‘Begin Again’ Director John Carney Redubs Film Ritual

Ritual is an important part of brand narrative. Relating narratives is a ritual, and rituals are also embedded in the actual production and action of narratives.

Let me explain. Going to the movies is a ritual we have all enjoyed. But what we may not realize is, that the act and art of creating a film is also a ritual: filled with moments of joy and despair. (As anyone inside the film community knows, film production is hours of sheer boredom, interrupted by moments of sheer panic.)

Characters within the plot have rituals. Jack Nicholson’s character in ‘The Shining’ for example, acted out the ritual of writing a novel. ‘Game Of Thrones’ is filled with rituals, from sword practice and beheadings to sex romps.

In the new movie ‘Begin Again’ from director John Carney, Keira Knightley plays a young songwriter who, at least in this segment of the movie, is onstage performing her new song. As Carney points out in his narration over a pivotal scene when his two main characters meet for the first time (in a video provided by The New York Times), this scene is an oft-performed movie meme. In fact, Carney points to Judy Garland playing a similar scene in ‘A Star Is Born.’ Part of Carney’s challenge, he explains, is to give this tried-and-true scene a twist that makes the rite something new for his audience.

Actor Mark Ruffalo plays the record producer and A&R man who hears something in Knightley’s music that no one else in the bar can. This is a genre piece, which, by definition, must fit a genre: a cluster of easily consumable memes whose predictability both satisfy and annoy us.

Memes are patterns, icons and actions that make us comfortable. But that comfort embraces a predictability that frustrates our lust for unpredictability.

Hence New York Times’ reviewer A.O. Scott simultaneously likes and dislikes ‘Begin Again,’ without understanding why. “I’m trying to praise this movie with faint damnation,” he concludes. “It’s not very good, but it is kind of enjoyable, at times infectiously so.”

The crowd is a fickle audience. Carney’s new film is scheduled for limited release on July 2.


Primal Branding Featured In Suriname Turnaround Brand Workshop

Turning stagnant brands into dynamic powerhouses was the subject of a workshop at the Anton de Kom University in Suriname this week. Primal Branding was featured in the class, according to attendees.

Primal Branding is the most effective construct for helping turn around brands in trouble. When you deconstruct a brand into its seven (7) pieces of Primal Code (creation story, creed, icons, rituals, sacred words, nonbelievers, and leader) you can identify what (if any) elements are missing.Primal Branding at ADEK university in Caribbean Suriname

For example, when we worked on the Maxwell House coffee brand for Kraft, few stakeholders at Maxwell House recalled that 100 years ago there was actually a Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. One night, a President of the United States stayed overnight at the hotel. The next morning, as the President was having his morning breakfast, the waiter came over the refill the President’s coffee cup. Teddy Roosevelt held his hand palm down over the cup and said, “No, wait! This coffee is so good, it’s good to the last drop!” Roosevelt lifted the cup to his lips and drained it.

Using the Primal Branding process (which is now ratified and promoted by the largest social engagement community on the planet—YouTube) also helps you to identify and refresh brand elements to make them more relevant and meaningful for today’s markets. Those elements can include the logo, packaging, naming, delivery processes, even ingredients.

The process also helps to identify and single out brand assets. When we worked on an iconography project for Levis, we inspired the internal teams to revision their brand, their in-store merchandising, even their product design. Similarly, when we assessed the Fig Newtons brand several years ago, the packaging was colored an aseptic yellow. A more fruit-colored palette that aligned with healthy figs was recommended—and the new packaging boosted sales into the double digits. Fig Newtons new pkg

This process of deconstruction leads to a more kickass understanding of your brand and your brand community. The process also underlines which elements attract and appeal to your brand zealots. This is not about building your Facebook “likes” or dominating Pinterest. This is about the reality of your brand and bringing it to life, online and off.

Tillamook Mixes Trends With New Farmstyle Greek Yogurt

tillamook farmstyleTillamook mashes trends together with its new Farmstyle Greek yogurt: Greek yogurt plus the movement for locally grown ‘handmade’ products. Tillamook has taken the vernacular (sacred words) for other farm dairy products and made it their own. Examples. “Farmstyle” and “authentically strained” ordinarily might be words you’d see on cheese, so seeing them here on a yogurt product makes the product seem more authentic. And notice the use of “Oregon” strawberry, which alludes to more local origins (even though Tillamook is produced in Washington State).  #slow and steady also alludes to the slow food movement, where everyone seems to be finding their yum. All of which alludes to great flavor hooks. We can’t wait for it to arrive at our local grocery. Goodness, yes.

