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Monday, December 31, 2007

Preview 2008

There's lots of forecasting going on for 2008. Everywhere I look there are pundits proclaiming trends. A few standouts include: it's payback time for food trust busters (poisonous products), gender extremes (gender mash-ups of all stripes); luxury adventure (spas in Nepal that include soul-cleansing with your facial) and the dismal "terrorism 2.0" (chaotic, explosive mass killings by civilian extremists). It's enough to make a grown woman cry.

Ever the optimist, I'll look ahead to a few of the cultural shifts among the RenGen that herald a more enlightened 2008. I will detail them this week. Briefly, they are:
Information is the Enemy of Time
New Rules for Cool When Power Corrupts Civility
Always-On: RenGen Creative Burnout
Born to Lead: Female RenGen Take Control

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

I'll Have a New, New Christmas

The holidays felt brand new this year. My kids are grown. We sold their childhood home and with it went all the little traditions associated with that house, such as fireplace mantle we always overstuffed with their handmade decorations. My eldest is home from college, and even as a freshman he's learned so much. Frankly, he finds the world he returned to so much smaller and a little backward. But the tree was the biggest change. This year, my daughter the environmentalist recommended a fake tree. Smaller footprint and completely recyclable, she reasoned. Even though they are made of plastic, which is a petroleum-based product, we did our homework and a fake tree was the most responsible choice. So, we hunted for the right size and style only to be grossed out by the endless number of options. Reeling from overwhelm and hint of sticker shock, we retreated. On the way back to the car, we passed a resale shop run by the local hospital. There in the window was the perfect tree. I dashed in. Ten bucks the lady said. Delighted, we slapped down our money and helped dismantle the tree and wrestled it into our car. It wasn't just the bargain, it was that it went to a good cause, and it was a full-circle recycle. Now, the ornaments sparkle, the lights twinkle and the presents await. It is 9:00AM and the house is silent. Both kids are sound asleep in that teen aged coma they'll miraculously shake around noon. When they do so, we'll begin the festivities. New tree, new surroundings, new life. Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Was It A RenGen Christmas?

The shopping glut that is Christmas showed signs that cultural consumers left their mark on the season. And the following shopping behaviors made it a RenGen Christmas:

RenGenners see themselves as smart—book sales brisk.
Lines were long in book stores. Publishing
houses reported an increase. Our culture scouts told us that customers stood in line cradling stacks of books to buy, not one or two. Books remain the most telling expression of the cultural consumer. It’s a gift that says, “I like ideas. I am curious about the world, and I think you are, too.”

Authenticity trumps perfection—handmade craft items popular.
Everything from knobby, hand-knit mittens to homemade bath salts were snapped up this season. As early as October, Christmas orders were being taken at farmer’s markets and in church basements for handmade items. The
web facilitated the handmade trend, making retail placement a non-issue. Borrowing a page from Tupperware, craft mavens held holiday craft parties in their homes and sold to their friends.

Rengenners take their cues from the natural world—buy local a mantra.
A year of product recalls and gritty media coverage about China’s polluted water and air drove consumers into the arms of local growers and producers. There, the labels were easy to read and trust. Buy local was a major theme this year and everything from Christmas ornaments to locally-made wines were hot.
Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm went all out to encourage this trend in her economically beleaguered State. Beyond concerns for safety came a desire to feel a human connection. Buying artisan jams from a local farmer is similar to “fair trade coffee.” It sends a message you value community and care about the little guy.

Look for more analysis of 2007 and what to expect in 2008 next week! In the meantime, enjoy the holidays with people you love.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Death to the Art Snob

The notion of a cultural elite is a thing of the past, a myth, says new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Researchers found little evidence of a ‘cultural elite’ that aspires to ‘high culture’, while turning its back on popular culture.

The research, carried out by the University of Oxford, looked at survey data from around the world. Findings confirmed that a cultural-elite, linked to social class, does not exist in society.

What's the single most powerful indicators that someone will consume large amounts of culture? The study says, "It’s education and social status, not social class that predict cultural consumption."

The study sheds light on the cultural consumer as an international phenomenon and breaks down cultural consumers into the following groups:
Univores: people who have an interest in popular culture only
Ominvores: people who consume the full variety of different types of culture
Paucivores: people who consume a limited range of cultural activities
Inactives: people who access nothing at all.

