Category Archives: branding

The hordes are at the gate: why marketers should not be afraid of social media

Human beings want to believe they are singularly special enough to form and articulate great ideas. It’s uncomfortable to think our ideas actually come from everywhere and not from what we think of as ourselves. We’re reluctant to see the power of listening, and allowing ideas to synthesize, as powerful. It suggests we are at our best when we are not as solid as we’d like to be, and we’re willing to accept the comfort of second-best. Marketers are particularly uncomfortable with the lack of control implied in allowing consumers to help form the meaning of brands. This is one of the biggest implications of social media.

The history of philosophy as a way of understanding the mind and the human situation could be considered an ongoing battle: the ego continually trying to reassert itself. Descartes said Reason ruled all. Our ability to know was our ability to conquer the void that forever tries to swallow us with fear. Just like God making things exist by naming them. Knowing assumes a know-er, forming a picture of our minds as having a single pulsing center.

David Hume countered by saying the mind was more of a stage, a “…kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance.” Studying the creative mind is a useful way of understanding and arguing about what we are, allowing literary criticism to turn from a discussion of books into a fight for existence for those of us standing behind Descartes’ podium.

Apparently James Joyce could forge the conscience of our entire race with his own wordsmithing. And apparently it was revealed as desperate clanging in the dark by Barthes and others. Looking to authors for the meaning of texts instead of the texts themselves was a kind of celebrity worship.

In varying degrees marketers have also thought of themselves as magical wizards, or liked to be thought of that way. Magic, however, comes from the shadows. The most powerful sorcerers summon, they don’t make. In the myths of every culture the arrogant novice comes to the master looking for the ultimate power to destroy his enemies, the master humbles him into realizing the power is beyond his control, all of a sudden he gets it, but then decides to use it for good.

The traditional role of the brand people at companies is to form, control and police. The unquestionable truth of the message is a comfortable way to stave off all the uncertainty, maybe even the failure and blame, that appear to swirl around everywhere. Customers are talking about brands themselves now to such an intense and widespread degree, there’s an understandable fear they will take the message in another direction than it was intended. Perhaps they will do something better with it — maybe sales, as it were, will increase — if they retell the brand story to each other in their own ways. Secretly, in some forbidden corner of their minds, some marketers would almost rather see the brand fail than succeed without their help. Not because they’re egotists, but because they’re afraid of getting in trouble.

The culture of blame is a whole other story. But blame does come from the top, and it’s at that top tier where the measure of leadership can change from how-well-we-create-police to how well we give our marketing people license to listen — to become theater impresarios, allowing great ideas to play, on a stage we share with everybody.


No Sympathy: Gillette Children’s Unflinching Campaign Against Pity

One of the most common reactions to someone else’s bad news is not knowing what to say. The first instinct is to give comfort, to be positive, to offer advice. Without thinking, we take full responsibility for taking away someone’s pain, someone we perceive as helpless. With only two words Gillette Children’s brand campaign cuts through those assumptions decisively: “Cure Pity.”

Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare is a world-renowned, non-profit hospital in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. The integrated campaign, which uses local broadcast, web, and out-of-home advertising to feature stories like Noah’s, inspires a new way of thinking—going from great to greater; from achievement to lasting achievement—as an alternative to our habitual response, which is to go from what we think of as “bad” to slightly better. From disabled to merely able. As a message, Cure Pity is powerful enough to help people start looking at their fellow humans a little differently.

The campaign is as smart and strategic as it is inspired.

Campaigns that cultivate pity induce a feeling of hopelessness that your one, meager contribution can make any difference. Perhaps you make one donation, one time, to shake off the uncomfortable feeling. Instead of pity, a more positive message invites compassion, which is an invitation to a deeper experience of shared humanity. Cure Pity asserts a call to action based on admiration instead of despair. It also subtly positions Gillette Children’s over an unnamed alternative: other hospitals that focus less on fostering quality of life and more on symptoms.

From a visual perspective, the campaign has one unrealized opportunity. It could do much more to pair up the copy with better design. Without both you wonder if an organization is fully committed to its message.

The strength of Cure Pity is storytelling. As a creative achievement, it asserts a social message that also helps a mission-driven organization continue to do great work. Advertising becomes culturally relevant when it can do either one of those things; curing pity does both.

– Eric Hayward