Wednesday, October 15, 2008

How To Give Digital Music that Warm Vinyl Feel in the Age of The Internet

This is compulsive viewing.

If you're born after 1975 you can go back to somnambulence. Those born before may experience a strange yet familiar stirring from this mesmerizing video. It might be nostalgia, not for a sound quality that was generally far inferior to cd and mp3 era music, but for the ritual of sitting down, for that first listen, the disk spinning endlessly as we devoured the liner notes and artwork. People don't listen to music this way anymore.

Thanks to bridgebolt for making it possible, and bringing back a piece of the past which had been too easily forgotten.

A True Maverick in the Face of Pretenders

Mr Hirst is nothing if not contravertial. But he must be admired for the recent auction of his work, a gutsy move on several fronts:

* He was offering work for sale for the first time (unlike galleries which only sells work that had sold before) The lots falling under the hammer at the September 5th auction lacked a historically confirmed valuation, which could have put his reputation at risk, moreso because of the intense publicity surrounding the event.

* Unlike the safe harbor of a gallery, the price of work can't be controlled when sold at auction (a reserve notwithstanding); the market determines the price and this can be uncertain, particularly for works that have not sold before.

* Selling a moderate number of lots helps to keep the price higher as supply is restricted. Hirst bucked the wisdom by offering a vast number of lots at one time which risked depressing the price (though this did not happen)

* The biggest convention he overturned however is the idea that an original work is produced at the hand of the artist. He employs more than 180 people in operations that amount to factories, assembly line in style, which produce works that Mr. Hirst approves, sometime from no more than a photograph. The result is a prolific scale of art for sale that is unmatched by other artists but not by his ambition and ravenous appetite for success.

Daniel Hirst can certainly be seen as an agent provocateur today, not just through his art but by how he goes to market. Has he always been like this?

We suspect that his mum may have the answer. She can shed light on whether pushing boundaries and hot buttons simply because they are there is a relatively recent development or whether it had early stirrings from the time he was lad.

Should I stay or should I go?

It's fine for a 1980s era Clash song of the same name but not for a sign that's meant to help to navigate safe passage across the street.

The display somehow manages to overcome its binary wiring, showing two different commands simultaneously.

The result it confusion and hopefully immobility on the part of the casual observer, at least before resorting to the a prudent back-up of glancing both ways along the street.

We've commented on confusing signs recently. This fine example was encountered recently on the streets of lower Manhattan, NY.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Eccentricity Goes Mainstream

How times change.

It used to be that wearing anything that did not match - particularly something worn as part of a pair, such as shoes or socks - was considered at best odd and usually, far worse, as eccentric.

What used to be viewed with suspicion and lurked at the fringes of pop culture has now been brought into the mainstream.

Little Mismatched offers a line of, well, mismatched footwear and clothing and in doing so seeks to convert a behavior that had conferred the unwelcomed status of social pariah into a desirable one of confident self-expression. With appeals such as 'How mismatched are you?' the brand seeks to competitively incite the prospective buyer with a dare.

It's a great example of how mass marketers seek inspiration from the margins to mine new commercial opportunity.

An Accident Waiting to Happen

The headline in the ad plays to a persistent perception: insurance is a necessarily evil most people feel they'd rather live without. Promoting a claim to the contrary is going to do little on its own to improve that situation.

It seems harmless enough. An insurance company 'selling the category' without any evidence as to why the viewer should believe this advertiser"s claim over any other company.

But more damage will materialize over time. Why? The industry continues to raise expectations - with messages such as these - while failing to deliver on them.

If that sounds like a harsh assessment, one has to look no further than the average insurance policy against the background of chatter about insurance companies on many blogs and in chat rooms.

The reason why dissatisfaction and distrust are so pervasive in this category is because when it comes to claim time, most policyholders do not get what they feel they should be entitled to.

