You Don’t Wear Your Grandma’s Clothes. So Why Are You Using Her Laundry Detergent?

If you look inside your closet these days, you’ll find that probably over half of your clothes are synthetics. And, after wearing them a while, they start to stink—in the gym, at yoga class, even at the coffee shop. The smell doesn’t seem to leave, no matter how many pre-washes, vinegar soaks and other laundry rituals you go through.

The reason? Traditional laundry detergents (the ones your Mom and Grandmother use) were designed to clean natural fibers. But not synthetics.

Hex, a new laundry detergent recently re-introduced with Thinktopia and other partners, was designed not only to clean, but to get rid of the bacteria hiding in your clothes. (It’s bacteria that causes the odor in your gym clothes.)

Hex came to Thinktopia late last year (with a shout-out to Annie Scranton of Pace Public Relations). The new laundry product had already been in test-market at some Target stores and local grocery chains along the Eastern seaboard. Product performance and sales were growing, but brand stakeholders realized their messaging on product package and in marketing communications didn’t feel on target.

While our exact process is bound by nondisclosure, Thinktopia helped to reposition the product to the booming new athleisure market, validated the Hex concept with users (and retail partners), evolved the target consumer beyond original scope, worked on new packaging design language and adapted the Hex strategy to a much larger opportunity than originally imagined.

Working in collaboration with LaunchPodium in San Francisco, we created new messaging strategies, an evolved and differentiated language and, finally, a website worthy of the growing Hex fan community.

As Hex founder and CEO Drew Westervelt declared following one of our workshops, “As far as I’m concerned, this company didn’t start two years ago. It started two weeks ago.”

Welcome to Hex, a powerful, eco-friendly detergent that’s built to clean, protect and restore today’s clothes. It’s definitely not your Grandma’s laundry detergent. To try Hex, visit your local Target stores, grocery, or And discover a new clean.

Mara Naboisho And Thinktopia Win Gold Award For Eco-Tourism

Tourism at the Soko bead market at Naboisho helps local conservancy
Tourism at the Soko bead market at Naboisho helps local conservancy

Mara Naboisho took the Gold at the African Responsible Tourism Awards for 2016 last week.

Two summers ago, we had incredible fun collaborating with James Boyce, Grant Richards, Mangesh Hattikudur and others to create a new brand strategy and positioning for Mara Naboisho, located in the amazing Maasai Mara region of Kenya.

The award was not only for our strategy, branding and public relations collaboration, but for the way that Mara Naboisho itself “remarkably brings together community and wildlife conservation to make better places to live in and great places to visit.”

What you may not know, is that conservancies like Mara Naboisho are the only way for human beings to protect Africa’s native species in the modern age. Conservancies rent tens of thousands of tribal acres from the native Maasai, so that the lands where elephants, zebras, Cape buffalo, antelope (and so many other species) graze, do not become pastures for Maasai goats and cattle.

This is a complicated economic ecosystem powered by tourism dollars. When you visit Africa (and if you can, you should) your dollars actually contribute to the livelihood and welfare of indigenous African species.

It might be difficult for modern minds to capture an image of the importance of these efforts. So imagine this fragment, “[We] strolled out to the top of the heights in the fork of these rivers, from whence we had an extensive and most enchanting view. The country, in every direction around us, was one vast plain in which innumerable herds of buffalo were seen, attended by their shepherds, the wolves. The solitary antelope, which now had their young, were distributed over its face. Some herds of elk were also seen. The verdure perfectly clothed the ground. The weather was pleasant and fair.”

This is not a modern day tale, but a paragraph extracted from the journals of famous American explorers Lewis and Clark. The piece was written on June 3, 1805, standing along the Musselshell River in Montana, which these days is only a fragment of its glorious past.

Last summer, we visited Mara Naboisho and stayed in camp. We watched herds of giraffes pass our tent. We heard hyenas whining in the night. We stood in a valley that we proclaimed was “Eden” as herds of antelope, zebras, giraffes, baboons, gazelles and other creatures coexisted in small groups throughout the valley.

We wondered what it must have been like to see the same abundance spread across the American plains, and sighed.

We are thrilled to help protect African wildlife, while everyone still can. Sure, it’s easy to say that we have our own problems to solve at home (and we do). But some of us can do both. So we do.

It’s Not Brand, It’s Community


During the 1992 Presidential election, political analyst James Carville kept reminding campaign workers of the issues they needed to focus on. The first was “the Economy”, and Carville’s oft-repeated mantra became “It’s the Economy, stupid!”

For brand stakeholders, the focus in 2016 is on “the community”. As Branding as a practice has evolved, so has our understanding of what it means to be a Brand.

The idea of brand has flipped from a product or service supported by a corporate power to (here comes the flip) a quality of belief and meaning that attracts individuals who share those same values and ideals.

