In the Age of Emotion

When historians look back on the early years of the 21stcentury they will note a paradigm shift from the closing years of the Information Age to the dawning of a new age, The Age of Emotion.  Now, there are those that would argue that in a period defined by prolonged economic ennui ROI is the only thing that really matters and pricing is the only real consideration consumers think about – the rest is fluff.  But I disagree. Why? Because we’re not talking about trends here, which are ultimately short lived, but cultural patterns which are sustained and signal a shift in worldview.levis-store-lighting-design-4.jpg

On a fundamental level, we are more in tune with our emotional needs than at any time in recent history, or at the very least we have more time to reflect on them.  We focus increasingly on satisfying our emotional needs and pop culture both reflects and creates this. It is a cycle. One needs look no further than the multi-billion dollar self-help industry as an example. Talk shows abound focusing on the emotional displays of the masses and the advice given out in front of an audience of millions.

And this growing focus on the emotional has extended into the shopping and retail experience.  Increasingly we will see a subtle, yet profound difference in the way people relate to products, services and the world around them. Retailers increasingly focus on the nature of the in-store experience, converting the space from a place to showcase goods, to a location, a destination, a stage on which we perform.  And indeed, shopping is as much about performance as it is about consumption.  Just as fulfilling emotional needs has become the domain of brand development, it is increasingly becoming a centerpiece of the retail experience, at least for retailers focused on margins rather than volume. Rationality will take a back-seat to passion as we move from the sensible to the sensory.  While ROI is the obsession today, Return on Insights and Return on Emotional Satisfaction will be the leading factors in the years to come.

For the developed world and the world’s emerging economies, time and money equate to an increased use of brands and shopping as emotional extensions of ourselves.  Status, power, love, etc. are wrapped into the subconscious motivations for choosing one location over another.  And while we are still bargain hunters, the hunt is less about price than it is about the experience of the hunt.  Again, emotion drives the process, even when we say it doesn’t. “Experience” is emotional shorthand.

Successful companies will learn to pay more attention to how their customers react emotionally and how their brands can fulfill emotional needs.  In the Emotion Age, brands will either lead the way to customer satisfaction or be left in the dust.

 

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Brands, Ads, and Culture

The old advertising model advocated the creation of an external brand image to influence consumers. It talked about benefits, it talked about the company, it promised to give you sex appeal. Those times are long past. This is partly due to the sheer number of channels in which people interact, but we believe there is a deeper reason. And that deeper reason is that successful brands both reflect and transform culture. In other words, talking about what you do is no longer enough. To compete in today’s landscape, you have to convey why you exist and connect it to how people experience their world.

Today we’re seeing that certain issues which could be considered secondary to a brand are suddenly primary. People are not just choosing the best, the sexiest, or the cheapest. They’re choosing brands that have meaning. Their concept of nature, of self, of society takes center stage. And this is where brands taking on a new and intriguing role.

So, what role does brand play in this landscape? The simple answer is that brands become symbols for crafting identity. They introduce, reflect, and influence meaning. The most resonant brands are creating value not just by the products or services they represent, but by the symbolic power they impart.

We believe that to be relevant and long-lasting, a brand must operate like a member of a culture. A company must share out its core values and articulate WHY it exists. A brand must stand for something and drive people to participate in it, become part of it. People want to belong to something bigger than themselves. People need to be part of a tribe.

What We Learned from Pepsi (Yes, We All Know The Ad Sucked)

Last Tuesday, those of us in the industry watched in horror as Kendall Jenner, Pepsi, and a host of beautiful protesters blew up the internet. Within minutes of its launch, social media blew up, as expected, over its lack of authenticity and blatant attempt to co-opt the frustrations many people across the globe are currently feeling. By Saturday it was a SNL short. There is no question that Pepsi’s latest is an insensitive marketing atrocity. However, the thing we find most bizarre isn’t the sheer length of the spot or its ham-handed corniness. It isn’t the fact that it misses the point of people “resisting”, devaluing their concerns and turning them into a sideshow exhibit. It isn’t even the painfully obvious clichés at every turn. No, the thing we find the most troubling is the idea ever made it out of a conference room, let alone into production.
What I hope the industry will focus on is this; taking the “let’s bring it in house” approach comes with risks. In May 2016, PepsiCo made a big announcement about its intent to begin pulling creative duties, from concepting to production, in-house. “Why pay the creative agencies when we can do it ourselves?” Well, this ad is why. I’m not saying agencies are incapable of insensitive and tone deaf executions. Just last Friday Nivea was forced to apologize for a campaign that resulted in charges of racism on one side and praise from white supremacists on the other. Things can always go wrong. However, while FCB’s work was a misstep, the Pepsi debacle was almost predictable. Why? Because the concept was developed in an echo chamber. So in addition to having a group of people who have all been drinking from the same pitcher of Kool-Aid, no one is in a position to be the voice of reason if they were so inclined.
When you remove an expert resource like a creative agency, you remove the filter that maintains an objective eye. You strip away any “check and balance” against your work and in so doing exponentially increase your risk for screw ups as public, as embarrassing, and as historical as this one. And yes, this will be one for the history books. This isn’t to point the finger of ridicule at PepsiCo’s internal agency. Rather, it’s to point out partnerships lead to better and smarter work. When one works independent of the other, we fail to see our own blind-spots, whether we’re the client or the agency. That’s why they’re called blind spots. Working in consort ensures that what makes it out the door has the intended effect.
That one reason alone is why partnerships are so critical in this business. Pepsi is a behemoth and will be able to weather the storm. Not every brand can. Remove the critical eye of your agency and you risk disaster.

Inspiration and Venice

It’s been a while since I was in LA, and while I’m in Venice-Beach-4.jpg
Culver City today, my mind keeps being drawn to Venice Beach. In 1905, Abbot Kinney imagined a “Venice of America,” a coastal replica of Venice, Italy, down by the ocean in west LA. Of course he did; in a city built on dreams and dreamers, anything should be possible if you imagine it hard enough. And Kinney’s imagination was strong. Over 110 years later, many of the canals he built remain today. Like the rest of LA, the community has changed, is always changing. But that’s Venice, a very particular blend of sea air and freedom that stays in your skin however far away you travel.

What this city always reminds me of is the human ability to imagine other worlds and ways of being that don’t necessarily fit what people already see in front of them. Whether in Venice or anywhere else, you never have to stop imagining. The trick is letting creative inspiration come to you freely, whether you’re a chef, a banker, or a mechanic.