We at OFD think there are two contributory factors:

1) People don't really understand the full extent of the policy they have bought. Such policies are notoriously difficult to decipher (look no further than the length and language of your car insurance policy). The result is that many people only come to realize the nature of exclusions and deductibles once they are at claim time, when such discoveries are too late.

2) The pervasive imbalance of power between policyholders and insurance companies is magnified at claim time. Insurance companies hold all the cards: they make a determination which is imposed on the policyholder, who has no redress nor ability for arbitration. This fuels the perception of a lack of fairness and a feeling of inequity that's not hard to find on the internet, the legion of stories of people feeling literally cheated by the unequal relationship.

There are opportunities for the taking in this category. We're not suggesting that insurance companies open themselves up to arbitration necessarily (that would be a bold move indeed). But we do believe that the existence of such an unequal relationship - both in understanding of terms and in settlement mechanics - represents space for an enterprising brand to forge greater differentiation in this otherwise highly commoditized category.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Endowment Effect

This comes from a fascinating article in the June 21st issue of The Economist about what drives attachment.

Simply put, endowment effect suggests that once someone owns something he places a higher value on it than he did when he acquired it.

In a ingenious experiment, students were reluctant to trade a coffee mug for a bar of chocolate even though they did not prefer mugs to chocolate when given a straight choice between the two.

The experiment was repeated with primates with similar results. When presented with a choice, 60% of chimps preferred peanut butter to frozen juice bars. However, when they were endowed with peanut butter, 80% of them chose to keep it instead of exchanging it for fruit bars.

Our evolutionary past may explain it. Giving things up, even when an apparently fair exchange seems to be on offer, was just too risky. These days there are contracts, rights and other ways of enforcing bargains. Animal societies have none of these mechanisms.

In a brain scanning study carried out recently (using functional MRIs) the pattern and location of activity observed suggests the endowment effect works by enhancing the salience of loss. If this is true, it suggests that a shrewd tendency persists even though we have evolved our culture and environment to where we no longer need to rely on it.

I can only imagine the searches that this posting will turn up in elsewhere, given the title it has, no doubt of disappointment to most readers.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

An Age of Insecurity and Opportunity

When it comes to brands making statements about us, there are a couple of ways to interpret them.

The first is that they serve as nothing more that confirmation; of something we already know and believe.

At OFD we take a different anthropological interpretation.

Such statements are valued precisely because we don't ourselves believe them and being confronted with the idea gives us a permission to believe that we can't find our way to on our own.

Navigating the duty free area that one literally cannot avoid after clearing security at CDG airport in Paris, we encountered this fine specimen:

At first glance, it seems faintly absurd and rather arrogant that a brand - any brand - would be so presumptuous to tell us we are unique. How can a brand know us after all? On the other hand, it is precisely because so many people don't feel special that being told we are is so appreciated. Affirming our worth makes us feel good and makes us feel warm and fuzzy about what is showering us with affection, in this case a brand called Magnifique.

L'Oreal has gone as far actually referring to worth in the platitude is directs to women: Because You're Worth It.

While insecurity is bad for people it is, in a sense, good for marketers for it creates an urgent, self-directed need for resolution across a number of aspects of people's lives and how they define themselves. The needs are not latent, rather they are very pressing because they are concerned with issues that matter to us a great deal: whether we are successful, whether we are beautiful or handsome, whether we are good parents or not, to name a few.

The Inevitable Chatter About AIG: Part Two

This served up by Ad Age today, affirming that blogs and other on-line content are indeed not favorable to AIG, in part due to the company continuing to promote its strength at a time when in was in question.

The Inevitable Chatter About AIG

AIG has been touting its strength for a long time. It's not surprising that the web is alight with the irony of AIG's bail out by the Fed. The Consumerist is only one site enjoying that reckoning that AIG is facing, whose commercials seem shockingly brazen given this recent news.