They can become so passionate about the brand’s values they feel obligated and willing to help create that success themselves.

Nearly two decades into the millennium, it is now essential for anyone trying for mass appeal to move their enterprise from being meaningless technology to becoming an essential, relevant and meaningful part of our world. Many unicorns have died to make that statement true.

Quality and quantity have been flattened through the magic of global logistics. Mass differentiators during “The Madmen” era, today they have become price of admission. So much so, that today people are thinking global and producing local. (For those who know history, this is an 1820s New England Industrial Era construct.)

As many already know, Communities organize themselves around a belief system. A belief that humankind is created equally. A belief in life after death. A belief in good schools. A belief in aspirations. Think different. Just do it. Imagine.

These are the ideals, values and emotional touchpoints that resonate, attract and connect people together. They are a web of connecting points that attach themselves at the deepest levels of human behavior. A few years ago, we called this “primal code”. Today, acknowledging the rise of social community, these same elements have evolved to become the
“social code”.

A collection of seven data points (creation story, creed, icons, rituals, lexicon, nonbelievers, leader), the pieces of social code design and attract social community. They can be identified, put within context, analyzed, promoted, and create a systematic, strategic affinity engine. Designed with an overlay of individual behaviors they can increase advocacy and behaviors.

Strung together in a strategic brand narrative, they create meaningful interactions that become the magnetic core that attracts others to your beliefs—whether it’s two brothers building a bomb in a Boston basement, or 2 billion people calling themselves a nation.

Using this methodology, you can deconstruct brands for competitive advantage, design counter-narratives and distribute digital, social and traditional media in a holistic manner that creates one-to-one conversations, disrupts apathy and moves people from “Nobody cares” to “Everybody cares!”

This is the core of fandom and advocacy: The community of fans, advocates, zealots, and public who believe in and belong to your cult of passionistas. In fact, they may become so passionate about your success, they are willing to create it themselves.

Hashtags, Pins, likes and attendance are the rites of belonging. When those rites are embedded with more and other pieces of code, your fans become more connected to your strategic narrative—all of which makes your community more relevant, resonant, noteworthy and powerful.

The role of “brand management” is not to belabor your innovation and design thinking, but discover how to become more adept at delighting your brand community in every way possible. Sure, sometimes it might be an innovative new product, but more often it will be just figuring out how you best can welcome them into your brand community. Reminding them how important they are to you. And how you can keep them happy, happier, happiest.

They believe in you and they want you to believe in them.

Too many companies make the mistake of turning their consuming public into aggregate data points indicating growth, share, and margins gained when, in fact, every single sale is precious. Each ring of the cash register is a signal of belonging to your community.

If sales are down, it’s a sign that people don’t feel they belong in your community any more. They don’t identify with you. People might be confused about who you are, or you simply might be meaningless to them. Find out.


Identify what’s sticky about your brand community—what makes them stay? You may not want to mess with that. (When he became ceo of JCP, one of Ron Johnson’s first announcements was that he was abolishing the Thursday sales. Sale shoppers were cast out. Unfortunately, Thursdays were the biggest shopping days and one of the strongest reasons why people were shopping at J.C. Penney. There was no “brand” literally or figuratively, without those sales.)


Next, figure out what’s keeping people away. In classic marketing terms, what are the barriers to entry? If you can figure out how to remove those barriers, (for example, no one’s writing any reviews) you’ll be much better off.

The role of “brand management” today is to offer information, experiences, and interactions.

But it’s all really about the people. Whether it’s 200 people or 200 million, they are your brand community. Stay tuned in.

Can’t wait to see what happens next.

Photo by Rogue King Photography
A version of this story first appeared in Forbes

Patrick Hanlon Featured As Brand Expert In 10-Part Documentary Series

Thinktopia CEO Patrick Hanlon is featured in the documentary “The Kennedy Files” that premieres Tuesday, November 10 on REELZ network. The documentary flanks the network’s Emmy award-winning
series “The Kennedys” which also lunches this month.

“The Kennedys continue to be one of America’s greatest brands because there are so many avenues into their brand,” says Hanlon. “Whether it’s political power, Hollywood, Camelot, American rags to riches, Jackie O, or conspiracy theories, anyone can find a connection point into the Kennedy narrative.”

The ten-part documentary produced by Aspyr Media runs thru April, 2016 and covers the Kennedy fortune, family secrets, the family curse, the brothers, Jack & Jackie and, of course, conspiracies.

“The Kennedy narrative is a long, wide river,” says Hanlon. “It is no longer solely about how the next generation of Kennedys prolong their legacy, but how the next generation of storytellers move it forward. They can put their canoe in just about anywhere.”

