Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Overconsumed: American Consumers Want More

Big Research recently posted results of their latest consumer polls. Buried among data points on how consumers percieve candidates was this little nugget:

71% believe Americans want more than they need.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Grist for the Mill: The Source for Eco-Centric RenGen

Cultural consumers who make up the RenGen don't take their cues from advertising. They support their purchase decisions with information drawn from the culture: community, life experiences, the Web.

That explains the power of, a site for the eco-friendly that has grown its audience to nearly 1 million "Gristies" per month, who use it to answer questions about which products are the "most green" and the safest for their families. This week, the feature on "back to school" offered advice on products that range from pencils to laptop computers.

The New York Times describes the phenomenon of saying it "Resonates with the left-leaning people in their 30s who were the first generation to take environmental studies for granted as a part of a college curriculum."

This group is entering a period of prime consumption. They are "forming families (or choosing not to), buying cars (or choosing not to) and having babies (or choosing not to)."

So, when I get asked if the eco-friendly bent of the cultural consumers will tire, my response is always the same--not any time soon. Even the most traditional marketers will tell you, it will take at least 12 years for consumers in the child-bearing years to move on from having to buy kid-friendly vehicles, school supplies and family-style groceries. In about 12 years we can expect to be in full environmental collapse. That is if we haven't addressed the crisis with new behaviors and tough-minded policies. More, not less, attention will have to be paid to environmentally sound products.

Photos courtesy of Kozy Shack at Flickr

Monday, August 25, 2008

Cause Marketing and Collaboration

A recent study shows corporate communications officers want to do more cause-related marketing. But they're confused about the business of the business.

Poll respondents are split over their reasons for wanting to increase cause-related marketing. Some 40% say it would improve employee engagement, while 50% say it would enhance PR and corporate image; 7% hope to grow sales and 4% want to attract new employees.

If a paltry 7% believe cause-related marketing might grow sales, there is no clear business case for the tactic. Ironically, CRM is directly tied to transactions. Or it should be. What this points up is the need for communications departments and marketing departments to collaborate with regard to cause-marketing programs. After all, reputation, recruitment of talent, and appeal to the consumer are all becoming the same thing.

Piecing together the Peace Symbol

This week, I've invited Katherine Factor, who is on hand in Denver, to post her insights on the culture of politics as brand Obama takes center stage at the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Katherine scouts trends in culture, language, and the reinvention of archetypes. She probes questions such as, "What is our human potential to narrate and create a future?" She will be reporting on the fusion of corporate sponsorship and politics at the Democratic National Convention.

I have a photo of me at sixteen in an oversized sweater and a peace symbol necklace, flashing the peace “V” with my fingers. It was taken on the eve of a candlelight vigil protesting the Desert Storm in 1991. I didn’t understand the peace symbol then, it was more a fascination with the Cultural Revolution of the Sixties, coupled with teenage rebellion. Not to mention me reading Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience in class that year. And while I certainly didn’t understand Middle East politics, I did understand that War = Death. Death of people, soldiers, culture, and delicate ecosystems.

More and more, I see the peace symbol having resurgence. I know this from its prevalence in fashion. Take a walk around any shopping district, and you will find the peace symbol in window displays, on cheap jewelry and bags (ironically) made in China, all over t-shirts, and even on couture skirts. Like all trends, it begs the questions - is peace having a comeback?

To answer the question, I turn not to fashion but to activism. Codepink is a pro-peace group that "Wants to influence a shift in focus or world society away from militarism to life-affirming endeavors…” Codepink is "working to end the war in Iraq, stop new wars, and redirect our resources into healthcare, education and other life-affirming activities." The non-profit gains media attention for protests organized by local volunteers, all dressed in pink, of course. They are planning a series of events in Denver in their efforts to "Give peace a chance."

