Bud Caddell

Whenever I have the chance to talk to Bud Caddell, I take it. This’s because while I know the future is badly distributed (in Gibson’s famous phrase), I fervently believe it must be somewhere in the near vicinity of Bud Caddell.

In this 10 minutes of interview, Bud talks about the following things

00: 37:00 mark (~) that with his new company Nobl Collective, he is learning how to configure the culture inside a company to articulate it with the culture outside the company.

00:58:00 the digital disruption changes these things in succession

  1. culture
  2. how brands communicate
  3. how products are made
  4. the teams within the organization

1:39 On joining the world of advertising and why he left.

3:43 the thing about that very famous Oreo campaign (that it took 6 different agencies, and a lot of money). This was not the “safe to fail” experiments the world now holds dear.

4:20 companies are having to learn to both optimize and futurecast, and that these are opposing challenges.

6:00 there is a tension in the corporation between pushing the innovation team too far away or holding it too close. (Amazon is the case in point.)

6:43 Nobl believes that companies take human choice away from teams. The point of Nobl is to restore that choice.

10:20 Bud is concerned that, all the noise to the contrary, we are actually moving away from small startup entrepreneurialism. Bigness is not dying, it’s once more on the rise.

11:56 Bud is concerned that with this culture inside, the culture outside (i.e., American culture) could narrow and something like a 50s monoculture

11:18 organizations are inclined to treat employees like errant children or robots. The point of the exercise find their strength, not assume their weaknesses. Give them autonomy. (Because they can’t navigate the future, they can’t create value, without that autonomy. My words, more than Bud’s. Sorry!)

??:?? Nobl aims to construct core teams with 4 properties

  1. customer obsessed (prepared to “leave the building” to find out more
  2. closely aligned with one another
  3. autonomous, free to discover an idea and test it
  4. organized by simple rules

Thanks to Bud for the chance to chat.

I am hoping to do more of these interviews. My assumption is that we are all works in progress working on a work in progress in a work in progress, and that to listen to one another as we configure works1, works2 and work3 is interesting.

One last note on method. This interview might stand as a grievous example of “leading the witness.” I was shocked when listening to it again to hear that my questions were more about me and less about Bud. Yes, you have to start somewhere. And yes, inevitably you are going to speak from what you know. But the very point of ethnography and the thing it does so well is to discover things you don’t think and hadn’t ever thought to think. It’s always a chance, more vividly, to get out of our heads into that of the respondent. Or to put this another way, I was insufficiently curious in this interview.

 

 

Less public knowledge, more private meaning (lessons for politicians and brands)

This is a part of a map of London drawn by Fuller (aka Gareth Wood).

Wood says that he created a map to show his relationship with the city over several years.

“It’s about documenting a particular time and experience.”

Wood’s map of London ends up being a personal document.

Of course personal is the last thing that maps are supposed to be. They are supposed to come from official sources and authoritative parties. In an almost magical act of abstraction, they remove everything that has anything to do with anyone. There are millions of people in London interacting with the city in many millions of moments. Mapmaking is meant to make all that disappear. We give you London, all place, no time, all place, no people, all place, no particulars. At all.

Something in us now recoils from this abstraction. Authoritative meanings are on the run. But of course we will continue to need maps of the old fashion, abstract kind. Chances are we will never use Wood’s map actually to find our way around London. (Though that’s a pretty charming idea and it’s easy to imagine a guest who is very late for a dinner party giving as her plaintive explanation that her Fuller map is “really not all that helpful when you get right down to it.”)

But more and more we like a world that vibrates with particularities. Public knowledge seems a little thin. Authoritative versions of the world seem a little unforthcoming if not positively stingy. Surely, we think, the world, and especially London, is more interesting than this.

This shift in expectation runs through us with big consequences. Political figures must learn from it. Romney seemed very “official map.” Obama seemed somehow more particular.  (Though he never did get all that personal.) Hillary is very official map. It’s as if so much of what makes her personal plays to her disadvantage that she wants to get abstract and stay that way. Every politician needs to solve this problem. How to show the real person, the authentic individual, even when everything in them screams to keep the image airbrushed. In his strange, deeply stupid manner, Trump has addressed this problem.