Those who do not have REELZ on cable can stream “The Kennedy Files” on Netflix, also available on DVD.

Thinktopia Explains ‘The Cult Of Cool’ On Australian Prime Time TV

Australia TV The Cult of Cool copy
In a six-minute segment on one of Australia’s most popular television shows, Thinktopia founder Patrick Hanlon explains The Cult Of Cool: how ‘fandom’ and community create beacon Brands. Using the primal code of creation story, creed, icons, rituals, lexicon, nonbelievers and leader create a belief system that attracts others who share your beliefs. It can be complicated, says Hanlon, but so are human beings. Because companies and brand managers don’t take the time and energy to fill in all the pieces of code, is why there are so few really great brands like Apple, Nike, Google, and others. People don’t want to simply buy you these days, they want to buy into you. The way to turn meaningless products into meaningful Brands is to help people feel so passionate about your success that they are willing to create it themselves.

Brands Move From Great To Good

Last week, Starbucks launched another probe onto the corporate responsibility landscape by announcing an initiative to help 100,000 Millennials land jobs. Their “100,000 Opportunities Initiative” (teamed with 17 other companies including Target, Taco Bell and Walgreens) hopes to aid the 5.5 million between ages 16 and 24 who are not working.

Lots of companies today are branded to be good and socially conscious, including TOMS, Warby Parker, The Container Store, Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company and Ethos water, among others, contribute to cause-related efforts around the world. For companies like these, the claim is an integral part of their selling proposition.

It’s not enough for brands just to be Great these days, the evolving challenge (with apologies to Jim Collins) is also how to be Good.

A reflection of this trend is that Los Angeles creative agency 72andSunny has just added its first brand citizenship officer, Jim Moriarty.

“We are proactively calling it brand citizenship,” says Moriarty. “A lot of social responsibility has been inward facing, which is amazing and great, but it’s not what we’re talking about.”

Even though corporate clusters have become more sustainable and active, it’s not enough. As Moriarty points out, there are over 2 million nonprofits in the U.S. “They are run by good people,” nods Moriarty. “But they don’t scale.” Moriarty spent the last decade bringing corporate partners to nonprofits, but at 72andSunny he can continue that role at higher altitude.

“We thought we’d have to promote the idea, but we didn’t need to. This is an aspirational piece that everyone has flocked to.”

This surge goes beyond mere goodwashing.

As you have probably noticed, products are becoming healthier and more good for you, too.

Earlier this month, Mondelez announced its new Oreo cookie. The update is now slimmer than its double-stuffed predecessor, which not that long ago came out as “double stuffed”. PepsiCo has spent the last several years reformulating its existing product line to contain less sugar and buying up healthier food contenders like Sabra, the largest hummus maker in the United States. General Mills, which for years included convenience cooking brands like Pillsbury, Hamburger Helper and Chex Mix has purchased healthier younger-Mom alternatives like Annie’s brand, Food Should Taste Good® and the organic food products company Cascadian Farm.

With organic food growing annually at 10% (versus 3% for total food sales), the billion dollar consumer packaged goods companies could no longer point to nuts and berries eaters as an anomaly. Today, they are a well-populated market.

To quote real-life MadMan Bill Bernbach, “She’s your wife.”

Product companies aren’t the only ones coming to the party. Retailers are also revealing their good side.

A report notes recent “sympathetic” pricing, including resorts offering steep rebates if a guest’s vacation is rained out. Mass transportation officials in Paris offered free rides one weekend, responding opportunistically to dangerously high air pollution levels. And a British supermarket called Community Shop sells remainder products to families receiving government welfare. Retailers like Marks & Spencer, Tesco, and Tetley provide Community Shop with surplus products that don’t meet the pricier chains’ standards—and ordinarily end up in landfill.

Good stuff.

Other companies have started offering employee incentives (including higher pay) to work on weekends or under stressful conditions. Ikea just announced it will increase British worker’s wages in 2016—to over one dollar more per hour than the mandatory minimum wage. Ikea employees in London will receive even more.

There’s no question that good intentions are in the air, and that “values” are being measured in terms of not just economics, but philosophy.

Traditionally, the patron saints of such ideological change have been companies like Patagonia, Whole Foods, Aveda, Ben & Jerry’s, Stonyfield Farms and others who, within recent corporate memory, have proven that capitalism can have a conscience as well as a bottom line.

More to the point: it’s as important for a company to be responsible, as it is to be profitable.

After Enron, AIG, BP oil spills, and other misguidance, we look for action that goes beyond bee-lining toward corporate talking points, sustainability officers, and greenwashing. These days, companies who are bringing truth and values back to iconoplastic mission statements are not only cheered, they are rewarded with blacker bottom lines.