“There’s little evidence for the existence of a cultural elite who would consume ‘high’ culture while shunning more ‘popular’ cultural forms,” said Doctor Tak Wing Chan, “Furthermore, at least a substantial minority of members of the most advantaged social groups are univores or inactives.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Best Words of 2007

If you love to write, you love words. It's like a carpenter loving hand tools. It's time for the best new or newly popularized words of the year.

Our favorites from the folks at Oxford University Press:

locavore: the movement to buy and eat locally grown and produced food
And some of their runners-up:


bacn: email notifications that are not quite spam
upcycling: the transformation of waste materials into more useful products


mumblecore: an independent film movement featuring low-budget production, non-professional actors, and largely improvised dialogue

Other notables offered up by our Culture Scouts:

mobisode: an episode of narrative television produced specifically and solely for distribution and viewing on mobile phones


carbon footprint: a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide

no impact: A phrase popularized by No Impact Man, Colin Beavan, who for one year, lived with his wife, child and dog in New York City without making any net impact on the environment. In other words, no trash, no carbon emissions, no toxins in the water, no elevators, no subway, no products in packaging, no plastics, no air conditioning, no TV, no toilets. People talk about aspiring to “No Impact.”


OTM: Internet messaging abbreviation for “over-the-moon” to describe a state of elation over a triumph


Got one you’d like to add? Send us your favs!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Cause-marketing Faces More Regulation

More regulation looms for cause-related marketing. Not surprising. As was the case with the misuse of pink ribbon logos on packaging in the 1990's, it looks like green causes are next in line to be invoked, sometimes falsely or superficially as a promotional stunt. The NY Times reports that Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey is proposing legislation that requires more complete disclosure on packaging and promotions for what he terms "imbedded giving" to reveal to the consumer the beneficiary cause and how much they are actually receiving. So far so good.

While Federal regulation can be a bad thing, meaning it scares off otherwise well-meaning companies afraid they'll mis-step on the regulations so they stay out of the arena all together. In this case case it bodes well. First of all, it marks a moment of maturity for a sector when the regulators move in. It's a sign that there is enough activity, over a long enough period of time to warrant official guidelines. The coming of age for cause-marketing is hereby noted.

Secondly, as I discovered in thirteen years of advising both charities and corporate sponsors, both sides have been reluctant to enforce industry standards for communicating cause-marketing deals. Often for different reasons, but the outcome was the same, the consumer was left in the dark. Having a law will put teeth into marketing execution.

Most intriguing is the cultural phenomenon on the part of lawmakers to protect charities. This "virgin" effect fascinates me. Apparently, there is still a belief that charities are pure of heart, naive entities that require Federal protection. This despite the fact that CEO's of some charities make salaries comensurate with or exceeding for-profits. Consider that the CEO of an international youth entrepreneurship cause makes over $600,000 per annum. So while charities have grown into big business in some cases, American mythology suggests there is something sacred about the charitable impulse that's worth protecting.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pop culture Consumers in Dubai Still Learning

Dubai International Film Festival kicked off its fourth year this week with an opening night party. According to Variety, no expense was spared in its attempt to emulate the glamour of Cannes. George Clooney paid a return visit to the Emirate where he shot part of "Syriana" back in 2005. He was there to promote "Michael Clayton," his powerful portrayal of a "fixer" who mops up corruption and protects unscrupulous corporations for his law firm, until he becomes a target. The film's moral about righting wrongs earned it polite applause in Dubai. Apparently, the public there is yet unschooled in celebrity worship. A reader's poll in Dubai's English-language newspaper Gulf News asked if George Clooney's getting better with age, to which 76% said they do not care. Asked about red carpet arrivals, 73% said they never watch them. Gives you some perspective on American pop culture, doesn't it?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

AskEraser Won't Ask and Tell

Seeking to create a point-of-difference, Ask.com unveiled its new service called “AskEraser” a safeguard that purges a user's search requests from Ask.com's servers within hours. Google, which dominates 65% of search activity, stores personal information for 18 months. This is a scrappy move from Ask.com, which commands only 5% of search activity according to HitWise.

