Brands Move From Great To Good

Last week, Starbucks launched another probe onto the corporate responsibility landscape by announcing an initiative to help 100,000 Millennials land jobs. Their “100,000 Opportunities Initiative” (teamed with 17 other companies including Target, Taco Bell and Walgreens) hopes to aid the 5.5 million between ages 16 and 24 who are not working.

Lots of companies today are branded to be good and socially conscious, including TOMS, Warby Parker, The Container Store, Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company and Ethos water, among others, contribute to cause-related efforts around the world. For companies like these, the claim is an integral part of their selling proposition.

It’s not enough for brands just to be Great these days, the evolving challenge (with apologies to Jim Collins) is also how to be Good.

A reflection of this trend is that Los Angeles creative agency 72andSunny has just added its first brand citizenship officer, Jim Moriarty.

“We are proactively calling it brand citizenship,” says Moriarty. “A lot of social responsibility has been inward facing, which is amazing and great, but it’s not what we’re talking about.”

Even though corporate clusters have become more sustainable and active, it’s not enough. As Moriarty points out, there are over 2 million nonprofits in the U.S. “They are run by good people,” nods Moriarty. “But they don’t scale.” Moriarty spent the last decade bringing corporate partners to nonprofits, but at 72andSunny he can continue that role at higher altitude.

“We thought we’d have to promote the idea, but we didn’t need to. This is an aspirational piece that everyone has flocked to.”

This surge goes beyond mere goodwashing.

As you have probably noticed, products are becoming healthier and more good for you, too.

Earlier this month, Mondelez announced its new Oreo cookie. The update is now slimmer than its double-stuffed predecessor, which not that long ago came out as “double stuffed”. PepsiCo has spent the last several years reformulating its existing product line to contain less sugar and buying up healthier food contenders like Sabra, the largest hummus maker in the United States. General Mills, which for years included convenience cooking brands like Pillsbury, Hamburger Helper and Chex Mix has purchased healthier younger-Mom alternatives like Annie’s brand, Food Should Taste Good® and the organic food products company Cascadian Farm.

With organic food growing annually at 10% (versus 3% for total food sales), the billion dollar consumer packaged goods companies could no longer point to nuts and berries eaters as an anomaly. Today, they are a well-populated market.

To quote real-life MadMan Bill Bernbach, “She’s your wife.”

Product companies aren’t the only ones coming to the party. Retailers are also revealing their good side.

A trendwatching.com report notes recent “sympathetic” pricing, including resorts offering steep rebates if a guest’s vacation is rained out. Mass transportation officials in Paris offered free rides one weekend, responding opportunistically to dangerously high air pollution levels. And a British supermarket called Community Shop sells remainder products to families receiving government welfare. Retailers like Marks & Spencer, Tesco, and Tetley provide Community Shop with surplus products that don’t meet the pricier chains’ standards—and ordinarily end up in landfill.

Good stuff.

Other companies have started offering employee incentives (including higher pay) to work on weekends or under stressful conditions. Ikea just announced it will increase British worker’s wages in 2016—to over one dollar more per hour than the mandatory minimum wage. Ikea employees in London will receive even more.

There’s no question that good intentions are in the air, and that “values” are being measured in terms of not just economics, but philosophy.

Traditionally, the patron saints of such ideological change have been companies like Patagonia, Whole Foods, Aveda, Ben & Jerry’s, Stonyfield Farms and others who, within recent corporate memory, have proven that capitalism can have a conscience as well as a bottom line.

More to the point: it’s as important for a company to be responsible, as it is to be profitable.

After Enron, AIG, BP oil spills, and other misguidance, we look for action that goes beyond bee-lining toward corporate talking points, sustainability officers, and greenwashing. These days, companies who are bringing truth and values back to iconoplastic mission statements are not only cheered, they are rewarded with blacker bottom lines.

