by: Scott Goodson
I was asked to write an article for next month's issue which hit news stands today.
Cultural Movement is about defining an idea on the rise. While traditional brand positioning starts with the product and goes to the consumer, Cultural Movement positioning starts with the culture and then ties back to the product. It's an outside-in strategy. Once you have a Cultural Movement, you can do anything.
It's about building communities, inspiring actions, and creating tools and opportunities that help people belong. It's not about advertising. Sure, mass communications might play a role - as much as advertising plays a role in helping Obama get elected. But it's a small part and much further down the timeline than you find in traditional marketing campaigns by legacy agencies.
The use of today's technology, together with people's insatiable lust for connectivity, combined with certain essential factors, can ignite an influential movement - specifically, a Cultural Movement.
In the past, sparking a serious change in behavior required an individual or a brand with a strong personality, a lot of charisma and the credibility of a major organization, or a lot of money. But the rules have all changed.
Any liberal arts student can tell you that Cultural Movements have always formed and reshaped society. Many of them spread through spontaneous combustion - a combination of ideas and people's desire for change (a most powerful combination indeed). Still, whether created by passion or a slow burn, any movement's rise depends upon critical communications tools. Historically, as described in the Torah, the tenets of Judaism were passed from hand to hand, spreading the religion across the world and down through multiple generations. Political movements - such as the American and French revolutions - were fueled by actions on the ground, but also by newspapers and town-square speeches. The rise of fascist Italy and Germany can be directly linked to the use of propaganda films, which shared a vision of a new world order with millions. Television sparked a phenomenon for John F. Kennedy. It ignited a mass movement for Tony the Tiger, Pepsi Cola, and a little company called FedEx, which managed to convince Americans there were other options besides that old stalwart the U.S. Post Office. In essence, human communication has fanned the flames of movements that ultimately changed the world.
Madison Avenue thrived on the power of television, one of the most powerful communication tools ever created. Legacy agencies with thousands of staffers grew bigger and bigger, pouring millions into the tube, but they ignored the other players necessary to spark real and exciting movements. In 1980, Apple took notice of how megabrands were mismanaging the medium. Instead of running repetitive ads like everyone else, it bought a single 60-second Super Bowl spot that launched the Macintosh computer. That taught traditional thinkers a lesson: You can spark a movement for a fledgling company with one shot on a tiny budget. (Apple's competitor, IBM, was spending almost as much as the national military budget.) What made Mac different from IBM? How could one spot cause an uproar when hundreds of others had failed? This is what a Cultural Movement is all about - that difference between ho-hum and amazing, between IBM and Mac, between the status quo and revolution.
It's 2008, the age of the Internet, mobile conversations and consumer control. It's the age of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Xbox Live, the iPhone - the list gets longer and the categories get split into tinier niches each day. In the history of popular movements, we are turning a sharp corner onto a wide avenue where almost anyone has the ability to spark change.
But how? It's about learning how to harness an idea on the rise and move the masses for a cause. I like to say, "To do good works." Movements can create a groundswell of support for a cause, set a decade of fashions, acquire valuable market share, or even help put a human being into the White House. Alternately, an impassioned movement can create hysteria and cause bloodshed. It can tear down governments or annihilate brands. With today's tech tools and all-access passes to information and content, one person can change the thought pattern of multiple others through a considered approach - or even an accidental one.
Today's most successful marketing campaigns can be attributed to an understanding of past Cultural Movements that not only reflected the zeitgeist of the nation, but also helped to define it. The innovative Microsoft small-business accounting campaign achieved a year's results in three months. Frito Lay successfully launched a totally new brand called True North. The propulsion of Target into the highly competitive big-box retail market, the launch of the Toyota Scion, Apple's resurgence as a category leader - these successes were not the result of solely traditional advertising tactics.
These brands are leaders that have learned how to make the most out of cultural shifts. People today desire a bigger, more expansive view of the world that reaches deep into our local environments and personal histories. These brands continue to reach people by capitalizing on and even igniting the tinder of a grassroots movement, then heating it to a roaring blaze with the science of marketing.
Nine years ago, I started a company with the idea of igniting Cultural Movements for globally minded challenger brands. I wanted to work with people who thought big, advertisers who needed to try something different. Many of the big brands were like junkies: addicted to funding traditional marketing models, even as they watched them fail to connect with their targets. Their brand equity was eroding. Agile competitors were moving in.
A perfect example of a repeat offender in today's market is Reebok. Since 2005, the brand has continually pumped out muddled messaging through mass media outlets. The brand's failure to challenge and take advantage of Cultural Movements has caused sales to plummet 13 percent this year, with backlogs (a measure of future sales) falling a staggering 22 percent. Upstart sneaker lines such as Asics's Onitsuka Tiger and fleet-footed behemoths like Nike have stolen valuable market share. Reebok and brands like them do want to try new things, to innovate. However, these stalwarts have made their way in the consumer market by wielding the old model, which at one time was all a brand needed for success. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea."
This is true for many - not just yesterday, but today and tomorrow. Meanwhile, in the face of fast-paced memes, the old guard has stultified. The world they know is falling apart. Consumers are indurate. Print is in tatters. The habits of television viewers have shifted to include mobile phones, TiVo, P2P networks, YouTube and DVR. The Internet comes with new tools, branded utilities, service-tainment products. There are no rules and there is no instruction manual, which leaves many agencies lost, tottering in the dark with only the dim light of familiar models to guide them. Without rigid principles, giants continue to nod off, while those in motion - alight with the fire of Cultural Movements - create devotees for their clients. Now is a new order - a hopeful, optimistic order, in which the once-accepted rules are in their dotage and Cultural Movements reign supreme.