Category Archives: Branding

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.

CreateAThon Helps Launch Social Enterprise

Social Enterprise is capitalism for a cause, and a growing business model.

Client Profile

Epworth Children’s Home offers congregate care to children ages four to 18 who are victims of abuse or neglect. Funding sources include the SC Department of Social Services and the Methodist church. Seeing funding diminish over time, Epworth Children’s Home formed Friends of Epworth as a 501 C-3 focused on fundraising.

As part of its strategic plan, Friends of Epworth realized that traditional nonprofit fundraising tactics such as events were not going to be able to substantively contribute to Epworth’s mission. As a result, the Friends of Epworth sought to begin a social enterprise.

Backstory

Founded as an orphanage in 1895, Epworth once operated a dairy. It has been serving peanut butter ice cream to students and alumni in its dinning hall since the Great Depression, thus ice cream was a natural endeavor for the social enterprise. The Friends of Epworth envisioned Epworth Ice Cream on supermarket shelves with 100 percent of profits benefiting Epworth Children’s Home.

What we did for them during CreateAThon

We developed a brand strategy, logo, package design, sales sheet, online strategy, website wireframe and marketing plan.

Potential Impact

Our hope is to grow the enterprise to $100,000 in annual profits over three years, and ultimately, raise $2MM per year through national sales.

Partners

Others contributing pro bono services to this endeavor include law firms, Nelson Mullins and Adams and Reese, The University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business and truematter interactive consultancy.

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Whitt’s End

I’m full of shit.

I realize this every few days or so. It’s unclear how many rationalizations, hyperboles and humble-brags have to bounce around my skull before the hogwash tipping point is reached. But when I come to the end of my rope, I know it. A faint spark of contempt jumps from gut to spine to cerebral cortex and flickers just long enough to set my eyes rolling.

“You gotta be kidding me,” I’ll grumble. Because this is, of course, exactly what I’ve been doing — kidding myself. That the colleagues “liking” the new commercial my company posted are doing so free of quid pro quo obligations. That Brussels sprouts, no matter how artisanally roasted, have photojournalistic significance. That people read blog posts over 350 words.

The thing is, I have a suspicion that you’re full of shit too. That we all are, in fact, and that it’s not really our fault. To want to be perceived  as an accomplished, productive, well-intentioned member of society: that’s human nature. So should it really be surprising that our inner spin doctor is on call 24/7? Facebook profiles and Instagram feeds have certainly amplified this tendency. But even before the age of  “personal branding,” I’m willing to bet humans scorched many a retina scanning horizons for the most “favorable light” to cast upon their lives.

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In my particular case (and likely yours if you’re reading this via professional channels) the promotional realm in which I work sprinkles kerosene on the aforementioned sparks and leads this blaze into my office on a daily basis. On the one hand, the job is to court positive attention for a client’s brand. On the other, said courting must be done in an industry so notorious for manipulation that a trust deficit is inevitable from the get go.

Fortunately, this is where knowing you’re full of shit can be a saving grace. As it turns out, recognizing the pretense we’re all capable of is the best safeguard against it crossing your lips, clearing your outbox, or making its way into the client presentation/PR strategy/TV spot etc.

Are there times when that kind of second-guessing gets in the way? Absolutely. In the short term, concepts die. Strategies are rebuilt. But it’s also what keeps you and the brands you work for credible over the long haul. Moreover, it helps you fully appreciate when someone else has taken the unadorned highroad and ridden it to a truly exceptional creative destination.

That’s what this post was supposed to be about — saluting brands that have dropped the Stepford act, resisted Madison Avenue’s default conceits and allowed themselves to be exactly what they are: well-meaning, imperfect, contradictory, temperamental human experiments. In other words, mirror images of the customers they hope to attract. Dove’s flipping the cosmetic category script with it’s Real Beauty Sketches is old news, but that doesn’t make it any less of a triumph. New Castle’s No Bollocks campaign calls out the usual beverage marketing B.S. to hilarious and substantive effect. And despite a slightly-over-scripted-and-rehearsed-one-too-many-times-to-sound-authentic voiceover, Mass Mutual deserves kudos for embracing genuine struggle and vulnerability  (especially at the 35 and 52 second marks) in its “Mother” commercial. Any one of these examples might have been dissected into a perfectly adequate case study in the brand benefits of letting down appearances. But then something came across my desk that, for multiple reasons, put “adequate” to shame.

