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

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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.)

Thinktopia ceo Hanlon “Rocks The Hut” on CNBC

Patrick Hanlon CNBC2 Thinktopia CEO Patrick Hanlon lands a guest spot on CNBC about Pizza Hut’s innovative new branding efforts. Pizza Hut’s innovative new taste profiles and other efforts should be directionally correct to help the brand catch up to Yum! sister brands KFC and Taco Bell. Adds counter example of burger stands selling tacos–that’s not innovation, it’s desperation. It’s time to rock the Hut!!

‘The Social Code’ Follow-Up To ‘Primal Branding’ Now Available On Amazon

The Social Code_cover_HanlonThinktopia announces the release of The Social Code, the much-anticipated sequel to Patrick Hanlon’s widely acclaimed book Primal Branding: Create Zealots for Your Brand, Your Company And Your Future, published by Simon & Schuster Free Press in 2006.

The Social Code illustrates how to design and attract social communities in the digital age, using the underlying principles that help create viral brand communities. What Hanlon proposes is the agreeable notion that 21st century social communities are created not just from digital code, but from the emotional connections that bring us together: the social code.

YouTube, the largest social engagement platform on the planet, already promotes the construct outlined in The Social Code as their recommended method for designing and attracting online social communities. The new mission? To create a fan community that becomes so passionate about your success, they are willing to create it themselves.

A build on Hanlon’s 2006 book, Primal Branding—celebrated by marketing and branding experts as the best explanation written so far on what Brands are and how to create them, The Social Code redefines the seven elements that define belief (creation story, creed, icons, rituals, sacred words, nonbelievers and leader) in today’s digitally-centered environment. Facebook “likes,” social media clicks and hashtag counts become meaningless short-term responses unless they simultaneously build the social mechanisms that create long-term community.

Those who build social code attract others who share their values and beliefs—creating community and an unfair advantage over their competition. Those who don’t, don’t.

For the last decade, Thinktopia has been working with Fortune 100 companies honing the strategic and executional principles set forth in the The Social Code. While the cult classic, Primal Branding, anticipated social communities and looked at brands as belief systems in 2006,  The Social Code is a great leap forward and the essential guide for kickstarting entrepreneurs—as well established products and services—seeking to define their community narrative in the new social economy.

This becomes a billion-dollar equation for many companies. And we get the feeling that no one will want to be left out.

The Social Code is available now through Amazon.

Thinktopia Launches New Primal Branding™ Website

This weekend, Thinktopia® is soft launching a new site called The site is inspired by the success of the book Primal Branding. In the Fall, the site will launch a new service to help people put the Primal Code™ into action.

Primal Branding: How To Create Zealots for Your Brand, Your Company and Your Future was published by Simon & Schuster/Free Press in 2006 and has become (we are told) a cult classic in marketing and branding.

Branding legend Al Ries declared when the book was launched that Primal Branding was, “Not the same old branding B.S.”

For the last decade, Thinktopia has been using the construct outlined in Primal Branding to help Fortune 100 companies and start-ups alike define brand strategy, launch new brands, and help to re-engineer existing products and services.

The seven pieces of Primal Code™ are what move people, places and things from being meaningless (or unbelievable) to becoming meaningful enough to gather millions of fans. In fact, the primal construct of creation story, creed, icons, rituals, sacred words, nonbelievers and leader can be identified in the most popular and powerful brands that exist.

Even YouTube, the largest social engagement platform on the planet, teaches fledgling videographers and storytellers this primal construct. YouTube metrics show that the most-watched YouTube videos all include at least five out of seven pieces of “Primal Code.”

This is because Primal Code creates a system of belief that attracts others who share that belief, creating a community of believers: the tribe of people “like us.”

This also can be said for the communities that surround powerful brands like Apple, Nike, Google and Facebook as well as for the communities that surround Obama, Lady Gaga, New York City, Silicon Valley, the Civil Rights Movement and climate change.

