Author Archives: Cathy Monetti

Cathy Monetti

A writer by trade, Cathy founded the firm that is now Riggs Partners in 1987 and has served as the firm’s lead creative strategist since that time. She is a voracious student of all things Next.

How One Brand Ignited A Spanish Revolution

I have just returned from a life list vacation. Four days in Barcelona, four days in Madrid, four days in Valencia. I was overwhelmed with the immersion in history a trip like that provides; it’s simply impossible to wrap your head around tour-guide comments like during the Roman Empire and in the 8th century, after the Moor conquest. And yet history was there, in crumbling city walls and decaying columns and guarding gargoyles of every attitude and style. It was there—not a homework paragraph in a World History book, but carved in stones you could reach out and touch, rubbing your hands along the ancient surfaces.

 

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one of a thousand streets in the ancient city of Barcelona

 

There is this aged history you see and feel and know in all three of the cities we visited. What I found surprising—and, quite frankly jarring—is the contrast between this history and a distinctly 20th century art form wildly prolific there.

 

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Graffiti. Graffiti is everywhere. Graffiti is so profuse in these cities and along the rails as you travel by train it overwhelms the senses and seems to somehow leave Spain’s remarkable beauty in shadow.

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When I first arrived in Barcelona, I made my way through the city thinking:  Obviously the Spanish embrace graffiti as art. What a great example of the wonderful, easy-going European attitude! But it didn’t take long until a growing irritation began to color my thoughts.

How on earth did they let it go this far?

 

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Here’s what I have learned.

  • In Spain, graffiti is illegal and considered vandalism.
  • The graffiti movement is a counter-cultural revolution that began in the first years of Spain’s transition from a dictatorship to a democracy during the early 80s. According to Skate and Urban Street Culture Barcelona, “Young people began to write their names everywhere, on walls in the street, in the metro, wherever. The materials they used were from a view of nowadays rather rudimentary. Among them were ‘Edding’ felt-tips, shoe polishes and paint sprays. Also they made their own utensils, adapting for example pens with a wider tip using gasoline burners to create this effect or they prepared the nozzles of the sprays to achieve a wider marking style. During this time it was more common to steal the equipment from big warehouses, car shops or stationers. Today there are still some artists remaining that practice this kind of style.”
  • “The art form changed” in 1994 when a new type of paint spray can was developed specifically for graffiti writers and introduced by a company called Montana Colors.

According to the Montana Colors website:

In the early ’90s, graffiti was considered, by all of the American and European spray paint companies, to merely be an act of vandalism. It was of no interest to any of the companies, because it wasn’t yet considered to be profitable. At that time, the discovery of this passionate cultural revolution was what propelled the founders of Montana Colors to lay the groundwork for the creation of the first spray paint made especially for graffiti and, in that way, fill that hole in the market.

Today, Montana Colors is a major brand. Again from the website:

All brands have a path and a record in history, as well as an appellation of origin which guarantees its authenticity. Ours began 18 years ago in Barcelona, at a time when, after the launch of our first spray product, the word spread across Europe, and writers and artists from France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy began to arrive to fill their car trunks with Montana and bring it back to their countries. From that moment up until now, the Montana Colors brand has expanded to a presence in more than 30 countries in the world and to 15 official points of sale: Montana Shop & Gallery, in cities such as Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Seville, Montpellier, Brussels, Amsterdam, Nottingham, Lisbon, Montreal, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, and San Paulo.

The root of the proliferation of graffiti in these ancient Spanish cities comes down to two things: (1) personal statements of rebellion and independence following a dictatorship, and (2) the introduction of a product that “filled a hole in the market.”

And if that’s not a statement about the cultural power of branding, I don’t know what is.

Simply Brilliant: theSkimm

With so much information flying around, it pays to communicate clearly and simply—whatever your forum. For my money, nobody does it better than theSkimm.

Founded by NBC staffers Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg, theSkimm is a daily e-digest of the world’s most important news stories, offered in bite-size, easy-to-digest chunks. The subscription base is largely “busy women who want to keep up on current events and cocktail party conversation but who are short on time,” although I suspect a broad male readership exists.

Here is how theSkimm covered the situation in Ukraine today:

Sign up for theSkimm here. Or at a minimum, let theSkimm’s straightforward writing style inspire your next piece of communication.

Your customers will thank you.

Turning Oh No! to Oh Yes!

Caravan is an online store that brings its customers very swell digital artwork downloads at very reasonable prices. It’s the brainchild of Alma and Mike Loveland, and Melanie Burke, art director/designer types who get great joy from making (and sharing) beautiful things. And it shows.

They’re also very smart marketers. Take this morning’s email, for instance.

 

 

Caravan turned a tough couple of days into serious customer goodwill with this fabulous giveaway targeted to the very customers who experienced the frustration of technical issues. They no doubt recovered some purchases that were long gone, and they offered a wonderful promotion to subscribers who may not have even been aware of the server overload in the first place.

What a great lesson in recovery marketing. Bravo to them.

NOTE: Don’t you want this fun Draw Together Thanksgiving set for your family table? There is so much to love at Caravan!

11 Business Lessons of Our Time

 

 

I was cleaning out a bookshelf the other day when I cracked open the cover of a long-missing sketchbook, one I used for  note-taking when attending a lecture or professional gathering. The first page I saw got my attention with the first words written there:

A number of forces have turned things upside down.

Aahhh, I remembered. Early 2009, and the US Economy —and so many small businesses—were beginning to tip in crisis. Thousands of us gathered at Carolina Coliseum for a day-long lineup of motivational speakers, an event unrelated to the Recession, and yet inextricably bound to it. HP/Microsoft/Quantum’s Rick Belluzzo opened with this grand profession:

It is the most significant time of challenge in my lifetime.

In his energetic presentation, he went on to offer this counsel:

  1. Times of immense change create the greatest opportunity.
  2. Take advantage of disruption. Redefine.
  3. Think of yourself as an entity.
  4. Don’t be a victim. Things are difficult. Retool and reemerge.
  5. Always strive to make a difference. Make a permanent mark.
  6. Touch someone’s life. Believe today you can make a difference.
  7. Take on tough assignments. Risk is good.
  8. Be self aware and open to feedback.
  9. Be a leader. This requires authenticity and integrity.
  10. Take responsibility for your failures.
  11. Be soft-hearted in how you treat people. But be hard-headed about principles and results.

What powerful advice for an audience facing years of upheaval, I thought as I looked back at these notes four years later.

What powerful advice for life.

Deconstructing Your Brand

We were in a meeting with a potential new client recently when a rather interesting question came my way.

How do you go about creating a great brand? What makes your process different?

It took less than a millisecond for me to answer.

We fight for the truth, I said.

(Quizzical looks all around.)

And you’d be surprised how difficult it is to get there, I said.

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We all have a tendency to cling to that which is familiar. Change is difficult—and scary. But if you hear yourself (or others in your company) saying any of the following, it’s a pretty good signal that something is hiding under there that needs to be addressed:

  1. “I know my business.”
  2. “It’s what our customers expect.”
  3. “It’s how we do it.”

Be brave. Deconstruct, and then shine a light in the dark corners to see what is there. By coming face to face with your realities, you can begin the exciting process of (re)freshing and (re)building a brand that is not only honest, but worthy of connection.