Friday, August 22, 2008

Five Reasons Why Biden is Good for Obama's Brand

The Obama brand manages paradox well, a big asset with the RenGen.The campaign is both big and nimble. The tone is high-minded yet can-do. His choice Joe Biden extends this strength. Biden on the ticket fuses old with new, expert with visionary, insider with upstart. So far, so good. But there are five covert reasons why Obama tapping Biden for VP is good for the Obama brand:

1. Chicks dig him, especially Boomer chicks. Face it. There was no way Obama could choose a female other than Hillary. Who’d be more qualified? But as any politician wanting to stand out will tell you, when the Clintons enter a room, they steal focus. But the women who supported Hillary are passionate. Obama cannot win without them. Biden’s appeal among those supporters will be strong. He has supported women’s health and was a proponent of the Violence Against Women Act. Biden is also outspoken in ways that appeal to women. To wit, he knows how to land a blow gracefully, albeit forcefully. Oh, and if McCain chooses a female running mate Biden will be masterful. Because he is fundamentally a feminist, Biden will treat his opponent like a colleague, not a cream puff or a bitch. Women will dig that, too, especially since it’s so rare.

2. Biden is a planetary citizen. Obama lacks foreign affairs chops, but Biden’s got them. Biden neutralizes that issue by bringing years of experience chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

3. Biden is authentic. Yes, he’s older while Obama’s base skews much younger. But Biden has always taken positions based on his convictions. Authentic. And he has done so on live television, a lot! There will be plenty of footage available for loading and sharing around the web. Some of it will be favorable, and some will reveal Biden’s gaffs. Better still. The young RenGen who will get out and vote prefer a flawed but authentic product over a slickly manufactured one every time.

4. Biden talks the talk. Obama and Biden are orators. Both subscribe to the ancient Greek notion that oratory is a reflection of character. There is some truth to this old school approach to politics—consider the public speaking fiascos of George Bush and how they shamed Americans.

5. Biden IS an insider. This is the ultimate paradox his participation invokes. While RenGen voters are idealistic, they are also deeply cynical. They believe Hillary when she wags her finger warning that predators the likes of Karl Rove will sink their teeth into Obama
and drag him down as in a Discovery Channel documentary. Biden knows how this works and has Obama’s back.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fusion Trend: Pizza for breakfast

Ever had the desire to plop a raw egg on top of a hot pizza? Probably not. But it's delicious. Truly. And it's another example of the fusion trend being driven by the RenGen. Mia Francesca's family of Italian eateries in Chicago has been serving it for years, just not for breakfast. The Big Sur Bakery has made it a breakfast item and it's a hit in Malibu, CA. The New York Times wrote about it. Breakfast pizza is sushi (raw food) meets pop-culture food (pizza) meets breakfast (day part shift). Voila! Breakfast pizza is here, will grow and deserves to. Note: pizza should be very hot! Egg should be very fresh!
thanks to Brother O'Mara for the photo via Flickr

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Milestones: List of Hollywood Boomers Turning 50

Later this week, I'll be heading out to Los Angeles for a wedding. One of our Culture Scouts, Mark Hayward, is marrying his partner of many years. It's a milestone for Mark and Charley. But it's also a milestone for American culture.

It's apt that many boomers turned 50 this year, Hollywood stars among them. It's a milestone that marks the maturing of popular culture when the people who create it have the clout and maturity to affect progress and make tolerance the law.

Here’s a sampling, of the Hollywood boomers turning 50:
Ellen DeGeneres: Actress, talk show host (Jan. 26)
Ice-T: Actor, rapper (Feb. 16)
Patricia Heaton: Actress (March 4)
Sharon Stone: Actress (March 10)
Holly Hunter: Actress (March 20)
Alec Baldwin: Actor (April 3)
Michelle Pfeiffer: Actress (April 29)
Drew Carey: Actor, comedian, game show host (May 23)
Annette Bening: Actress (May 29)
Prince: Musician (June 7)
Kevin Bacon: Actor (July 8)
Madonna: Actress, singer (Aug. 16)
Tim Burton: Director (Aug. 25)
Michael Jackson: Musician (Aug. 29)
Tim Robbins: Actor (Oct. 16)
Alan Jackson: Musician (Oct. 17)
Viggo Mortensen: Actor (Oct. 20)
Marg Helgenberger: Actress (Nov. 16)
Jamie Lee Curtis: Actress (Nov. 22)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sponsorship's a Gold Rush for Dems in Denver

The Democratic National Convention is shaping up to be a mega-platform for corporate sponsors. Consumer brands are jumping on board for deals that fuse celebrity with politics and consumer products.

