Ok, so it is rocket science, after all

Note I from an Interview with David Altschul, CEO of Character

Marketing is one of the places that culture meets the market place. This makes it a necessary study for someone interested in anthropology and economics. But it is also the place I make my living and I have found myself doing an anthropology of the field in spite of myself.

One of the first things you notice is that the field has a “quality control” problem on the personnel side. Some people are very smart. Some of them are pretty dumb. Many are merely ordinary.

This is a problem in any case, but it may be getting worse. If marketing is an interface between culture and the marketplace, and if culture is becoming more complicated and more changeable, then marketing is becoming more difficult. What was once a quality control problem is becoming a quality control crisis.

Not everyone has got the news. There are several very well known knuckleheads who continue to flourish in the field. And the field can be, in my opinion, surprisingly tolerant of stupid people. These people will be “grandfathered” out of the field, but for the rest, standards are rising.

What has not happened yet is an institutional acknowledgement of this development. It is not clear that the smart people have found one another in a well established round of networking, conferences and other kinds of contact. And until this happens, good cannot begin to drive out bad in any substantial way.

My contribution here is to identify and interview the smart ones. This is a small part of the winnowing process. But we all must do what we can.

I had a chance to talk to David Altschul a couple of days ago and I thought, “hey, I should interview this guy.” David is the head and founder of a firm based in Portland called Character. David creates characters for brands. He helped create The California Raisins, the Domino’s Pizza Noid, and the M&M’s Red, Yellow, Blue, Green and Crispy.

To use the language of the Protestant revolution, David is part of the “elect.” He is one of the smart ones. You don’t feel that you have to make a careful study of what the listener may or may not be “getting” when you talk to David. He just gets it. There are people in the marketing community who are still working with a 56k modem, if you know what I mean. David is broadband, baby, broadband.

Tomorrow: we will talk about where David puts his company, how he uses characters to build brands and add value. It turns out he is in exactly the right place to speak to the new complexities of contemporary culture on the one hand and marketing on the other.

For more on Character.