AIG is not alone. There are plenty of corporations that play a dangerous game indeed; their Houses NOT in order they continue to shape perceptions in a wholly different manner, oblivious - or arrogant - to the new consequences of the transparent age in we which we live, with the surfacing of inconsistencies that will emerge through fuller, freer distribution of information.

We have William Caxton to thank in 1476 for the first major revolution in free-thought. He developed the printing press which allowed the spread of ideas in written form, which expanded discussion and conjecture and the quality of thinking with it.

We have the internet (at least web 2.0's incarnation) to thank for further dramatically shifting control of debate and distribution of ideas out of the hands of 'producers' to ordinary people.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Klimpton: hotel as playground for adult fun

Why should the folks at the W have all the fun?

An in-room closet hanger recently suggested guests unleash their 'wild side'; to put on the robes - a wrap for men and a camisole for the ladies - and follow their instincts.

Permission to play is an inventing part of Kimpton's suggestive selling. There's a time and place for adults to step outside of the boundaries of what they know and experience something new. They might even learn something about themselves in the process.

If couples leave with that kind of experience, the memory must certainly halo back to the brand. Not a bad accomplishment in mid-priced hotels segment offering a mostly undifferentiated fare.

Running towards what you should be avoiding

So this is a mighty confusing sign. And one with potentially fatal consequences.

Imagine for a moment you can't read English.

What does the image suggest to you?

The reasonable take-away is that one should AVOID the stairs in a fire. It suggests that it will bring you closer to the very thing that you should be running away from.

The opposite interpretation is of course intended: that the elevator should be avoided and the stairs used in this kind of situation.

All of which goes to show it matters where you put the flames. Would it have been that hard to put them over the shoulder of our universally recognized stick figure?

An attempt to encourage virtuous behavior backfires

An ad on the side of the Muni subway in San Francisco. It seeks to create a little more social harmony by giving people a reason why they should be nice, in this instance, road users being more courteous to each others.

It seems reasonable. Give as good as you get. A cosmic harmony of goodwill will be returned. But that's precisely the flaw. It creates an unsustainable expectation. If we are encouraged to behave in a specific way from a literal expectation of reciprocity, then when it doesn't happen the behavior will collapse.

The strategically smarter approach would have been to create value that's not so literally dependent on other people's cooperation.

The Liberty Mutual Campaign in a case in point. (Let's put aside the issue of how feasible it is for an insurance company to build its business on a platform of responsibility when the underlying format of a policy and the claim resolution experience are destined to violate it and therefore dash expectations it has helped create.) If this kind of approach had been leveraged for 'social issue' communication, we at OFD think it would have been more compelling.

The premise of the Liberty Mutual commercial is of people doing some small act of good for the sake of it, which happens to be seen and inspires people to copy, in a 'Pay It Forward' kind of way. Enacting the behavior does not require reciprocity. The motivation to give comes from an acknowledgment and understanding of life's interdependency, one in which we might not be aware of how the connections are made, but taps into the truth that they are, and that it benefits us. So it gracefully dodges the flat-footed rationality of literal reciprocity which the 'social issue' communication is rooted in and which trips it up.

Message perfectly fits the medium: Part Two

Jet Blue telling people not to fly?

Has the brand gone mad?

It has not. It's an example of great placement, the nature of which contributes to the message and compels engagement. Positioned by the side of the road - where traffic is destined to fly by - provides a counter-point against which the communication works even harder.

It's part of Jet's Blue marketing campaign to create an aspirational identity for people who use the brand. These passengers don't fly. They have more traveling discretion, for they are jetting. The merits of the strategy aside, this is delightful placement indeed.

Message perfectly fits the medium: Part One

There is something inherently alternative about wildpostings. The term “guerrilla’ is applied to this medium after all.

So it made our OFD culture spotter smile to see this communication recently during the Olympics.

It features a man hurling an incendiary device at some unknown destination, housed in what very much looks like a coke bottle. The sporting apparel he wears bears the Nike logo suggests he’s an athlete, one which resemblance discus throwing from a distance.