Innovation Experience Wrapped In Metaphor

After a caterpillar wraps itself inside its cocoon, it waits to metamorph into its next iteration as a butterfly. The caterpillar does not simply shrink and sprout wings. Instead, it disintegrates into a puddle of primordial ooze within the cocoon. If we were to open the cocoon during this process, we would not find a half-caterpillar half-butterfly, but a sticky mass of oozy goop. The goop is a sea of individual cells floating in a miasma.

Then, for whatever reason, a new type of cells begin to appear.

butterfly screen BGThese new cells are called imaginal cells and they are so completely different from the original cells that the ooze cells take them to be a virus or some invader. So the ooze cells act like white blood cells and begin to attack the imaginal cells. However, the imaginal are undaunted. They keep appearing and, in time, locate each other and form clusters.

Eventually, the imaginal cells gain a large enough population so that they switch from being invaders, to becoming the programming cells of the butterfly. Some imaginal cells start changing into wing cells, some change into antenna cells, some start becoming digestive tract cells, and so on. They are no longer imaginal cells but become the essential anatomy of the butterfly. As we know, when left alone in metamorphosis, the caterpillar emerges from the cocoon as a completely new entity—a butterfly.

Anyone who has been involved in creative or innovation will recognize this familiar process.

Moving from the gooey mass of ideation and rough concepts written onto blank sheets of paper, the cocoon sometimes gets ripped open too soon, killing the butterfly. But if we are able to acknowledge and embrace upfront that the process will be messy (and needs to be) then allow equal amounts of time, talent and inspiration do their work, and we soon find butterflies floating on the horizon.

Nordstrom Sarah Jessica Parker Shoe Line Makes Perfect Fit In Soho Fashion Pop-Up

Nordstrom SJP new pop-up in Soho pushes Sarah Jessica Parker shoe line and Nordstrom's shoe sense
Nordstrom SJP new pop-up in Soho pushes Sarah Jessica Parker shoe line and Nordstrom’s shoe sense

If department store retailer Nordstrom is famous for anything, it’s shoes. And if “Sex And The City” star Sarah Jessica Parker is known for anything, well, shoes are near the top of the list.

No wonder Nordstrom has popped up with their Nordstrom SJP (Sarah Jessica Parker) concept south of Houston in New York City. Excited attendants relayed the news that Sarah Jessica wasn’t just acting as a celebrity stand-in, but was “down on her knees” on opening day, fitting guests with shoes and discussing the importance of fashion on opening day. SJP was even devoting a part of her Saturday, March 1, for the event.

The new SJP line is a collaboration between Sarah Jessica and Manolo Blahnik ceo George Malkemus. Her shoe collection is priced around $300, and inspired by 1970s shoe design: beautifully made, wonderful fit, and fun.

Seen on the street, SJP footwear can be identified by an iconic light salmon-colored seam running down the heel.

While other department stores are buckshotting new concepts, Nordstrom is making a great move by understanding the importance of (first of all) having a core. And then focussing on it in a buzzy, dramatic way.

Three cheers for SJP.

YouTube Gives Primal Branding Thumbs Up For Building Social Communities

As the largest social engagement platform on the planet, YouTube is designed to interact and connect. That’s what all the likes, commenting, and sharing is about. But how do you design, build and sustain all that interactivity?

YouTube suggests using the community principles outlined in Primal Branding, written by Thinktopia founder and ceo Patrick Hanlon. “Community is going to happen with you or without you,” says Rachel Lightfoot, senior programming strategist at YouTube Next Lab. “You want to make sure you’re shaping that discussion.”

Thinktopia_Animation_v1use this1This helps construct the socially reinforcing circle.  “Everyone wants to belong,” says Lightfoot, citing Primal Branding as her source. “Everyone wants to find a like-minded group of people who can come together for a common topic or cause.”

Big companies use a few simple triggers to create brand zealots—people who feel they are a part of your community, and advocate (that means buzz) their favorite likes to others. These people are not only focused on the brand, they are the strategic core of the brand.

“What’s great,” continues Lightfoot, “is that we see all these principles [from Primal Branding] in all of today’s top YouTube channels.”

In an instructional video headlined as “Build a sustainable community” on YouTube Creator Academy, Lightfoot cites five of the seven pieces of ‘primal code’ outlined in the book Primal Branding. Those elements are: the creation story, creed, rituals, leader, and lexicon. Although just as relevant for creating community, the video omits Icons—quick concentrations of meaning like the Nike logo, Apple’s iconic white design, the iconic smell of Chanel No. 5, or the iconic taste of McDonald’s French fries.

Rachel Lightfoot quote2.001The video also does not include Nonbelievers—that counter-culture that reminds you of who you do not want to be like, and what you do not want to become. Understanding who your ‘nonbelievers’ are, helps define who we are and strengthens the values of our own community. (Nothing like getting a Tea Party member on the opposite side of the table from a Democrat—or just about anyone—to solidify and recommit the beliefs of both.)