Privacy advocates criticized the feature, arguing that AskEraser is a pre-emptive response to the building pressure for government safeguards growing in North America. In this administration? I can't imagine pressure from any quarter for such high-minded ideals as the right to privacy having any impact on the curent leadership in Washington. I do think Barry Diller, who owns Ask.com, is creating a certain type of information environment that is a branded experience with features that make e-commerce less worrisome. Consumers can feel a sense of control over who gets a peek at their e-privates. For example, AskEraser's fine print warns users that online surveys offered by third-parties may have different policies and may store their data. Users can then opt out.


Research on consumer attitudes toward privacy have mistaken confusion for consumer indifference. Look, people don't know what to fear! When and how will their info be misused? Why? Where's the harm beyond identity theft, which if you live in a major city has already happened to you at least once thanks to a pickpocket. Having to imagine a consequence takes too much cognitive effort. Ask.com has just made it simpler for people to search--relax, don't worry, dive in the water's safe. Nice little point-of-difference for an underdog.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cause-marketing's Proven Value

If you're wondering if a brand really benefits from a cause marketing alliance, a recent study found in the Journal of Advertising Research on Brand Equity Implications of Joint Branding Programs offers some insight. It evaluated the impact of co-branding on consumer perceptions — such as when a toothbrush brand partners with a toothpaste brand. According to the study, such alliances can help two brands enhance each other’s brand equity by increasing their brand differentiation or uniqueness. Note that mega-brands lose their value by partnering with lesser brands, unless the low-equity brand holds other cache that aligns with consumer values such as the "indie" aesthetic, or healthful benefits. Cause marketing trumped other alliances. Partnering toothbrushes with the American Heart Association to prevent dental-related heart problems, for example — conveys the idea of “giving back to the community.” In fact, the research found that pairing a brand with the right cause may be the most effective joint-branding program.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Corporate Sponsorship: A Sports-Only Business?

I can't recall when it happened. Slowly, the discipline of corporate sponsorship became so associated with sports it started being referred to as "sports marketing." And it's BIG business. This fall, IEG Sponsorship Report announced that U.S. pro sports leagues and their teams will generate a 15 percent increase in sponsorship for a total of $2.07 billion. That increase exceeds the 11.7 percent for the overall sponsorship industry and shows the continued resilience of sports among corporate marketers. Although IEG didn't disclose its formula for arriving at these projections, I have no reason to doubt their veracity. I am witnessing something similar--CMOs are dumping more money into sports marketing.

What's the deal? First of all, peel back the covers and typically you'll find an advertising buy masquerading as a sponsorship deal. Consider that since 2005, the Chicago Blackhawks have had to pay to be on television. They need sponsorship fees to pay for that. Essentially, a pro-sports sponsorship pays for heavy ad placement, plus a little signage, a VIP box and some meet-and-greets with players thrown into the mix. Nothing new.

Lesson: media-heavy packages win. Television-heavy packages especially win.

Trouble is, there is a decline in television viewership. Is anyone unclear about this? Savvy marketers are retooling their plans, tuning into social networks and scheduling trips to Sundance to prowl for trends and glom onto some cultural relevance.

So what gives with sports marketers? Get this part straight: It's not about consumers. Sponsorship---ooops, I meant sports marketing, is less about what the consumer population is interested in and more about direct sales--primarily it's B-2-B transaction. To be more specific, it's about men selling to men. The VIP hospitality element in these sponsorship packages helps the sponsor's sales team sell more. Period.

If sponsorship marketing is to be known now as "sports marketing" we need a new name for sponsorship deals that occur in other categories. The fact of the matter is that the emerging categories--entertainment, festivals, causes, arts, and culture--drive more earned media, more consumer aspiration and are more in sync with where the rest of the knowledge economy is going.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Read This!

If you've encountered the grim reports issued by the National Endowment for the Arts on reading habits of Americans, especially teens, you might wonder how the next generation will ever compete in the knowledge economy. While the NEA finds the lack of interest in reading among teens "alarming," I'd like to suggest what's alarming to me is how out of step the NEA is.

If the NEA report is valid, that "both reading ability and the habit of regular reading have greatly declined," in America, then how do we explain the hours of reading and writing students are doing online, generating the equivalent of pages of text via Facebook and blogs? Why are record numbers of youth participating in poetry slams, an activity the NEA even sponsors? Hollywood, always a savvy sniffer of trends, is more frequently producing films based on books because, as an executive at New Line Cinema explains it to me, it helps them "Target the teens who are reading." Finally, how does a thoughtful person account for the astonishing success of the Harry Potter franchise if young people are not interested in reading?