Obituaries don’t grant their authors a second chance. So when Buzzy Whitt died early this year, his daughter Alisa knew she had only 12 hours to write a memoriam and make the local paper’s deadline. What she crafted in that time is a clinic in unvarnished tributing. With humor, tenderness and plain spoken poignancy, Alisa spreads out the puzzle of a life whose pieces don’t all snap together the way they’re expected to. Her style flirts with the bizarre in a way that perfectly befits the life it honors. Most importantly, she holds enough respect for the man her father really was not to spin him into a saint or scholar. Her summation of Buzzy’s journey treats us to uncommon, irreverent insights on a host of life’s fundamentals:

On Finding One’s Niche: “He built a garage in his backyard and did work for all sorts of men, young and old, souping up their cars with Chevrolet big block V8 engines. He put a 427 into more than one SuperSport. He put a 427 into a Porsche. He put a 427  into a Camaro. He was, apparently, the go-to-guy if you wanted a 427 engine in your anything.”

On Transformations: “With the police in pursuit, Buzzy stepped on an iron rake that smacked down those two teeth into a position where they would stay for most of the rest of his life.”

On Perseverance: “Since Buzzy had lost his right arm to a bush hog in 1997, he developed a habit of using his mouth for things most use their other hand to accomplish. That’s hard duty on teeth, and he continued to use them as tools [until] one of them finally gave up the fight and exited the scene.”

On Friendship: “…If anyone knows what happened to the monkey, it would be Bill Macy, Buzzy’s oldest friend. Bill is the only person who could manage to stay on speaking terms with Buzzy for seventy years. For that we remain ever grateful, since Buzzy got pickier and pickier about the company he kept.”

On Family: “Lakin Barnes, Rhonda’s son with her ex-husband Mark Barnes, is the closest Buzzy [had] to a grandchild. Lakin looks enough like Buzzy…and Buzzy was closer to Lakin than any child, so there is that.”

And, finally, On Priorities: “In lieu of flowers the family respectfully requests that memorial contributions be directed to the Pulaski County Humane Society…Buzzy had some varied opinions about people, but he loved animals. And Chevrolet.

Alisa and her father "Buzzy" Whitt via the Roanoke Times

Please enjoy Alisa’s work in its entirety, and try not to rush to conclusions. Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to come across something so unique, we don’t know what to make of it. And at first blush, the piece can seem like a joke. In the end, however, there’s no doubt Buzzy and his obituary were as real as they come.

Perhaps this is the challenge Alisa has unintentionally issued us all. On behalf of ourselves and our brands, what if we spoke freely? What if we messaged as if there were nothing left to prove? What if every assignment were treated like an obituary?

In lieu of closing your browser, the writer respectfully requests that you “Like,” share, or comment on this post—Michael was full of shit, and he knew better than to claim otherwise.

 

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Two Key Marketing Lessons From Architecture School

I didn’t go to school for this.  At least, it wasn’t my degree. But as my professional studies and experience in marketing have expanded, I’ve realized my time at the Clemson School of Architecture was far from wasted.

Two particular strategic approaches instilled there carried over beautifully:

1) Flip it upside down.

In Architecture, that literally meant pick up the volumetric shape you’ve been crafting, invert it and set it back down – wrong side up. Then, try to learn something you hadn’t noticed before.

In Marketing, it means second-guess your assumptions. So your consumer definitely wants X and always needs Y? Periodically lay that certainty aside. First find, then look and think from, the polar opposite viewpoint. Buyer? Become a seller. Passionate? Role-play apathy. You may be surprised what insights you’re missing.

2) Every touchpoint is an opportunity.

In Architecture, on presentation days, professors would provocatively tear off portions of student work and sling them to the floor. “Irrelevant,” they’d mutter. This meant your overarching concept needed to more distinctly affect that element. Otherwise, it probably needed to be eliminated completely.

In Marketing, your brand is only as strong as you push it. Inventory your web of external communications (don’t worry, everyone else’s is just as tangled), and rethink elements that don’t jive with your organization’s driving attributes. Bear in mind, it’s rarely just your print ads and Christmas cards that need a fresh look. Your automated service reply emails, staff LinkedIn pages, and office lobby count too.

Once you’re finished and feeling really certain about things, flip it sideways.

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