Things are easier in the world of the brand.  Every brand has been struggling to make itself less official and more particular for some time. This means letting in the consumer and the world in ways that were once unforgivable. American brands used to be very abstract indeed. But they are (marginally) less alarmed about making the transition away from abstraction. Out of the USP into life. I always thought Subaru has done a nice job of this.

It’s a good exercise for a politician or a brand. If your present self is a formal map of who you are, what would Gareth Wood’s version look like? Creatives, planners, brand managers, campaign managers, please let me know if you try this and it works.

Acknowledgment:

For more on Wood and his map, see the excellent coverage by Greg Miller here.

Cultural Leaders and Laggards, the problem with beer ads

I love this ad.  How quickly bashful behavior gives way to full-on performance.  And how this disappears (when the woman enters the store). And then reappears (when it occurs to our singer that there is a small chance the strangers might actually come listen to him.)

Funny. Human. With lots of little grace notes. The store is brilliantly cast. The singer is that perfect combo of surprisingly good and still terrible.  The way the woman rolls her eyes in “whatever” dismissal when she enters the store to find a man singing.

Beer advertising has been the bad part of town when it comes to cultural creation and creative ingenuity.  TV with the advent of really good shows and new nuance has stolen the lead. Now it can be really painful to move from good narrative to bad advertising.

Beer advertising has been especially trying on the gender theme. As Bob Garfield has pointed out, beer ads treat men in a way that’s patronizing and diminishing. In a really symmetrical universe, men would protest this treatment with outrage and boycotts.  (Or at least roll their eyes in “whatever” dismissal.)

Beer advertising has been tone deaf when it comes to culture. Yes, some guys continue to act like dolts, and all guys treasure moments of deep, unapologetic stupidity at least some of the time. But beer advertising has to wake up and come to grips with the revolutions taking place in the world of maleness.

There are all kinds of things, a new feeling for play, wit, creativity, multiplicity and, yes, performance. Which brings us back to this Miller Lite ad which acknowledges this new development with just the right combo of tender heartedness and ruthless scorn. Very male that.  (Or maybe not.)

Hat’s off to MillerCoors Chief Marketing Officer Andy England and  TBWA\Chiat\Day LA and director Matt Aselton of Arts & Sciences.

The real message of advertising?

If the art of advertising (one of them anyhow) is closing the distance between the brand and the consumer, you can’t do much better than this.

Do we know you?  Yes, we know you.  This is sometimes the most urgent question advertising has to answer.

I’m told that the people responsible for this work at Digitas were  Michael Frease and Jeremy Bacharach.  Hats off to Jon Hall, Senior brand manager at Whirlpool  (See Dale Buss’ interview of Hall in Brand Channel here).  I would especially like to know the names of the people who did the ethnographies.  Really top notch work all around.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the magnificently talented Scott Donaton.

A new name for this blog

grant mccracken II

My blog subtitle used to be “This blog sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.”  This was both too grand and untrue.  Fine for politicians but not websites.

So now it’s “How to make culture.”  For the moment.  Also thinking of “New Rules for Making Culture.”  Is that better?  I can’t tell.  Please let me know.

Yesterday, I was blogging about the new rules of TV.  And in the last couple of weeks I’ve been talking about advertising, education, late night TV, game shows, culture accelerators.  Less recently, I’ve been talking about marketing, comedy, language, branding, culturematics, story telling, hip hop, publishing, and design thinking.

All of this is culture made by someone.  And all of it is culture made in new ways, often, and according to new rules, increasingly.  Surely an anthropologist can make himself useful on something like this.  Anyhow, I’m going to try.

I have four convictions.  Open to discussion and disproof.

1) that our culture is changing.  Popular culture is becoming more like culture plain and simple.  Our culture is getting better.

I have believed in this contention for many years.  Certainly, since the 90s when I still lived in Toronto.  (It was my dear friend Hargurchet Bhabra who, over drinks and a long conversation, put his finger on it.  “It’s not popular culture anymore.  Forget the adjective.  It’s just culture.”)