Consider the deal between actress Virginia Madsen, the League of Women Voters and Botox. Madsen, who is a spokeswoman for Botox, traveled the country, taped a public service announcement and gave extensive media interviews to promote voter registration on behalf of the League of Women Voters. Botox is supporting a get-out-the-vote message, along with a Freedom of Expression Through Film cause, which is part of LWV's 411Vote initiative. This is an important fine point. Sponsors want a presence in Denver, and are mashing up their messages with "activism" because it's culturally relevant--but they are careful to eschew Party preference.

In other deals, Pizza Hut, Mountain Dew, McDonald’s, MTV, IFC and Lifetime have entered into the conventions' mega-public square to promote voter involvement, but careful not to endorse any candidate. Clearly, corporate sponsors see the election as way to link their brands to the "change" dynamic that is generating avid interest among voters, most especially Gen Y's, women and African-Americans. A sprinkling of stardust kicks the opportunity over the top as a branding ploy.

Dems are also winning more deals and ostensibly more dollars. A report from the Campaign Finance Institute shows more than 80 corporate sponsors for the Denver host committee compared to 52 for the St. Paul committee.

Progressive causes are also attracting sponsors. A Denver bash for Bono’s nonpartisan ONE campaign, with Walt Disney Co. and Viacom. And in true Hollywood fashion, corporate sponsors will donate dozens of items for schwag bags — emblazoned with the Coca Cola and AT&T logos. (The recent passage of telecom immunity legislation makes many citizens wonder if there isn't a conflict of interest in taking sponsorship fees from telecoms.)

If the number of sponsors is any indication, the Democrats are ahead, at least in fundraising. But it also reveals a marketing savvy that has in previous elections escaped the party. The "change" message has pulling power. It's not clear if television impressions are a part of the packages. If so, it will make history to link brands visually with a national political convention the same way sports packages do. Times they are a changin'.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

One of my clients is planning a Valentine's Day promotion. I admit it's fun to spend your day talking about love. I got brought in to noodle some ideas. It was an exercise that left me feeling a bit like Raymond Carver's editor at Knopf, who allegedly rewrote whole sections of Carver's short stories without the author ever feeling oppressed.

My client had his team share hatchlings of ideas along with some copy they had written. There I was in the darkened conference room being pitched by my client's staff. I deduced that it was my job to transform this stuff into something that would sell.

I hate working like this, I told myself. This is not what we do! But I was facing a situation bred by the rising RenGen where everyone is creative.
Despite any displacement I may feel, this is not really a problem. Instead, it's a reason to feel hopeful. It's what happens when a civilization starts realizing the hard truth of its decline. The creative impulse being triggered is a natural antidote, a symbiotic serum, if you will, that is like a shot in the arm. As a people, we are entering a time when part of what we yearn for is to be creative because we simply cannot reasonably decipher what to do next--we must create the next path.

I've decided to come to grips with this shift by embracing it. It means changing my role from guru to collaborator, from intellectual hot shot to emotional laborer, as I support my clients in their own transformation.

This is something we need to talk about in business. People are beginning to view the way they DO business differently. I'm picking up the tremors everywhere. Last week, I was invited by a group of venture capitalists to hear a talk by transcendentalist monk. When I was out in California last winter, I encountered a group of mystics whose primary clients were CEOs from the Midwest and East Coast, who apparently felt that what they prayed in Califronia, stayed in California.

How are these phenomena related? Business professionals are beginning to understand that despite tomes of market analysis, consumer research, market-sizing reports and sheer common sense they are unable to see a clear way forward. Now, they must rely on something else. They must learn the art of leading by intuition, creativity and collaboration.

Welcome to the RenGen!

