i'm with the brand

“One size fits all” fits no one


Sorry for the prolonged absence, folks–busy times! Here’s some food for thought from John Winsor of Victors & Spoils (thanks, Blair!) about rethinking our modes of customer interaction to make them more relevant, welcoming, and illuminating. Key takeaway? Make it make sense. Force-fitting customers (and audiences) into a mold or dismissing them altogether is not the way.


Branding meets pop culture for the 4th annual Peeps Diorama Contest


Just in time for Easter, Peeps is presenting its 4th annual diorama contest winners. This year’s winner, entitled “Eep,”  modeled after last year’s Disney hit, Up!, and chosen from over a thousand entries, is exquisite–and the overall quality of entries has definitely gone up over the years.

Ever-imaginative, these dioramas use the famous sugary animals (the bunnies are the most popular, but the chicks and bears make an appearance, too) to revamp culturally relevant events, icons, and ephemera–and you might be surprised how many, like this year’s winner, choose to depict some other branded entity. Here’s a couple of my favorites below, but definitely check out their other 35 top entries here.


sterling coopeep

Young Me/Now Me: funny, adorable, poignant, delightful
March 24, 2010, 3:20 pm
Filed under: Culture | Tags: , , ,


Love this. The ravages of time, amirite?? Seriously though, it’s kind of fascinating: Young Me/Now Me asks people to send in pictures of themselves when they were younger, as well as replicated versions of those same pictures, taken now.

The interpretation of how exactly that’s done is loose–some are restaged literally even if it’s absurd, while others are updated to carry through the spirit of the picture while making  it appropriate to its new context and circumstances. Some interpret the relationship between “young” and “now” in surprising ways. Many are really sweet and get you thinking about time and change and family and mortality and the great cycle of life.

You can have a lot of fun looking at baby pictures, even if they’re those of strangers.

Not to beat a dead horse but…does anyone want to eat iSnack 2.0?
December 2, 2009, 10:21 pm
Filed under: Advertising & Branding | Tags: , ,
Vegemite & iSnack 2.0

Left: Original Vegemite spread (Photo: StephenMitchell, Flickr); Right: Packaging for iSnack 2.0 and the “Name Me” contest (Photo: avlxyz, Flickr)

Vegemite crowdsources (that’s the word I was looking for–thank you idsgn!) itself the name iSnack 2.0 out of 48,000 user-generated names solicited for its new product launch and it’s yet another tally in the UGC-fail column.

It’s an excellent example of what I mean when I say that relying on users and audiences can be fruitless–even dangerous–if not guided and filtered carefully by the brand. That’s not to say that audiences should not inform a brand’s process–they absolutely should. But it seems we hear of so many embarrassing, expensive debacles in this arena (I’m looking at you, Heinz) that it warrants our time and attention to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and why. Perhaps if marketing professionals saw themselves as brand custodians more, and truly inhabited that role, we would have more responsible, effective, authentic, and long-term branding successes in UGC.

User generated content: you’re doing it wrong (kind of)
November 30, 2009, 11:23 pm
Filed under: Advertising & Branding | Tags: , , ,

Iggy Pop

At first it seems like kind of a cool idea: rock legend Iggy Pop teams up with 8 amateur musicians for a little recording session…over Skype! In an age when Journey can hire its new lead singer off a Youtube clip, why not?

New Zealand’s Orcon broadband company commissioned this little stunt to tout the speed and clarity of its connections, bringing Iggy Pop together with 8 Kiwi contest-winners to record his classic, “The Passenger,” in a virtual jam session remotely via the internet. While it seems like a great way to involve audiences and prove Orcon’s brand claims, something is off, and as Pitchfork puts it, the result is “something of a clusterfuck.”

It seems here, as appears to be common with the faddish user generated content phenomenon (I’m hesitant to label this user participation, which I see as subtly different, a larger and more diverse umbrella–but I concede that this isn’t really straight UGC either), that the chief pitfall is that Orcon left the quality of this effort–and its brand–completely in the hands of users, thinking of it perhaps as cheap or easy advertising. While many companies do UGC for no discernable strategic reason, at least here I have to say Orcon’s approach does makes some sense–internet, collaboration-potential, clear signal, fast connection–I get it, I get it. But when you consider just how much time, effort, and monetary value is wrapped up in brands, it seems absurd the abandon with which companies regularly and cavalierly surrender brand control in ways that they would not with other more tangible assets–especially when UGC’s track record is so notoriously spotty. In Orcon’s case, perhaps a more cautious and brand-led approach would have yielded better, less-gimmicky results?