YouTube (the second largest search engine in the world after parent Google) has determined that the Primal Branding construct is their preferred method for narrative design and connecting community.

“These are things that can help you build your community,” asserts Lightfoot.

To create and grow your own social community, watch YouTube’s Rachel Lightfoot as she explains how to design narrative and build audience viewership.

You can also look for Primal Branding on amazon.com, which outlines how to create your brand narrative and provides dozens of examples.

You’ll become a believer, too.

Thinktopia Poster Featured In Tokyo Magazine

While wandering through Kinokuniya bookstore in San Francisco, we grabbed a magazine and flipped through it to find our Thinktopia poster with incredible typography by Mike Perry inside (written by Patrick Hanlon). Volume 61 / Autumn 2013 of Plus Eighty One, published in Tokyo. Now, that’s random.poster in japanese mag1

Brand Experiences Get Sticky

Brain candy. Eye glue. Today marketers are finding new ways to lock down consumers and get them to stay in place.

Marketers have always tried to get people to stop and stare. The age-old example of a brand experience is that trite mime who always stopped Grandma in front of the store window. This behind the glass concept has been updated in recent years by having people sleeping, reading books, or other dramatic feats of patience.

Another sticky example was the Lady Gaga windows at Barney’s for the 2011 holiday season featured elaborate displays that included a hirsute women draped over a couch, a mermaid floating in waves, and a woman figurine on a moving bicycle. (The Bergdorf-Goodman windows on Fifth Avenue in New York City have also always been consistent show stoppers.)

But today, from iPads in retail locations to digital billboards, corporations and the marketers who serve them are making more dramatic efforts to wow their audiences.

One expert at this is London-based Universal Everything, whose startling videowalls for Hyundai, Samsung, and others have been smashing successes not only at the events and corporate halls where they have been installed, but also on Vimeo. Their Made By Humans execution for Hyundai was favorited by Vimeo last year, and is as stimulating a piece of gobsmack as it gets.

“The commissions aren’t about advertising, but to create an immersive atmosphere rather than a hard sell,” says Universal Everything’s founder and creative director, Matt Pyke. “It’s about creating mesmerizing expressions of brand values.”

To help ideate their Hyundai brand experience, Universal Everything designers were invited to experience the Hyundai culture and create something that expressed the values they felt. The result was a series of massive video walls displaying videos with titles like Primal Creation, and We Are All Unique. The Hyundai installation is 24 meters wide and contains 44,000 pixels. Universal Everything worked with a London-based visual effects company in order to get the high resolution detail necessary.

“It feels like art,” says Pyke. “But is powered by their brand.”

The project took about nine months and several million dollars to complete.

Rather than placing a sculpture or artwork in their main lobby, these days corporations are installing videowalls that serve an architectural function, as well as offer a flexible solution for expressing brand values and brand storytelling.

Brand experiences have become as important for people working inside the company body, as they are for consumer-facing communications. At the DeutscheBank head office, employees entering the lobby each day are greeted by a massive videowall that changes in appearance, color scheme or behavior each day. Sometimes it is an abstraction of the logo. More often, it is not.

From showstoppers like Coca Cola vending machines dispensing free colas, to the interconnectivity of Big Data tracking, we can look forward to even more attempts to stop us in our tracks. 

“It’s a lot of work,” says Pyke. “But there’s a lot of longevity in it.”

“Meaning” Is The New Black

I f#cking rock
More and more we find ourselves in a world devoid of meaning. Possessions do not mean anything, since, thanks to mass consumption, nearly anyone can own nearly the same things you own (or its knock-off equivalent). Even relationships do not amount to much, when you remember that half of all marriages dissolve like sugar cubes under acid rain.

So people run around the world looking for new experiences, new mountains to climb (literally and figuratively–On one day alone in 2013, 234 people climbed Mount Everest), new foods to eat, new personal records to beat and bucket lists to check off. They dive from rocks, from sea cliffs, and from outer space.

New Google Glass augments reality and so do magazine advertisements and outdoor boards and shop windows.

But in the end, it doesn’t mean much. Not really.

Not like the Magna Carta or the flywheel or the discovery of DNA, binary code, or the gas combustion engine. Even the discovery of the unexpected has become expected.

So we are still sitting at the table of meaning, nibbling at the appetizer tray, and still hungry.

If you want to know more, just look inside.

Nau Syria

Nau, the front-edge fashion line, displays in this report direct from Syria, how smart companies understand it’s not just about product any more. It’s about creating a brand ecosystem that allows equally for social values and product sensibility.

The report, delivered by real people, also hacks traditional media and ‘authorized’ reporting systems. Real people telling other real people their stories.

No matter what your perspective on the Syrian political conflict, our one-to-one relationships between human beings is what thinking globally and acting locally is all about.