Green Mom's Blog Carnival Tackles Global Warming

While I am off on hiatus, I've asked Karen Hanrahan, our newest Culture Scout, to guest blog. It's my pleasure to introduce you to her.

My name is Karen Hanrahan. I'm a green activist, blogger and recently I was added to Patricia Martin's roster of Culture Scouts. I have to say, that really rocked my world.

On August 4th, a group of like-minded green moms launched a blog carnival. They plan to write monthly about specific topics in relationship to green. The result was a collective for ideas, brilliant writing and sharing.
This month's topic is Global Warming and below was the post I, Karen Hanrahan of Best of Mother Earth submitted this:

Imagine yourself in the woods, surrounded by silence, sprinkled with light as it peeks through the trees. The hush envelops you, and you are reminded of peace and harmony. Nature does that. I have such an awe for the way nature speaks to us. It reminds us. It calms us. Nurtures us. Nature nurtures me. I was taught to respect nature, to leave the campground as we found it as they say, or better. In the woods we find ways to use sticks, berries, and tree stumps. Look around, make do with what you have. Improvise. Be resourceful. How inspirational nature is!

The fall after my first divorce had us switch to a new school. That first morning on the playground I was desperate. I had just landed a new job and I had no one to watch my kids after school. Hi - my name is Karen - I'm new, can you watch my kid ? I so hated the way that felt. Later in the year, I took on my first project as a school mom and volunteer. The project was about creating something bigger than us, something that left a deep footprint. Something ever lasting. The image of that footprint really meant something to me. I wanted to be remembered for the good I brought to the world.

My project 12 years later is still a function of 5 grammar schools in the district. Kind of cool. Global warming and nature tell me something different. They inspire me to tread lightly. They warn me that it's better to leave not a single thing behind. They shout at me and says leave the campground as we found it - or better. No footprints.An article in national geographic years ago took all the plastics found in a typical American home and put it all out on the front lawn. It was a 2 page spread of junk, or things at the time I didn't even know were plastic or petroleum derived. I was shocked. Ever since then I have had this silly image in my head.

What if graveyards instead of marking our resting place with a headstone, stacked the remains of our household instead? Can you imagine what that would even look like? Here rests Jane Doe with enough plastic stuff to float someone around the world. Here's Jane Doe with a paper stack as tall as the sears tower. Here's Jane Doe with more chemicals than a chemical factory. Here is Jane Doe with enough food in her fridge to feed a family of 12 and then some. The mere thought of this has had me reconsider not only my demise - death by plastic or global warming. It's also had me reconsider my consumption, my needs, my wants. The shift is slow and frustrating.

An entire society does things the way they always have. Me? I am learning. I am deciding otherwise. I personally want to be remembered for the footprint I don't leave behind. I want the peace and harmony of the woods to still be there for others to enjoy. I want my resting place to have a very small stack.

What about you ?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Privacy Wars

I was looking up an old friend. She moved to Alaska to do some writing, then back to her home State of Wisconsin to care for her father. We lost touch. I "googled" her and to my horror found this link at Huffington Post

Apparantley, Huff Po considers it some sort of service to the democracy to infringe on a campaign donors' privacy so that other people might learn how much they donated and where they live. I just wanted to find my friend, not rummage through her check book!

The New York Times reports that on Aug. 1, four top members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce sent letters ordering 33 cable and Internet companies, including Google, Microsoft, Comcast and Cox Communications, to give details about their privacy standards. That followed House and Senate hearings last month about privacy and behavioral targeting, in which advertisers show ads to consumers based on their travels around the Web.

Privacy is no longer being debated, its getting ready for reform.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Can Sponsors and Hosts Save the Olympics?

The Olympics are on. The Games still make for great TV. But the drama of the Games has been increasingly overshadowed by conflict. To wit, pro-Tibet and pro-democracy groups protested in front of McDonald’s headquarters in Taipei Friday, wearing Ronald McDonald face masks and urging a boycott of all Olympic sponsors.