Nike is known for its guerrilla marketing at sports events whose sponsorship it is locked out of. But this must sure be parody, a brand hijacking one presumes.

Couched as chocolate

What a visual treat this outdoor board delivers.

Who would have thought that associations from these two categories could be combined so effectively? There is something succulent and tantalizing about the way the couch is half wrapped, suggesting a thrill in the reveal.

Removing packaging is a sensual part of consuming the product. Several companies understand this. Apple in its superbly crafted boxes that laptops are packed in. GM puts a ribbon over the handle of its used cars so the buyer must break the seal before getting in.

Perhaps this furniture brand could benefit from such thinking and enhance the consumption experience of its product before it's even sat upon.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Good Design: When Packaging is The Product

The problem with much packaging is that it is designed to become obsolete: it often ceases to be useful beyond getting the product home. This is particularly true of furniture and lighting.

This idea is debunked by Light2Go. The packaging is fundamentally part of the lighting device.

The packaging that houses all the contents.....

......becomes the external shade when used as a hanging lamp and as an internal structure when used in the desk lamp configuration, shown here.

The result is reduced waste. The 'life' of the package is long - as long as the lamp is being used. Now that's good responsible design.

It was bought at the gift shop at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which we at OFD think is quite apt. After all, anything that subverts and overcomes the limitations inherent in traditional design thinking, without compromising form or function is art indeed.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Use another brand's colors at your peril

Quick! What company is promoting its breakfast fare?

If you thought the Golden Arches, it's understandable.

After all, McDonalds is associated probably more than any other brand with breakfast eaten out of the home or on-the-go. It's not come free: they've spent millions of dollars to establish themselves in pole position in this regard, in the minds of people who eat there as well as those who don't, such is the scale of McDonalds relentless promotion and ubiquitous retail presence.

The Red, Yellow and White colors are also a key part of the permanent repertoire of associations that are tied to the brand.

All of which makes it odd indeed that a relative minnow of a player - Jamba Juice - should use these colors in the branding of its own breakfast offering.

True, the white strip on the right-hand side promotes Jamba Juice as the owner of this message, but it occupyies only 1/4 of the entire advertising space. We believe that the large red block is so dominating that it is likely to be processed as a separate unit, and so mis-attributed as a McDonald's communication.

We're also left wondering why Jamba Juice doesn't sharpen the distinctiveness of its breakfast offering compared with the burger and biscuit behemoth. After all, this is a time when people are more aware of the health consequences of eating than ever before.

The climate is ripe for Jamba Juice to promote its unique take on breakfast, with fruit and a blender being key elements to 'brand' this healthier approach. Instead we get these items visually with nothing more than a perfunctory promotion that 'new breakfasts meals are here.'

A missed opportunity in our book. Or perhaps, a nervous David afraid to pick up a gauntlet against a category Goliath.

A strategy of direct contrast against a well-known entrenched competitor can be highly successful. It worked for Veryfine beverages back in the late 80s when they positioned their 100% juices against sodas (at a time before the explosion of Snapple, Sobe, Nantucket Nectars and Arizona Ice tea on to the market).

One simple yet memorable ad featured a Pepsi can next to a Veryfine bottle.

'Gas' it read under the Pepsi container, 'Guzzler' underneath Veryfine's.

The point was telegraphed. There's only such much soda you can sup without feeling full of gas. But a beverage without the carbonation? You can drink as much as you want to quench a thirst.

For litigious-fearful among you, the Veryfine brand - largely unheard of at the time - got tremendous credit for the boldness and courage it displayed in challenging a giant. Something that replacing the Pepsi can with an air-brushed generic soda can would not have inspired.

As a brand, if you are a David facing a Goliath, act like it. You have a legion of devotees waiting to believe in your cause if you authentically embrace it instead of hiding in the shadows.