As for me, the next time I’m looking for my awkward-funny Kiwi music fix, I think I’ll just stick to Flight of the Conchords.

Google’s je ne sais quoi and the reinvention of the logo
November 29, 2009, 8:13 am
Filed under: Advertising & Branding | Tags: , , , ,

Recently Sesame Street marked its 40th anniversary, and on a stray whim deciding to search for something from the Google site rather than through my built-in search bar, I was delighted to see Google celebrating the occasion with a Sesame Street-themed logo. A little poking around online showed me a collection of Sesame Street-flavored Google logos the company was using in other countries that day, and I realized what a clever little paradox this themed logo was.

Google seems such a part of the culture that it seems fitting for them to celebrate significant cultural milestones and figures in the way that they do, endearing themselves to users in the process with this bit of on-brand playfulness. Google’s a part of the culture machine, after all–and not just locally, but globally as well: in my little bit of sleuthing, I found that these themed logos are much more common and much broader than what we might see in the US. While some are shown worldwide (like those for Earth Day and the day water was discovered on the moon), many are specific to a given market, tailored to fit the country in which they appear, celebrating local holidays and culturally significant people and events, from the birthday of renowned artist/architect Isamu Noguchi (shown in Japan) to the opening of the Acropolis Museum (shown in Greece.) In all of these themes, Google demonstrates an understanding of the people and culture, of what’s important and exciting at home and the world over–and in so doing, also seems to justify their rightful place in culture.

In the Doodle 4 Google competition, Google even gives users a chance to make the brand their own, mining students around the world for their imaginative twists on the logo, displaying the winning doodles on the Google homepage for a day. This strategy wisely leverages user enthusiasm and creativity, fostering audience participation without relinquishing control, allowing user input while remaining brand-led. Here are some some of China’s 2008 submissions:

But that’s not actually what I came here to talk about.

What really got me thinking was how Google’s distinctive logo could metamorphose so regularly without losing itself. Going through an archive of Google’s holiday and fan-created logos I noticed that in earlier years Google’s themed logos were much more conservative, typically the standard logo with a little nod to the holiday tacked on–a shamrock here, a pilgrim hat there. Typical shy logo-tweaking. But over the years, perhaps emboldened by their hegemony and recognizability, the holiday logos interpreted the Google logo more and more loosely, sometimes dispensing with the traditional logo, font, or color scheme altogether–but still, in a rare feat, I thought, never leaving me in doubt as to Google’s brand: whose logo it was, and what it stood for. And that’s what I found most intriguing, most fascinating–what was it about their brand, and their logo, that it could survive such drastic changes with tone and identity intact? That could strengthen their brand in spite of (perhaps in part because of) a shapeshifting logo? I’m not sure at the moment that I can offer any great theories as to how they did it and how a brand might replicate it, but it’s something that’s been tumbling around in my mind for the last few weeks and I though I’d throw this musing out there. Whatever it might take to accomplish such a coup, however elusive the solution, it sort of gives overprotective brands something to aspire to, doesn’t it?

Due to Google’s logo policy, I’m afraid I can’t post any images as examples here, but you can check out Google’s official holiday logo and fan logo archives here. Definitely worth a look!

Javelin Spins UGC with Fan-Co-Created Custom Record Sleeves
November 25, 2009, 8:30 am
Filed under: Advertising & Branding | Tags: , , , , ,

Javelin Album Cover

Javelin Album Cover

Javelin Album Cover


In a great marriage of content and form, Brooklyn-based junk shop beatmakers Javelin are putting their remix skills to use on your record sleeves. For their upcoming 12″ release, “Number Two” (Feb 16 on Thrill Jockey), the duo is having fans send in empty record sleeves from their collections to be decorated by the band. Once jazzed-up Javelin-style, the sleeves are sent back, their new record neatly tucked inside. Playing user generated content wisely and leveraging the current fascination with high-touch, handmade, and cutsomized objects as brand souvenirs of sorts, the duo more importantly echoes their own musical philosophy and rummage-through-crates ethos: take someone else’s something old, make it their own, send it back into the world a strange and beautiful thing that’s greater than the sum of its parts. With all the sturm und drang about music in the digital age, it’s clear from Javelin’s media arts-savvy foray into packaging-as-medium that there are still plenty of innovative ways to engage meaningfully with audiences, to bring the brand (the band?) experience home organically.

Check out past examples here. For more info, head on over to Pitchfork.