In other news, there was the tragic murder of an Olympic visitor Todd Bachman - father-in-law of the American men’s volleyball coach - who was fatally stabbed at Drum Tower, a popular tourist attraction in Beijing.

With Olympic sponsorship fees edging up to $60+ million, which is what the Chicago Tribune reports that McDonald's spent for it's sponsorship, branding your company as an Olympic sponsor has become increasingly risky. Consider also that cash-strapped cities spend millions on their Olympic bids. Mayors often have to make tough choices between funding their Olympic bid or supporting schools, infrastructure and public transportation. Tax payers shoulder a heavy burden, as well.

It makes a person wonder if the circus of the Olympics has just gotten out of control. Is it a cultural phenomenon that has become so much about money, conflict and bombast that its purpose is now that--to be a platform for something other than the athletes?

There are still sponsors who will pay. Athletes will still strive to compete. Audiences will still tune in. In fact, the Olympics opening night ceremony from Beijing on NBC averaged 34.2 million viewers, making it the biggest television event since the Super Bowl. The brand of the Olympics is still meaningful. But the Olympics is a juggernaut that feels bloated, out of control.

Given the amount of proven corruption among Olympic organizers, it is unlikely that they can be counted on to re-shape the Olympic program and return it to its roots. Look for that to come from sponsors and the host cities. Beijing is a formative city. It bootstrapped itself for the Olympics. To justify the expense, more mature host cities will use the Olympic mantle differently and make the social component more relevant and the message more meaningful.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Eat, Pray, Paint

I'm on retreat this week. In an effort to quiet my thoughts and open my heart, I signed up for a silent retreat at a local convent.

The format is simple: eat, pray, paint. From dawn until dusk we'll fill canvasses with paint as a form of prayer. Food is grown on the convent grounds. Teacher is a nun with a considerable portfolio. Do I know how to paint? Nope. Do I know how to be silent? Infrequently. But I do know how to eat and pray, so I'm half way there.

I've asked one of our culture scouts, Karen Hanrahan, aka Mother Earth to guest blog in my absence. And I have some posts stored up in the cupboard to keep things lively.

Wish me luck!


photo by Olahuas care of Flickr

Friday, August 8, 2008

Consumers Return to the Soil

Whole Foods’ quarterly earnings were 30 percent lower than during the same period a year ago.

Costco Wholesale said that its total July sales were up 9 percent in the US and 11 percent in its international operations.

Wal-Mart is posting strong sales from its Mexican operations.

Seems growth lies beyond U.S. borders. Whole Foods numbers tell the story. American brands will increasingly seek international opportunity as U.S. consumers tighten their belts, age, and seek alternatives.

This week, blogger Alice Sneary shared her story with me about her membership in a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture. Consumers by “shares” in co-op farms where organic farmers plant and harvest for buying groups which usually consist of groups of friends or neighbors. Alice loves the experience of taking her little daughter to the farm and picking her groceries from the vines and trees. It's authentic, fresh and filled with sensory inputs you don't get in the grocery store.

Whether it’s homegrown or farm grown, it seems RenGen consumers are returning to the soil source and retreating from the store shelves.

Thanks to Geoff Greene for this photo.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Weighing in on Female Body Image

According to Ad Age, a study by university professors that was inspired by Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty," shows that ads featuring thin models made women feel worse about themselves but better about the brands featured.

The Culture of Fame

I recently learned that Andy Warhol created Interview magazine in 1969. I never knew that. According to Interview, "he started it to give the kids something to do." It has also been suggested that he started the publication to get press credentials for the New York Film Festival. Both explanations ring true for Warhol. But the thing Andy Warhol's Interview achieved was signature Warhol--it made people famous.

Warhol is an icon today because he knew how to get people excited about culture: people, art, ideas, film. He did it in his magazine by letting the reader into the conversation with budding stars using a simple Q and A format. Like most of Warhol's experiments it was way ahead of its time. It inspired a whole new generation of magazines including, in fact, People. Even the New York Times borrows the format for its Sunday magazine.