Branding inspiration on the streets of San Francisco

OFD believes that inspiration is so important to keeping the color and creativity. In work. In life. Whatever the context or relationship.

But it's also something of a riddle. It is hard to find inspiration by looking for it. It is as if the act of searching itself contributes to its elusive.

The solution of course is NOT to look, and instead focus the mind; create a state of passive alertness so that the sub-conscious picks up and notices the very elements in the surroundings that one cannot find by deliberately searching.

A case in point: The Mechanics Institute. Who would have thought that it would provide such sound advice for an aspiration that many brands would do well to strive for?

The plaque outside the organization's premises on Post Street east of Stockton begins with a simple statement of purpose:

'The diffusion of knowledge at the least possible expense to the seeker'

We live in an age when people value actions from brands over words, utility over endless preaching.

Brands that get it are those that realize there are many facets to this value-minded consumer, including delivering relevant content that's been digested, and framed to be easy to assimilate and delivers real utility to the recipient. Not information, but knowledge.

Think about your brand's website, its retail environment, your marketing communications.

How much work and effort does a prospect have to expend for the privilege of engaging with your brand?

Is 'entertainment value' strategically minded or a tactic that actually distracts from a more pressing need to deliver utility quickly, effectively and colorfully?

The credo of The Mechanics Institutes is good brand advice indeed to keep at hand.

Inspiration found in an unlikely place while not being sought.

And that's kind of the point.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Parody display: ostentation is in the rip

Parody display is an odd phenomenon. At its heart lies an expensive imitation of less fortunate living.

As a fashion statement, torn jeans are one example of a parody expression which first emerged in the 1990's. Celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and other pop culture influencers of the mass market adopt them precisely because they are in contradiction with their own wealth and success.

It costs more to buy these jeans torn than un-ripped (much to the consternation of parents everywhere placating their children's demands for the latest 'in' thing). It is an indulgence of the affluent.

The idea that something worn - damaged even - is worth more than something new is itself not new.

In Elizabethan England, patina - the worn marks that accumulate on a prized object - had status conferring significance. In becoming minutely dented, chipped, oxidized and worn from use over time, the physical property of patina took on a symbolic property: the accumulation of physical flaws suggested the object had been in the owner's possession for some time, implying longevity to the wealth being displayed and that the family was no newcomer to its present social standing. (McCracken 1990)

We encountered a new medium for parody display recently:

Why not furniture? Duct-tape is a universal measure to fix and patch up almost anything that's ripped, torn or broken. Leveraging this association as a purposeful design element in furniture is classic parody display. No one would so willing put it on display unless it carried different expressive value.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Great Branding: helping people connect with the intangible PART THREE

We've covered this topic from a couple of angles.

Verizon Wireless using a spokesperson who leads a workforce army to embody the network and comprehensive coverage ("Can you hear me now? Good.")

Staples creating customer value and perceived differentiation through the use of the Easy Button device.

As we move on to cover other aspects of effective branding practice, we close this chapter with a classic example, courtesy of Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

In terms of execution, the genius behind their work in 2005 for the Anti-smoking Lobby was in how it took disturbing aspects of smoking that people had become inured to and made it tangible.

Everyone knows that tobacco causes cancer. Everyone knows that people who smoke die. The problem was that no one had found a disruptive way to make it accessible to the people that matter most: teenagers that are in a crucial experimental, proving themselves phase of life who are developing habits.

1200 people a day die from smoking related issues. This number too though is abstract. It's the equivalent of about four jumbo jets crashing, but this does not bring home the horror of the scale.

Body bags are an highly charged image, infused with emotion in our culture. They are not a common sight yet are highly familiar, from media coverage of soldiers killed at war being returned home as well as domestic tragedies like traffic accidents.

By using body bags - the sight and sheer number of them - CP+B put the issue on lips of the very people they were seeking to influence.

Behind the exeuctional brilliance though, was some terrific strategic work without which the great work wouldn't have happened.

