
Can you think of any other advertising examples that ride on counterfactuals?
The answers are always wise, instructive and helpful. As they ought to be. For the exercise of looking back and reflecting upon one’s journey so far, tends to be a highly visual and (thereby) a pretty straightforward affair in our minds.
Brands like Tine – a Norwegian Dairy brand – have even used it as a construct to tell one of their stories. (more on this in my older blog post)
The idea of looking into a younger version of oneself was also the central theme of a fascinating photography project called Reflections by Tom Hussey.
Each photograph features a person looking into a mirror and seeing a reflection of his/her significantly younger self. Result – a powerful and a poignant means to communicate the story of someone whose mind has gotten stripped of its more recent memories.
Novartis – the pharma giant, used these photographs towards a campaign for their Exelon Patch – a prescription medicine for Alzheimer’s. (more here)
Think about it for a moment. Is it as easy as envisioning our past selves?
The answer tends to be in the negative. Well, mostly.
Many studies establish our biological truth that one’s future self is a stranger within each of us. For example, Jason Mitchell – Professor of Psychology at Harvard – has found that when we picture ourselves experiencing something pleasurable a year from now, many of us use the brain areas involved in imagining a stranger.
He says that it is this lack of relationship between our present self and our future self that is at the core of many of our behavioural problems — from not saving enough for our retirement to unhealthy lifestyle practices and many more.
This is such a compelling insight that I am tempted to go out on a limb and wager that this lack of a more intuitive relationship between our present and our future selves could actually be the key to solving for classic marketing challenges like low levels of penetration prevalent across several future focussed categories like BFSI (Mutual Funds, Insurance) or Beauty (Anti Ageing) or other FMCG categories (like Oats, Sugar free F&B variants) etc.
The solution to this lies in getting our present self to be more aware of, relate to and empathise with our future self.
But that’s the challenge.
It is known that the feeling of empathy between two persons diminishes as the physical and temporal distance between them increases. So how do we get our present selves to build empathy with a self that is 20 or 30 years ahead in future?
Now that could be a great problem worth solving for, with creative possibilities in marketing communications.
Biju Dominic’s article even provides thought starters for possible approaches. He writes..
Hal Hershfield, a social psychologist at UCLA Anderson found that people who spend a few minutes getting acquainted with a computer-generated simulation of what they might look like in the future were motivated to make better decisions about retirement planning.
Now that’s a spring board of an idea – using computer generated simulation to show what one might look like in the future.
Now hold on to that thought and juxtapose that with this famous Dove Sketches execution.
Quick Read: A world fleeting by giga bytes per every nano second lends itself to the emergence of a paced down, nuanced and a deeper notion of travel as an experience – of the body or the mind or the soul.
Google ‘wandering’ and it says the following:
What if there were to be an aim for wandering?
Speaking of which, what if a sign post says ‘Please Trespass’.
That’s literally one of the unique joys of living in Sweden.
Called allemansrätten, or the Right of Public Access, it means as long as the land is not cultivated, and as long as no damage is caused, most of Sweden’s nature is yours to explore. This right of public access allows anyone to roam freely in the countryside, swim and travel by boat in someone else’s waters or even to camp or park a motor home on another person’s land.
Because it has existed for generations, allemansrätten is a part of the national identity of Sweden. School groups explore the forests from an early age and families often fish, pick berries or go for walks in the woods together.
No wonder, many people in Sweden can identify a surprising number of birds, fish and trees by name. (source)
What if we could all go to the woods to live deliberately.
What if we willfully subject ourselves to the challenge of stillness and get away from the tyranny of the screens to appreciate solitude and seek inspiration from the nature?
‘Walden, a Game‘ is an upcoming video game that challenges the player with this very question. See its trailer here.
