I just finished attending the first annual C3 (Convergence Culture Consortium) retreat at MIT. It was revelational. C3 is the accomplishment of Henry Jenkins, and C3 faculty and students. I can’t think of any place in the academic world where people think about the interface between culture and commerce with such clarity, power and absense of cant. It was really, really interesting.
I hope to share things from the retreat over the next few weeks, but there was one issue that struck me. We noted that technologies have made possible the participation of consumers in the construction of the brand. Technologies aside, many consumers have make it clear that the only brands that they will really care about are the ones they help cocreate.
But as I was noting a couple of days ago on the post about Chevy Tahoe, cocreation is not for the faint hearted. When the marketing team invites the consumer "into the tent" weird and nervous making things are bound to happen. The question is whether and when we will come to see the brand as something big enough and resilient enough to withstand the "rough air" created by new cocreation strategies.
We were talking this through during the retreat and I suddenly remembered that something like this issue has vexed the marketing community before. When I was doing research for Chrysler in the 1980s, Detroit was buzzing with a recent change of heart. Sometime in the 1970s, new marketing research techniques had made it possible to test design possibilities, and these techniques had been ceased upon to eliminate anything that eliminated anyone. The result was several years of bland boxes that no one much cared about.
Finally, someone took their courage in both hands and said, "look, we cannot eliminate what some hate without eliminate what some love. Delight and provocation are connected. Besides, something like half of the people who say they hate a design will eventually come to love it. So really, we’re talking about an alienation factor not of half, but more like 20%" And with this Detroit return, somewhat tepidly, to designs that were more genuinely provocative, and we might argue that the advances made by Chryster in the last view years is a lineal descendant of this philosophical repositioning.
Brands are where design was. Let’s not cause offense. Let’s hew to the middle. Let’s make ourselves agreeable. Let’s talk out anything that is odd, counterintuitive, or inaccessible. Let’s make nice. Let’s play nice.
I think we can argue that this was never a very promising approach. The idea is not to eliminate risk but to manage it. But now that we are letting the consumer into the process of brand creation, and now that this will surely result in things that are odd or unsavory (as in the Tahoe case), we really have to rethink whether the brand can continue to think of itself in traditional terms. Ok, it is now 11:58 on Friday night. If I want to post this Friday, I have just seconds to wrap this up. My conclusion, brands now live in a world in which there is more to fear from being conservative than from being dynamic.
I feel to thinking