The very authoritarian `Don't smoke,' message of past anti-tobacco ads backfired because young people tend to do exactly what they are told not to.


Smoking is not about cigarettes, but about rebellion. Kids know smoking is something their parents prefer they wouldn't do, so a cigarette is the ultimate statement of
autonomy - `I'm willing to put my life in jeopardy.'


Kids need a common enemy, and kids hate more than anything to be lied to, and hate to be manipulated." The "truth" campaign did just that, telling teenagers that if they smoke, they're playing into the hands of Big Tobacco.

Culture is an adaptive organism.

We're fascinated at OFD by the organic nature of popular culture and the ability for ideas to be taken, re-appropriated and turned into something new and different from the original intension.

Take the Live strong bracelet.

It started as an idea to raise money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation and quickly became a badge for people who wanted to show their allegiance with the Live Strong philosophy of life. It became a cultural touchstone and was imitated by a variety of charities to promote their own causes.

In perhaps the most bizarre adaptation, it was appropriated in China into candy (confectionery) as a medium for delivering messages.

Now take the twisted ribbon.

It started out life being an emblem for Hope For The Cure in support of cancer. Now, the shape has become a loose canvas on which a whole variety of themes and beliefs are sketched.

Gotta love cultural appropriation, an endless shifting sand. There's hope in the tendency, and maybe a little opportunistic money to be made too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

One of these things is not like the others

How times have changed.

Slowly but certainly, the need for things to match in how we express ourselves has shifted.

This is no small feat. The matching mindset has dominated for several decades across a variety of milieu in mainstream culture, from fashion and furniture to home furnishings. A table set with unmatching napkins and napkins rings upon unmatching placemats would have been unthinkable in our parents' generation, but now it is all the rage.

It's not just growing up with GrrAnimals that has conditioned people to adopt this way of patterning. Many evolutionary biologists believe our brains are wired to seek out sameness in the world around us, as something unfamiliar represents a potential threat. So too with symmetry: a better procreation partner is one without noticeable deviations from a symmetric norm (genetic abnormalities do not bode well).

There are also consumer behavior advantages to a bias for matching. It simplifies the purchasing process because an entire set can be confidently bought with relative ease. The ownership experience is also helped: there isn't going to be criticism from friends or acquaintances about incongruent elements because there are none - though the overall style itself may be disliked.

The reliance on the uniformity of matching comes from a lack of confidence and time. When we curate our own expression of style we inherently take a risk, exposing us to the possibility of criticism or ridicule because we dare to deviate from the safety of
ordained choices.

It was thus encouraging to see the trend of departing from sameness on show at ABC home furnishings in NYC this past weekend.

In a variety of living room settings, there was clearly one chair which in no way matched any of the others. In fact, so much did the chair not fit the color scheme of the rest that it seemed deliberately chosen, a suggestion that standing out by not fitting in has virtues.

The more observant will have noticed that the inclusion of beige colored cushions on the couch provides a connective thread that ensures the mis-matched chair is interpreted as planned and not an accident. The same tactic is used on the top photo with blue cushions. True, this takes away from what would be a much bolder statement - a chair that is completely orphaned. But it's something.

Appreciation for good design has gone through a similar evolution (and emancipation one could argue) over the last 5 years. Design aesthetics have filtered down and entered mainstream consumption thanks in large part to companies like Target that have made it an explicit part of their messaging and implicitly reflected in their merchandising.

So what brand will it be that takes a leadership role in helping mass consumers develop their curatorial capabilities and give them the confidence to abandon the blandness of matching for the bolder expression of their own richer, more eclectic style?

Jet Blue riffs on Virgin to give its brand some sparkle

Jet blue are trying to create some cache for their brand. You can't blame them. The Low Cost Carrier market has really heated up recently. It's more than soaring oil prices eroding profitability: new competition has arrived in the form of Virgin America, which offers a great branded entertainment experience that flies between SFO, LAX and Las Vegas to name a few West coast cities.