This week, more bad news from the Chicago Tribune. More steep cuts. More layoffs. So, I guess this will seem a little like kicking a man when he's down, but my beef about the Trib is that it never got culture. Its critics lack insight. Its society reporters are clueless about who and what to cover outside of the obvious. In essence, the Chicago Tribune never understood fame. Does it need a Sam Zell to turn the ship? Or does it need an Andy Warhol?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Winning Corporate Sponsorship Deals in These Times

Sponsorship is radically changing. The business of branded content, web content sponsorship, product placement and branded experiences has taken the discipline of corporate sponsorship to a different level of engagement with the consumer. Having observed many transformative deals unfold this year, here is my take on what’s working and how to succeed in these transitional times:

1. Get the sponsors’ employees into the act. This trend is everywhere, from the U.S Curling Team to symphonies to theatre companies. By using imaginative ways to give the sponsor’s employees a role helps them feel like stars. Of course you have to make sure it doesn’t jeopardize your quality, so don’t let employees give a keynote or sing a solo. Think walk-ons or behind the scenes experiences that’ll help employees take a break from their routine and indulge their sense of adventure.

2. Pull it all together. Sponsors who do just an event deal, and don’t look for media, sampling, opt-in online promotions and some form of print are wasting their money. That means you need an integrated campaign delivering a specific target audience with multiple impressions and experiences.

3. Take visual risks. As the society becomes more and more visually oriented, all communications need to appeal to the eye. Proposals, memos, and final reports all need to be fun to look at, easy to digest at a glance, and should express the brand or property the sponsor will be aligning with. To move to the top of the pile, it should all be eye-popping.

4. Know the new deal appeal: authentic or extreme. For new entrants into the market, or new properties currently in development, it must be either extreme, or authentic, which means it has instant appeal because it connects emotionally with audiences. An example of extreme is Target’s Vertical fashion show where the cat walk was Rockefeller Plaza Building’s fa├žade. Fashion models secured by tie lines defied gravity by walking down the face of the skyscraper. The event drew huge crowds and media mentions to boot. Authentic is more broadly defined, but it includes things that seem to evolve naturally from a community culture, that make people secure, connected, and proud. Boeing sponsored a Latin Jazz festival and captured exit responses that revealed audience members felt “respected” by the sponsorship.

5. Bring fresh ideas to the table. Remember that you are attractive as a brand ally because you offer something truly unique, authentic, as well as something turn-key. Stay open to new ideas. It’s one thing to have your act together with your proposal under one arm and your market value calculated to the penny, but sponsors are looking for colleagues as much as the right deal structure. Besides, your competition has a nice proposal, too. But can they help the sponsor be inventive? Do they have your deep insights into the behaviors and preferences of the audience segment you reach? Seek to understand the sponsor’s brand imperatives first and then you can make smart suggestions.

In light of today’s business climate, it’s a good idea to walk into relationships ready to make a difference in the sponsor’s business. No matter what else might change, sponsors will always find that appealing.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Total Eclipse

Today is August 1st. It has ancient cultural significance. Lamas Day--a day of frolic and fun. Lughnasa--celebration of the ancient Irish chief god Lug--a day commemorated with dancing, food and music. In many parts of the world, it's right before the harvest. A day when you set down your rake and survey your work and are able to forecast what the winter will bear. Babies conceived on this day are meant to rule, people born on this day are often change agents.

Wait, there's a double whammy. Today is also a total eclipse of the sun. Astrologers believe it is possible to 'capture the energy' of an eclipse - visible or not. That is why many people choose such times for special ceremonies or to launch important plans.

Whether you buy into astrology or not, for centuries, August 1 has had significance as a day to pause, review your work and your life, and celebrate your bounty.

Do that for yourself. Pat yourself on the back for your latest win, or for being a good friend. Kick up your heals. If you can find a moment of calm, ponder what it is you want from life. Today is a day when dreams can come true.

For me, I'm playing hooky. It's my birthday. "Do I dare to eat a peach? ...Wear white trousers, and walk upon the beach."

That's the plan.

a rif from the Lovesong of J.Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot