Target has just banned Salvation Army kettles. This is bad news because last year the SA raised $9 million at Target, about 10% of their yearly total. Bah humbug.
So whose Christmas is it, anyway? The presence of red kettles is one of the ways we mark the season. And there is something Dickensian about those kettles. They are as much a part of the holiday tableau as the crèche and Santa, and a good deal more ecumenical than either one.
But Target owns the sidewalk in front of the store, apparently. They decide what goes there and what goes on there. How we mark the season does not matter.
Hmm. What is the buzz in branding and marketing circles? Its the notion of “co-creation. Heres the way John Winsor describes it:
A brand is created through communication; it is the joint construction of company and consumer who, together, co-create the brands meaning throughout their mutual relationship.
This new approach to marketing means, among other things, that Target cannot banish parts of Christmas without breaking a contract, to wit, that we will accept their place in the season if they accept our idea of the season.
Instead, Target decided to get “all imperial about it. They said, in effect, all your base are belong to us.
I refer, of course, to the famous video in which kids demonstrate a stunningly successful mastery of the technologies of commercial communication. The video steals a particularly hilarious scene from an early Asian video game (“all your base are belong to us) and inserts it into every commercial venue imaginable: bill boards, packaging, road signs, brand names, and the cityscape.
The “all your base are belong to us video demonstrates (see Jenkins here) what it means to grow up in a commercial culture. Two kids sitting in a rec room with Moms PC can create a pretty effective piece of communication. They then used it to issue an imperial declaration of their own: all our base are belong to them.
This consumer manifesto was clear. We are no longer prepared to think of ourselves as passive recipients of commercial culture. We get the grammar and the content of this culture and we are inclined to appropriate it for our own purposes. Some brands think of co-creation as a paternalistic gesture, a way of “making nice. But “all your base do belong to us and many other acts of consumer appropriation tell us that co-creation is not a discretionary gesture, but a chance to board a new trend train before it has entirely left the station.
It is time for brands to sit up and take notice. The culture on which they draw does not belong to them, and they tinker with it at their peril. We must wonder when this penny will drop at Target. Oh, thats right, no bucket.
Hempel, Jessi. 2004. The Salvation Armys Leaky Kettle. BusinessWeek. December 20, 2004.
Hills, Matt. 2002. Fan Cultures. New York: Routledge.
Jenkins, Henry. 1992. Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge.
Winsor, John. 2004. Beyond the Brand. Chicago: Dearborn, p. viii.
Andrew Zolli for alerting me to the All Your Base Are Belong To Us video
All Your Base Are Belong to Us website here