It seems a bit cheeky therefore that Jet Blue have copied an approach that Virgin Airways took a few years back. In August 2005 Branson's airline introduced the world to a new type of jetsetter, the Jetrosexual (a thinly veiled reference to the then recently defined demo/psychographic - the metrosexual). Virgin defined this group as "globe- leaders among "a new emerging business culture" who are "rock stars of their industry...those who "leave the terra firma behind each day to move business and culture forward.""

Jet Blue has now introduced 'Jetting'. What was once the province of an upwardly mobile jet set has been recast for the mass-market. It comes with leather seats, and award winning customer service which, in a distinctly democractic twist more indicative of Southwest, is available "for everyone".

It remains to be seen how effective it will be given the vastly better planes, human touch and service of Virgin America.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Value in promoting values in a time of disruption

A good brand is nothing if not a clear and compelling point of view. Crafted correctly it is a compass, one which helps people more easily navigate the category in which the brand belongs and gives it a lift above the fray.

Why does a point of view matter?

A point of view is a reflection of a value or belief. People generally are motivated to form relationships and bonds with things that share not violate the values and beliefs they hold. When a brand extols a point of view directly and clearly it helps attract people who are like-minded and like-hearted.

It also has the advantage of feeling rather noble. It is devoid of any obvious commercial motivation, such as the promotion of a capability, product or price. It inherently feels more earnest which is why people let their guard down and are prepared to suspend if not disbelief then hard-edged skepticism.

The greater presence of brands engaging in point of view advocacy is the result of a widening appreciation of its value. In a previous era (Middle ages thinking) such communication was considered 'soft' because it was removed for direct impact on purchase drivers. But enlightenment has arrived. Marketers now realize that when done well it helps establish authenticity in the minds of prospects and consumers alike because the brand is issuing a forceful opinion behind which it is perceived to stand. It's not like the accountability of measurement has lessened - for attitudinal shifts in brand considerations and likeability are important dimensions of a brand relationship to see progress along - rather that the value of these shifts has increased in line with an evolved understanding of consumer psychology.

It's action even a construction company can get in on. Some enlightened soul at Nibbi Brothers General Contracting saw the need to reshape perceptions at a time that might otherwise be associated with disruption, noise and dirt. While the firm touts itself as being "In the tradition of Old World Craftsmanship" there's nothing Old World about it's brand management. Promoting its point of view about what it takes to be a good citizen and positioning its business of building as one that participates in it is not just opportunistic, it's inspired.

Knock-offs with style

You expect to see counterfeit merchandise in New York City. They are a presence on every street that a tourist is likely to set foot upon and the variety of vendors is almost as varied as the goods for sale.

On a recent Saturday morning, Sixth Avenue was shut down and a selection of stalls and concessions stands were lined in an orderly fashion along either side of the street. There among them was a cathedral to counterfeiting, a purveyor of the finest knock-offs proudly promoting its wares.

Why be bashful? Rather than pretending to be something other than it is, embracing the true nature of its business actually bestows a sense of authenticity. The dose of irony is welcomed at the very least.

There are few other brands that could fare better by facing their true selves and getting more favor from shoppers as a result.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Creative Disruption: Putting a foot in the door of the mind

Though incredibly advanced in scope and scale, the brain is a patterning machine at its core.

This structuring activity is submerged in our subconscious most of the time. Nonetheless it manifests itself through our behavior across all areas of our life. Marketers have to work with rather than against this tendency to achieve their goals.

If a marketer wants to promote trial of its brand which is not a part of a group's consumption pattern it has to provide some inspiration to disrupt the existing behavioral and relationship order.

How does it do it?

Providing a fresh perspective - a new way of looking at things - stimulates the mind to engage and reconsider. It requires understanding the psychology of people and consumption.