This was not a popular position to take especially when so many academics and intellectuals insisted that popular culture was a debased and manipulative culture, and therefore not culture at all.  Celebrity culture, Reality TV, there were lots of ways to refurbish and renew the “popular culture is bad culture” argument.  And the voices were many.  (One of these days I am going to post a manuscript I banged out when living in Montreal.  I called it So Logo and took issue with all the intellectuals who were then pouring scorn of popular culture one way or another.)

My confidence in the “popular culture is now culture” notion grew substantially this fall when I did research for Netflix on the “binge viewing” phenomenon.  To sit down with a range of people and listen to them talk about what they were watching and how they were watching, this said very plainly that TV, once ridiculed as a “wasteland,” was maturing into story telling that was deeper, richer and more nuanced.  The wasteland was flowering.  The intellectuals were wrong.

2) This will change many of the rules by which we make culture.  So what are the new rules?

I mean to investigate these changes and see if I can come up with a new set of rules.  See yesterday’s post on how we have to rethink complexity and casting in TV if we hope to make narratives that have any hope of speaking to audiences and contributing to culture.  Think of me as a medieval theologian struggling to codify new varieties of religious experience.

3) The number of people who can now participate in the making of culture has expanded extraordinarily.  

This argument is I think much discussed and well understood.  We even know the etiology, chiefly the democratization (or simple diffusion) of the new skills and new technology.  What happens to culture and the rules and conventions of making culture when so many other people are included, active, inspired and productive?  We are beginning to see.  Watch for codification here too.   (As always, I will take my lead for Leora Kornfeld who is doing such great work in the field of music.)

4)  We must build an economy that ensures that work is rewarded with value.

I have had quite enough of gurus telling us how great it is that the internet represents a gift economy, a place where people give and take freely.  Two things here.  1) The argument comes from people who are very well provided for thanks to academic or managerial appointments.  2) This argument is applied to people who are often obliged to hold one or more “day jobs” to “give freely on the internet.”  Guru, please.   Let’s put aside the ideological needle work, and apply ourselves to inventing an economy that honors value through the distribution of value.

I have made this sound like a solitary quest but of course there are many thousands of people working on the problem.  Every creative professional is trying to figure out what he or she can do that clients think they want.  I am beginning to think I can identify the ones who are rising to the occasion.  They have a certain light in their eyes when you talk to them and I believe this springs from two dueling motives I know from my own professional experience, terror and excitement.

Thanks

To Russell Duncan for taking the photograph.

More thoughts on advertising’s “magic moment”

rboyko

(with thanks for Rick Boyko, pictured, for the conversation from which the idea for this blog post sprang.)

Last week Bob Scarpelli and I offered some thoughts on the “magic moment” in advertising.  The magic moment is the small detail that helps bring an ad suddenly, unexpectedly to life.  Here’s the original post.

We can’t quite say how the magic moment works.  What’s worse, we can’t plan for the magic moment or even anticipate it.  It just happens.

It is this unpredictable quality that prompts some people in the ad biz to insist that the magic moment is off limits.  It cannot be part of the industry’s value proposition, or the way any particular agency sells its ware.  After all, if the magic moment is pure serendipity, it can’t be created, managed, predicted, or, least of all, promised.  It is a gift from the gods and the gods pretty much do what they want.

Even if a client hires the best agency, with the most robust planners, strategists and creatives, there is just no telling whether a magic moment will manifest itself.

I admire how scrupulous this is.  I admire an industry that will not promise what it cannot deliver.  But there is another way to make the argument.

Yes, magic moments are serendipitous, but that does not mean they are beyond our grasp.   We can increase our chances of summoning the magic moment.  We can call it out of the heavens.  There are no absolute assurances.  But we can increase the odds.

And this is precisely why those who hope for magic moments will spend the time and money to hire the right agency, director of photography, casting director, and actors.  These people cannot deliver magic moments but they will act like one of those “listening arrays” with which we scrutinize the heavens.

science outer space nasa astronomy astronauts radio telescope_www_wallpaperhi_com_71

It turns out magic moments are not truly random.  They don’t happen to stupid, talentless hacks.  And this means talent does play a role.  And this means, at the very least, are chances of a magic moment go up when we are dealing with people with the talent, imagination and intelligence.  (And that’s what we pay them for.)