Here's my take: the NEA is practicing a policy manuever that's as old as the hills. The strategy is to alarm the public into thinking there is a crisis. Rally the Congressional aides and deliver bone-chilling statistics about the decline of American competitiveness, in this case brought about by book-lethargy. Then, offer up the solution along with the price tag. If you've been convincing enough you get a budget increase.

The rest of the marketplace is sending a contradictory message. Google is spending mightily to engorge volumes from the nation's most well-stocked libraries. Amazon has unveiled it's new e-book reading device Kindle. In 2006, 65.5 percent of the 43 million households surveyed ranked "avid reading" the #1 in-home leisure activity (Standard Rate and Data Service Lifestyle Market Analyst). I welcomed The Chronicle of Higher Education's recent article How Reading Is Being Reimagined," by Matthew Kirschenbaum, who paints a more balanced picture. Presumably, he has no axe to grind or budget to expand.

While I'd applaud a better-funded NEA, I think this style of policy making is past due.

Hat tip to George Needham for the Kirschenbaum piece.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Content Sponsorship and Ads May Kill Facebook

A recent study by the U.K-based UTalkMarketing.com, revealed that Facebook users are prepared to migrate elsewhere if the social networking site becomes too commercial. When 1,000 Facebook users were asked, ‘If Facebook becomes more commercialized with advertising or sponsorship, would you be less likely to use it?’ 40 per cent declared they would definitely use it less. That translates into 16 million consumers globally who would potentially quit using Facebook.

Social networking sites like Facebook have always presented a tricky problem as to how they can successfully monetize their mass audience. Furthermore, it appears that social networkers are very protective of their online territory--my theory is because it is their personal parlor for exchanging info with buddies, but also because many Facebook pages involve a great deal of creative output that the users feel is proprietary. Over a third (36 per cent) of Facebook users agreed “it is inappropriate for brands to be involved in social networking sites” at all.

Similarly, the research carries a similar caution to advertisers. Rather than create a positive impression with a younger generation of influential consumers it has the opposite effect - with some 20 per cent of Facebook users saying they would look ‘unfavorably’ on brands who sponsor it or create commercial applications. More likely to succeed, is sponsoring online events or "empty-canvass" opportunities that help the user-base express themselves and earn recognition or make a difference. We may be facing a time when branding without altruism is a dead end.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Good Money Pitt

Brad Pitt's housing project in New Orleans is earning fabulous media this week, and for good reason. It's a masterful stroke of branded philanthropy. In this case, the brand is Brad. He did all the right things for Make It Right to succeed, in the same way that Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates did before him, just on a smaller scale. The check list follows:
1. Pitt sent an advance man (in this case himself) to study the region and its problems.
2. He found allies at the Clinton Global Initiative, which has become the "it" conference for nouvelle philanthropy.
3. The content moves him. Pitt has a soft spot for New Orleans and architecture, so the business of the business of rebuilding the Lower Ninth Ward is exciting and that bleeds into his voice on air. Result: an authenticity we rarely find in Hollywood actors when off-script.
4. There is a way for others to join the effort.
5. It's not straight philanthropy. There is the expectation that residents must pay a modest sum for the homes. This instills pride of ownership and long-term commitment.
There is more Pitt has got right here, like holiday timing, visual appeal of the project, and much more. But let's watch this unfold. I myself will have a front row seat to enjoy yet another thoughtful performance by an actor who continues to prove he is more than a pretty face.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Waking Up In Washington DC

I'm just back from a three-day stint in Washington D.C. to give talks on the RenGen. I have never felt so road weary. It wasn't the late nights that got to me, it was the early rising. Every morning at 5AM I was jolted awake by what sounded like a three-alarm fire. The culprit was the neighbor down the street, Vice President Dick Cheney. Turns out Mr. Cheney goes to work at the crack of dawn escorted by a full motorcade. Sirens blaring, lights flashing. I asked my host how the neighbors felt about it. She told me the neighbors got up a formal complaint. The Washington Times covered the story. The Vice President's response to his exhausted and frustrated neighbors was something to the effect that at least they know he goes to work very early on their behalf. What a guy.

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