The construct of Primal Code is even used in military intelligence and artificial intelligence.

“Until the concept of Primal Branding, marketers worked in a maze without a flashlight,” says Primal Branding creator Patrick Hanlon. “Thanks to this fresh understanding of how we can create the emotional connections that attach people to brands, we have helped brands get unstuck, and find new markets.

“Most importantly, we have helped marketers find ways to differentiate themselves and create Brand communities that surround them because they are attracted to their values, their products, and their actions. This helps move goods and services from being meaningless to becoming meaningful. It also helps people create deliberate omni-channel engagements with their Brand community.

“Every tactic now becomes a long-term investment in their Brand, rather than one-shot buzz.”

The new website which is beginning its soft launch in July, will feature articles on current events and other communications that highlight the impact that Primal Code has on Brand communities and society as a whole.

The best way to see how a community evolves is to take part in its evolution. You’re invited to come along and offer your own comments and help us make the site better for everyone at

Hanlon Article Tags New Robotics Launch

A new piece by Thinktopia® founder Patrick Hanlon posted in Forbes this week was picked up by a new social robotics firm headed up by MIT’s Cynthia Brazeal. Breazeal is an Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she founded and directs the Personal Robots Group at the Media Lab. She is a pioneer of social robotics and Human Robot Interaction. The piece reveals a new world beyond the Internet of Things—and indicates just where social robotics might be going in the decade ahead. Breazeal and her team are building robots with social intelligence that communicate and learn the same way people do.

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“What Chatterjee Said” Launches A New Conversation About Branding

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Why do some company’s products and services mean something to us, while others don’t? Why do people stand in line waiting for new iPhones, Lady Gaga tickets, or to get into Disney World? It’s not about their Facebook page, their selfies, Twitter count or hashtag program. These brands have an emotional connection that makes people feel like they’re a part of their community. They have a belief system that attracts others who share their beliefs.

It’s one thing to say that, it’s another to actually create it. So, how do you create that intangible ‘something’—that sticky soft tissue that attracts people to brands?

This is all revealed in Chapter 16 of The Definitive Book Of Branding, the new book edited by Kartik Kompella and published this month by Sage Publications, Inc.

Thinktopia ceo Patrick Hanlon contributed the article that leads the Emotional Branding section of the book, with a chapter titled “What Chatterjee Said”.

“When I wrote Primal Branding: Create Zealots For Your Brand, Your Company, And Your Future,” says Hanlon, “it was a theory I had. Since that time, the construct has been proven out, thanks to working with Fortune 100 brands all over the world.”

(The big news is that YouTube (the largest social engagement platform on the planet) did the metrics and proved that the Primal Branding™ construct works. It is now their recommended way of creating online social narratives. YouTube includes it in their certification courses at YouTube Labs.)

“We have learned a lot,” Hanlon nods. “And I wanted to share that. So when Kartik called me with his idea, I jumped at the opportunity.”

The Definitive Book Of Branding also includes chapters by Al Ries, Adam Morgan, Kevin Roberts and others. These people have written some of the best books ever written on branding, and it was great to be included, adds Hanlon.

“It was a privilege to have Patrick Hanlon contribute a chapter to The Definitive Book of Branding,” adds Kartik Kompella. “I had read Primal Branding and his perspective of brands was radical and brave. His approach is insightful and refreshing.”

Today, some people look at brands as Madmen trying to sell them something. But Hanlon, who worked on Madison Avenue, says nothing could be further from the truth.

“In today’s environment, Brands are more important than ever,” says Hanlon. “When there is a proliferation of products and so much choice, brands are the only way consumer can assess if something is real or not. The need for ‘brand’ has become larger, not smaller. Authenticity and transparency rank highly, and we want to know who we can trust.”

Hanlon’s primal branding construct includes creation story, creed, icons, rituals, a special lexicon, nonbelievers, and leader. Known as the primal code, these elements create a strategic brand narrative that is relevant, resonates with people and, at its core, is the glue that bonds social communities together.