A game that has apparently been in development for nearly a decade, ‘Walden..” takes takes six hours to play. It starts in the summer and ends a year later — offering players tasks like building a cabin, planting beans or chatting with Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Should you not leave sufficient time for contemplation, or work too hard, the game cautions: “Your inspiration has become low, but can be regained by reading, attending to sounds of life in the distance, enjoying solitude and interacting with visitors, animal and human.” (source)
Costing $19.99, the game is billed as the world’s most improbable video game for obvious reasons. Nevertheless it signals the mainstream arrival of the phenomenon of people seeking a sense of calm, a modicum of mindfulness and a pinch of presence amidst a world fleeting by giga bytes per every nano second.
So let the world wait
Perhaps as a reflection of such times that we live in today, we also have brands that have positioned themselves around this emerging need of the individual to seek these moments of peace and calm.
In its recent set of commercials, Black Dog encourages one to pause to unwind and relax. It asks one to take the time to savor all the things that truly matter – “because life is in the pause”.
In his recent annual book of ideas and insights titled Non Obvious-2017 edition, Rohit Bhargava references some interesting trends in this space (of ‘willful wandering’ and its adjacencies) to watch out for in 2017. He calls them “desperate detox”,“deep diving” and “mainstream mindfulness”. (check out his insightful commentary around these trends and much more in his must read book)
Putting it all together, the industry that is rife with disruption due to this trend is obviously travel. And an emerging category of travelers in this space is called the ‘Post Tourist’.
The Post Tourist
The term ‘post-tourist’ is commonly used to refer to a new breed of travellers, those who eschew common tourist hotspots and opt for a more unconventional experience, immersing themselves in local culture for an extended period of time.
No wonder, Airbnb tells us “Don’t go there, live there”
As Rohit says in his book..
“In a world filled with quick burst experiences, the future of travel seems to be something more meaningful, far deeper, and involving much more willful wandering.”
Given this, what’s my insight?
If travel is nothing but a state of mind, I have a feeling we are just fastening our seat belts before the category takes off.
A category called, willful wandering – of the body or the mind or the soul.
Earlier this year, the Art Institute of Chicago was to throw open an exhibition called Van Gogh’s Bedrooms containing 36 of his works including paintings, drawings, illustrated letters as well as a selection of books and other ephemera known to have been in his possession.
As part of the promotional campaign for this exhibit, the institute did something innovative.
It recreated his famous bedroom in Chicago’s River North neighborhood and threw it open for rent on Airbnb.
Result: the first block of nights sold out in 5 mins on Airbnb. It helped generate massive buzz about the exhibition that saw 200,000+ visitors in just a few weeks making it the highest attended exhibit in 15 years.
See this video for a sneak view into this initiative.
Commissioning 3D replicas to drive awareness and trial of a product is nothing new. Examples like the above show that they can also make for a killer demo in the realm of experience marketing.
For these are professional grade art works at the intersection of consumer psychology, complex 3D modeling, con art and story telling.
Or take the world of shokuhin samples – the hypnotic world of fake Japanese food.
In Japan, fake food can look very, very real. It’s called “shokuhin sample” (食品サンプル) or “food sample”, and it appears outside restaurants so customers can know what they are ordering.
And it is a damn big deal.
Shokuhin samples have become such an intricate part of the Japanese dining experience that many people stop in front of glass cases filled with fake food, decide what they want, and then enter the restaurant. Some Japanese even complain about the lack of fake food when dinning abroad—that they don’t get to see what they are ordering beforehand!
Most shokuhin samples are still hand made by highly skilled artisans whose painstaking craft – honed over several years of training – results in textures and colors that are so precise that it’s often difficult to tell real food from the samples.
Today shokuhin sample manufacturers fiercely guard their trade secrets as business is lucrative; the plastic food industry in Japan, by conservative estimates, has revenues of over 10 billion yen per year.
Unsurprisingly there are also stores that sell this fake food. Ganso Shokuhin Sample-ya is one such shrine dedicated to all things fake food. It has been producing plastic replicas for display in restaurant windows since 1932, but in recent years it’s even wisened up to the tourist trade by selling fake food keyrings, magnets and phone straps as souvenirs.