This is not new. In fact, true social entrepreneurship supported by active values has existed in American enterprise for hundreds of years. Johnson & Johnson was founded on the notion of serving the communities in which the company operated. Henry Ford, although controversial in other ways, increased his workers’ minimum wage from $2 to five dollars a day about 100 years ago, astonishing rivals and paving the way for the American middle class. Some good has always existed on the causeways of American commerce.

As Patagonia chief Yvon Chouinard reminds us, we all have a responsibility to be citizens, consumers and producers. So every time we bring “Good” back to great, we not only serve our fan communities, we become better citizens and create a holistically better (and often more profitable) company.

That’s Good for everyone.

7 Ways Bob Dylan Doesn’t Think Twice About Brand Strategy

bob-dylanThe Basement Tapes, Volume 11 from Bob Dylan and The Band will be released this week (for a free sampler click here).

These rough recordings Dylan made in Woodstock, New York during the spring and summer of 1967 (two years before the famous Woodstock Music Festival) were created, as we all know, after Dylan his flipped his Triumph motorcycle on a country road and suddenly went dark. After pushing out two albums in 1965–“Bringing It All Back Home,” and “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Blonde On Blonde” in 1966, the so-called basement tapes created between “Blonde On Blonde” and “John Wesley Harding” (also in 1967) hardly seem like down-time.

Dylan, who had already gone from folky protest singer to electrified warlock, was just resetting the table.

“Nashville Skyline,” which came out in 1969, was a kick on the side of the head for fans still getting stoned on Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35. And the album birthed an entirely new era of country rock.

The Basement Tapes have all the production value of just letting the tape roll, but include the not-yet-gelled versions of Quinn The Eskimo, and gangly but listenable takes on classics like I Shall Be Released, You Ain’t Going Nowhere, and This Wheel’s On Fire.

There is no question that Bob Dylan is a major brand in every sense. From the manufactured name “Bob Dylan” (his birth name is Robert Allen Zimmerman) to a lifetime of continual innovation and rebranding, Dylan-as-brand seizes the attention of a global fan community in the millions.

It is worth deconstructing the “Brand called Bob” to see the strategic touchpoints that lay  behind what all the fuss is about.

Like any powerful brand, the brand called “Bob Dylan” contains each of the seven pieces of “primal code” that design a narrative that attracts a community of believers, zealots, and the other advocates that create full-spectral fandom.

“Primal code” includes creation story, creed, icons, rituals, sacred words, nonbelievers, and leader that, when combined together, form a holistic belief system that attracts others who share your beliefs. These touch the emotional connections that we have with all brands, and create a template to help us understand why Bob Dylan has been attracting fans by the millions since the 1960s.

1. Creation story: As mysterious as it is famous, the spine of Dylan’s origin myth is that he made his way from Hibbing, Minnesota to New York City to visit legendary folksinger Woody Guthrie who was hospitalized in New Jersey. Along the way, Dylan shed his name Robert Zimmerman, for a hybrid based on the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Dylan joined the folk music scene in Greenwich Village and recorded an unspectacular eponymous album of cover tunes in 1962. But the release of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” album the following year (1963) included Blowin’ In The Wind, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Girl From The North Country, Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right, and rightly changed the world.

2. Creed: Probably expressed best in Dylan’s track You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine. Dylan has always zig-zagged across musical styles and affiliations, leap-frogging genres, and creating bridges to new times and places.

3. Icons: The fact that Bob Dylan is an icon in popular music is no question. He is in the Rock And Roll Music Hall of Fame and Songwriter Hall of Fame. His personas as Greenwich Village folksinger, masked member of the Rolling Thunder Revue and never-ending leader of the Never Ending Tour (as well as his role in the aborted film Reynaldo and Clara), are images forever imprinted on Dylan fans and music public alike. But icons are not just images. Sound is also iconic: Dylan’s voice is iconic, and so are the iconic melodies in some of his most popular songs. This “sound” instantly identifies it’s Dylan, which is what being “iconic” is all about.