There is some connection.  Somehow, talent plays nursery to genius.  Agencies and creatives matter.  We can summon magic, even when we cannot promise it.   In that famous phrase, the gods favor the well prepared.

We may have merely increased the chances of a magic moment by, say, 40%.  For the creative community, this looks meager and nothing like a sales pitch.  They can’t imagine ever selling anything this way.  But for the statistically gifted brand manager, 40% is an opportunity to assess the risk and  justify the expenditure.  Believe me, what the brand manager does not want to hear is, “Oh, this is completely mysterious.  We have no idea how it happens.  Just pay us.”  But we are wrong to think that “40%.  Our chances go up 40%” means little more.  Forty percent is something to reckon with.

My conclusion: the ad agency should be selling itself with the magic moment.  This should be a way to discriminate agencies from no agencies and good agencies from bad agencies.  And it should be the grounds on which agencies justify their fees and the fees attached to recruiting the best talent.  We are not guaranteeing magic moments.  But we are increasingly their likelihood.

Hacking culture (an April Fool’s edition)

EmberAds like this are springing up in Toronto as people contemplate the prospect of another term for Mayor Rob Ford.

Ridicule is the order of the day.  A decade ago, this would have taken place in Toronto bars and pubs.  (In this once Scottish Presbyterian outpost, spirits and mockery used to meet every day after work.)  But, hey presto, nowadays people can do a pretty good replica of the campaign sign.

What changed?  Well, everything, mostly.  The technology is there.  Anyone can find a printer willing to bang out campaign signs.  But the important change was the willingness to ape the experts and make culture for ourselves.  People were once cowed.  Making a campaign sign, not just for politicians anymore.

When culture was official, we didn’t dare presume.  We didn’t dare make it or fake it or board it or hijack it, borrow it or make off with it, or “have a little fun with it.” We didn’t dare hack it.  Now we do.

Ember

Phil Jones inserted himself in someone else’s real estate ads.

Goofy realtor smile.  Matching shirt and tie.  Bad mustache.  Ill fitting wig, and all.  Phil missed nothing.

Ember

People have made their own  memorials on Brooklyn Bridge.

D-I-Y memorials. Hacking public space for private purposes? That’s something.

 

UNICEF hacked the vending machine

Ember

A Harvard student hacked the tour of the Yale campus.

Andre Levy, a Brazilian living in Germany, managed to hack the coin of the realm.   His art now goes everywhere.

Ember

See more of Andre’s work at talesyoulose.tumblr.com.   

The hacking thing begins, for near-history purposes, with the advent of Punk.  Irreverent fans watched a band on stage and said, “Oh, I could do that, only like, way, way worse!”

And remember that jewel of the digital world in the 1990s when  everyone was wowed by All Your Base Are Belong To Us?  I remember several people saying, “Oh God, anyone can make an ad!”

That’s another difference.  Our standards have gone up.  We can all  dispatch a campaign sign, a painted coin, even a rehabilitated vending machine.  This used to be the kind of thing that only MIT engineering students could pull off.  Prankster acumen, even this is being democratized.

The spirit of hacking is everywhere.  It manifests itself even in your niece who bangs out NCIS fan fic effortlessly and with no sense that she is trespassing on anyone’s creative patch. Every consumer is now a producer, or near enough.

Everyone is in possession of the skill and the gumption to hack culture.  It’s just a question of imagination.   More and more, the public world looks like an opportunity for intervention.  And for the rest of us, everyday will call for the wariness we exercise on April Fool’s Day.  Could this be what it seems?  Or is my culture being hacked.

Post script

Thanks to Leora Kornfeld for letting me know about Toronto campaign signs.

Speaking of hacking Toronto politics, there is a great experiment taking place on Twitter.  It’s the work of someone (I will name him if he lets me) who has taken the name of Bert Xanadu and the persona of the Mayor of Toronto circa 1973.  Follow him as  @moviemayor.  It’s like Groucho got a Twitter account.

For more on hacking culture, see my book Culturematic.