Tom Webster and Marissa Shrum
Partner and creative director, Mother New York, and Strategist, Mother New York, respectively
"Culture and branding are intimately connected… Brands are constantly looking for a connection to culture but that thing to which they’re trying to connect is constantly changing. So every brand is in the process of rediscovery, reinvention, innovation."
Grant McCracken, cultural anthropologist and author, Harvard Business School
In an era of increasing consumer fragmentation, brands often struggle to find messages that resonate across communities. For US marketers, there is no longer one consumer bloc whose attention will fulfil the brand’s business needs. Brands need to be diverse and flexible in how they engage consumers. In that challenge lies a huge opportunity to participate on a deeper level with niche audiences. By tapping into the idioms, passions and value systems of diverse consumer groups, brands can contribute something of real, tangible value, and be considered more than just advertisers.
Brands need to move away from marketing that masquerades as collaboration, and start behaving like creative allies to consumers. Many have embraced this and stepped in to support their consumers’ passions. Converse supports music by offering studio and performance space at Rubber Tracks in Brooklyn. Nike FuelBand augments healthy lifestyles and builds community through technology. Intel funds and distributes original works through The Creators Project.
These cases all demonstrate that if a brand wants to be a true consumer ally, they have to behave like one. This means creating tangible, lived experiences. Allies are in the mix alongside you, on the ground, committed to a shared vision.
Our client Microsoft knew that to build brand love and affinity among the creative class it would have to become an ally. To do this, we developed One Million Square Feet of Culture (1MSQFT), an ongoing platform of highly tailored, relevant experiences that supports creative communities. It’s an opportunity to bring together different social clusters.
1MSQFT was developed with the understanding that every creative community is different and has a unique viewpoint on culture. The programme is built to allow each to have its own moment to show the world. Through 1MSQFT, Microsoft champions and supports these communities without trying to co-opt their creativity. In this way, a brand like Windows can be accepted in the cultural space because it does not try to take credit as a creator of culture. It appears organically as a platform for consumers to experience and create it.
Recently, we took 1MSQFT to New Orleans in partnership with New Orleans Airlift to create a three-day cultural exchange between two underground dance subcultures, Vogue and Bounce. The event comprised a dance skillshare between the two groups and an epic (but friendly) dance competition in the middle of JazzFest. The groups are from historically marginalised African-American communities, but have enjoyed a rise in awareness and popularity in the mainstream. The goal was to give the resources and platform for them to share their stories and cultures with the world.
Similar groups have been brought together around Art Basel, Sundance Film Festival and New York Fashion Week. Each programme allows a community of people to create on their own terms, with the Windows brand taking an authentic role in helping bring culture and creativity to the surface.
Maintaining an empathic approach, being willing to support consumers’ progress wherever it leads and pushing the bounds of what is expected are the pillars of innovation in US marketing today. Brands that know who they are and humbly and respectfully engage as consumer allies will flourish.
Vending machine sells a range of healthy, locally sourced, fresh foods
Opened in Chicago in October 2013, Farmer’s Fridge is a vending machine stocked with a range of fresh salads and snacks. The refrigerated kiosk is surrounded by plants and made from reclaimed wood, and products on sale are made with organic produce sourced locally. Farmer’s Fridge is restocked daily, and any food unsold at the end of the day is donated to a nearby charity. Snacks on offer are sold in recyclable glass jars, and include items such as Greek yoghurt with berries, and sliced vegetables with houmous.
Restaurant chain’s TV series champions sustainable agriculture
In February, US restaurant chain Chipotle launched an online TV series. Available to watch on streaming service Hulu, the four Farmed and Dangerous episodes are framed around the importance of sustainable farming. The humorous take on US-style drama series makes no direct references to Chipotle, but shows do include ads for the brand.
Car-maker launches interactive gaming campaign at cinemas
Last November, Mazda rolled out an interactive film experience in Canada, enabling moviegoers to "drive" its Mazda 3 model on the big screen. Before the movie screening, viewers were encouraged to download an app that allowed them to use their mobile devices to steer the car around a racetrack. A real-time leader board pitted players against each other, and participants could win prizes including popcorn and movie tickets.