Journalist Yasunobu Nose has a theory that links the plastic replicas to the visual aesthetic of Japanese food appreciation. In his book titled “Me de taberu Nihonjin (Japanese People Eat With Their Eyes),” Nose writes that food samples are part of the Japanese tendency to “first ‘taste’ dishes by sight, then eat with their mouths and stomachs.” (source)
With such a strong visual aesthetic underpinning the Japanese way of food appreciation, it would be a massive opportunity lost if the food brands (all kinds from ingredient brands to ready to eat brands) in the Japanese supermarkets do not leverage the power of shokuhin samples in their visual merchandising on the shelves.
After all, this is serious performance art that seeks expressiveness of deliciousness and a sincere pursuit of reality as its objectives. While being rooted in local culture.
Can you think of any other multi sensory experiences that can be brought to life with the help of 3D replicas?
Other than sex dolls, I mean 🙂
(Featured Image: Van Gogh’s bedroom replica as listed on Airbnb)
Quick Read: Time travel, branding and public sentiment indices could have a lot in common. To know more, just ask Zlaty Bazant (the Slovak beer) for a test drive to the 1970s.
Here’s an exercise. Think of any science fiction story. Anything.
Now take a few seconds and reflect on its theme.
Chances are that its theme might not be the future. You would notice that the genre uses the future only as a canvas on which to imprint its real concerns—the present.
The insight: Counterintuitively, time travel stories are often those tales that are most anchored in the present.
Similarly, stories that transport you to the past do so only to provide the necessary distancing effect for the narrative to be able to metaphorically address the most pressing concerns of the here and now – the present.
This has an interesting corollary for brands.
Na zdravie, Slovensko (“Cheers, Slovakia!”)
Central and eastern European countries faced the scourge of communism for most part of the last century. So it’s only natural to expect that the people in these countries would not want to be reminded of those darker times.
Yet, a curious trend seems to be suggesting the contrary in recent times.
As The Economist article frames it, communist nostalgia is not new, but it does seem to be having a new wave of resurgence. While this makes some sense in Russia, which ruled the empire, it is puzzling to understand its relevance among the central and eastern Europeans whom the Soviets ground under their boots.
And to frame this irony even more acutely, this affection for the socialist era products seems embodied even in the consumer products that are marketed by Western multinationals!
For example, in May this year a Heineken-owned Slovak brewery, Zlaty Bazant, introduced a premium version of its beer based on a 1973 recipe, priced 20% higher than its standard line up. Even its slogan Na zdravie, Slovensko! (“Cheers, Slovakia!”) vaunts its local roots as opposed to typical beer marketing themes that emphasize Europeanness and modernity.
Yet, this doesn’t necessarily reflect a desire of these people to return to the pre-1989 era. That’s where it becomes a bit complicated (in terms of their relationship with these brands).
The insight here: As Ivan Klima, a Czech novelist, puts it, “nobody is nostalgic for the communist era, but many people are nostalgic for their youth”.
Most people in the region are believed to be discouraged about the future.
In fact according to the recent Eurobarometer survey, just 30% of Slovaks and 26% of Czechs have a positive view of the European Union. Poland and Hungary are more pro-European, but have elected governments determined to check the power of Brussels. (source)
And these themes of insecurity and pessimism in the current socio political context manifest among the central and eastern Europeans as an inexplicable longing for brands of the bygone communist era. As if returning to these good old things could bring about a sense of security and stability amidst the slipping sands of the current times.
So if a Serb is seen enjoying a 1973 communist era quaff like the Zlaty Bazant, he is perhaps not so much contemplating nationalizing the auto industry as he is struggling with his attempts to reconcile with his current times.
Almost like the fascination with that time travel story to the past that is fueled by the strifes of the current times.
This could have interesting implications on brand building.
Public sentiment index (or their proxies) can perhaps be a lighthouse for brand builders. If the sentiment is low for a prolonged period of time in a market, brand builders there could perhaps do well to dust the grime off legacy brands and shine a light on them.
And may be even charge a premium for the same, as it is after all time travel, only packaged in a little bottle.