This is not new. In fact, true social entrepreneurship supported by active values has existed in American enterprise for hundreds of years. Johnson & Johnson was founded on the notion of serving the communities in which the company operated. Henry Ford, although controversial in other ways, increased his workers’ minimum wage from $2 to five dollars a day about 100 years ago, astonishing rivals and paving the way for the American middle class. Some good has always existed on the causeways of American commerce.

As Patagonia chief Yvon Chouinard reminds us, we all have a responsibility to be citizens, consumers and producers. So every time we bring “Good” back to great, we not only serve our fan communities, we become better citizens and create a holistically better (and often more profitable) company.

That’s Good for everyone.

Smirnoff: The Primal Vodka

I was sitting at the Starbucks in Westport, Connecticut with an executive from Smirnoff’s Global Brand Planning. I was in the middle of explaining the seven pieces of primal code, beginning with the creation story, when a smile spread across his face. “That’s exactly what we did with Smirnoff!” he burst out.

Turns out, Smirnoff was created by Piotr Aresenyevich Smirnov, who was able to take raw vodka and filter it into through silver birch tree charcoal and create a potable drink. While peasants were still filling buckets of their hard stuff, Smirnov’s refined vodka was smooth and imminently drinkable. When the Czar tried it and liked it in 1886, Smirnov’s career took off. He was appointed purveyor to the royal court and was awarded not just a single coat of arms, but four coats. He became Count Smirnov, and started wearing fur coats. The family became a part of Russian aristocracy just in time for the Russian Revolution. Piotr’s son Vladimir was arrested, escaped the firing squad, fled to Paris, lived in poverty, emigrated to America where he founded the Smirnov distillery again.

But although Americans drank, the popular spirits were brown goods (like scotch). By 1939, Smirnoff (let’s assume he changed the spelling of his name around this time) couldn’t afford to even pay his $1500 liquor license. He sold to Heublein, and encountered John Martin, a marketing guy in Bethel, Connecticut, who changed his life again.

Martin positioned vodka as “the white whiskey”. They created cocktails (they invented cocktails) like the Martini, Bloody Mary, Screwdriver and the Moscow Mule. The 1950s were a cocktail revolution. During the first three years sales tripled and then doubled from that. In 1952, the “leaves you breathless” advertising campaign was launched. Smirnoff went to Hollywood and was featured in James Bond movies, Woody Allen starred in Smirnoff print ads, life was one endless vodka martini.

Then things went a little tipsy. Smirnoff’s image became dusty and, during the Cold War, essentially “Russian”.

During the political chill and trade embargo, an upstart named Absolut (from Sweden, no less) entered our shores and vodka was never the same again. Premium brands thrived. Grey Goose and others entered the market. Smirnoff became a bottom shelf brand, its heritage forgotten, and Smirnoff sales slumbered at the bottom of the liquor store rack.

Recently, the marketers at Smirnoff unearthed the lost history of Count Smirnoff. They informed employees how the brand had actually invented the vodka market, creating esprit de vodka. Sales staff spread the word among the trade.

In 2005, The New York Times conducted a blind taste test of the premium vodkas and Smirnoff won, surpassing 21 other super-premiums.

Using their valuable creation story to reignite the brand, the vodka that helped vodka become the number one spirit in the world, is the number one-tasting spirit brand in the U.S.A. today.

Note: “Primal” brands contain seven pieces of “primal code”: a creation story, creed, icons, ritual, sacred words, nonbelievers, and leader.

(The word “brand” is an imperfect word. For purposes here, “brand” is considered to be any person, place or thing searching for popular appeal.)

Why Has Anheuser-Busch Announced A Generic Beer Campaign?

CNBC Bud Grab A Beer

Thinktopia CEO Patrick Hanlon on CNBC discussing Anheuser-Busch’s new campaign that tries to gain the upper hand in the beer category. the company is trying to stem a decade-long downward slide in market share, versus the growing craft beer trend.

Their new “Let’s Grab A Beer” website is a tardy and ill-designed attempt to grab consumer enthusiasms. The site is not well-designed, not very entertaining or even funny, and demonstrates just how flat A/B has become.

Medium Names “ISIS As Brand Movement” In Top 20

Medium Top 20 ISIS As Brand Movement

Medium is the new place on the Internet where people share ideas. Co-founded by Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, Medium is a new take on the state of the modern blog. We are happy they’re willing to let us write there. “ISIS As Brand Movement” looks at why we follow brands at all, even if they’re brands willing to decapitate people who don’t want what they’re selling. I had been asked about the subject over a year ago, wrote something. Stalled. Wrote some more. Finally, spoke with Medium about it and they agreed to look at it.

Ironically, it coincided with Graeme Woods’ terrific piece in The Atlantic, “What ISIS Really Wants” although it’s an altogether different take on the the group. Read them both, see what you think?