Take this outdoor advertising for Purely Decadent

It could have promoted taste, but many other brands have used taste so this is not new.

It could have promoted a unique flavor, but it does not have ones so unique as to be new.

What will disrupt? Challenging the accepted relationship between ice cream and cone.

The idea of an ice cream serving so large that the cone is barely visible suggests a new possibility: that ice cream can be consumed on a scale previously unthinkable Supporting copy explains what makes it possible: "Dairy free, cholesterol free and available or mass consumption". It concludes with the suggestive invitation "Indulge".

The visual telegraphs this disruptive relationship simply and directly. The image is arresting precisely because it is so unusual. In doing so, a door in the mind has been opened and the brand has successfully stuck its foot in it.

Great branding: helping people connect with valued but intangible benefits PART TWO

Staples had nothing to differentiate itself in the business supplies category. Office Max and Office Depot offer the same brands at similar prices.

Find some aspect of value relevant with consumers that would reposition Staples as a better choice.

Visual: The Easy button icon promoted simplicity, convenience and a hassle-free experience in a fun way.

Staples has created a compelling basis for differentiating by making formally intangible qualities visible.

The button device was so highly appealing that its popularity extended far beyond what was expected. Over 1,000,000 were made bought and it passed into popular culture, inspiring extensions and imitations.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Great branding: helping people connect with valued but intangible benefits

Brand stewardship is an exercise in managing people’s relationship with meaning. But a brand should also be considered an agent for helping connect people with value. It's one of our core activities in the work we do for Clients here at OFD.

Value of course involves far more than price: it’s all the other benefits that consumers derive from consuming a product or service – and not just in a functional or physical sense. Psychological rewards are a key part of the unconscious value assessment that people carry around in the heads and which draws them towards brands or pulls them away.

By recognized that a key element of consumer value had gone unowned in its category, Verizon improved brand differentiation and leadership significantly.

Verizon Wirelesss

Coverage is a big issue with cell phone users. Poor quality reception disrupts a conversation, causing frustration.

For years cell phone companies have boasted about their coverage, either the reach (national coverage maps) or the quality (like Sprint’s pin drop). It’s become a completely undifferentiated claim and consumers have no way or reason to believe one brand is better than another.

The network is an idea that’s invisible and abstract. Consumers hadn’t been connected to it, even though ironically they use it every time they make a call.

Root the solution in something from the consumers’ world so they can relate to the network idea better.

Visual: Use the idea of the Verison workforce as a human embodiment of the network, which literally follows a verizon user around as they go about their day.
This massive group is led by a network 'tester' that roams the country testing signal strength

“Can you hear me now? Good.” recast a commonly overheard phrase people say when poor reception is hampering a conversation and turns it into positive affirmation of network coverage quality.

Verizon's network has powerful tangible benefit to people, by using a distinctive, visual and aural branding device.

Monday, May 5, 2008

A French name adds that je ne sait quoi

You'd be forgiven if thinking these establishments are in Europe. You'd not only have the wrong continent but the wrong side of the world. They are in Tokyo.

One will encounter relatively modest coffee shops such as these bearing French names but with no evidence of any other connection to that culture.

According to a local there's a clear hierarchy of style in Tokyo.

Way, way at the bottom are US brands.

Above them, reside the Spanish.

Then come the British (thanks to Burberry and Paul Smith)

Above, the Italian's take second place.

In pole position, come the French, envied deeply for their style in clothes and gastronomy.

So when it comes to sizing up places to grab a coffee or bite to eat on the go, one really can't judge a book by its cover.

The Art of Napping in Public

It happened at tea houses and coffee shops all over Tokyo. People not so much sitting as slumped on the table in front of them.

The casual observer would be forgiven for thinking something had been slipped in their drink. These strangers at rest are so completely cold to the bustling world around them. This site would make the folks at Red Bull smile, and think of this as potential distribution for their high-energy drinks, even when not mixed with spirits.