4. Rituals: Concerts are rituals. And so are interviews, appearances, signings, going into the recording studio and all the other seemingly random events that are woven together to create the map that designates the Dylan landscape. Waiting to see what Dylan comes up with next is also a ritual.

5. Sacred words: “Dylan.” One word, two syllables that represent a mountain of meaning for fans. The lexicon of Dylan album titles, the incredible song lyrics (the books, articles, student papers and blogs written about the meaning of Dylan lyrics number in the hundreds of thousands), and quotes from interviews and elsewhere become part of the sacred liturgy that surrounds the Brand Called Bob. These stimulate, provoke and titillate his global fan community.

6. Nonbelievers: For every “pro” there is a “con.” While Dylan has a global fan-base of millions, like all artists there are millions of others for whom his voice is a nail scraping a tin roof. His lyrics are too incomprehensible. After decades of deification, most of these critics have been beaten down or died off. And still. I used to have a dog who howled every time he played harmonica.

7. Leader: Bob Dylan is certainly the character who set out to recreate the world according to his own point of view. And now even at age 73, he continues to push the reset button.

Or maybe all this fuss about the release of yet another round Basement Tapes is just another set-up. Following press on the Basement Tapes, producers have announced a new Dylan release in 2015. Watch for “Shadows In The Night.”

To anyone born before, well, whenever, Dylan’s role in contemporary music may seem suspect. The words to Dylan’s first hit “Blowin’ In The Wind” might seem light and insipid. Until you realize that issues of race, freedom, war, ignorance, and myopic politicos are as contemporary as it gets. The wind is timeless and the questions raised are unanswerable.

It is testimony to Bob Dylan’s stature as a songwriter and generational muse for the last 50 years that even these scrappy 138 songs in a six-CD box set deserve consideration. (Bob Dylan is the only rock musician to ever win a Pulitzer Prize: “for his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power”.)

Last word. Bob Dylan doesn’t have to think twice about brand strategy because he has created a community so enthralled by his music and so committed to his success, they are willing to do it themselves. And that’s all right.

‘Begin Again’ Director John Carney Redubs Film Ritual

Ritual is an important part of brand narrative. Relating narratives is a ritual, and rituals are also embedded in the actual production and action of narratives.

Let me explain. Going to the movies is a ritual we have all enjoyed. But what we may not realize is, that the act and art of creating a film is also a ritual: filled with moments of joy and despair. (As anyone inside the film community knows, film production is hours of sheer boredom, interrupted by moments of sheer panic.)

Characters within the plot have rituals. Jack Nicholson’s character in ‘The Shining’ for example, acted out the ritual of writing a novel. ‘Game Of Thrones’ is filled with rituals, from sword practice and beheadings to sex romps.

In the new movie ‘Begin Again’ from director John Carney, Keira Knightley plays a young songwriter who, at least in this segment of the movie, is onstage performing her new song. As Carney points out in his narration over a pivotal scene when his two main characters meet for the first time (in a video provided by The New York Times), this scene is an oft-performed movie meme. In fact, Carney points to Judy Garland playing a similar scene in ‘A Star Is Born.’ Part of Carney’s challenge, he explains, is to give this tried-and-true scene a twist that makes the rite something new for his audience.

Actor Mark Ruffalo plays the record producer and A&R man who hears something in Knightley’s music that no one else in the bar can. This is a genre piece, which, by definition, must fit a genre: a cluster of easily consumable memes whose predictability both satisfy and annoy us.

Memes are patterns, icons and actions that make us comfortable. But that comfort embraces a predictability that frustrates our lust for unpredictability.

Hence New York Times’ reviewer A.O. Scott simultaneously likes and dislikes ‘Begin Again,’ without understanding why. “I’m trying to praise this movie with faint damnation,” he concludes. “It’s not very good, but it is kind of enjoyable, at times infectiously so.”

The crowd is a fickle audience. Carney’s new film is scheduled for limited release on July 2.