It’s social connection that not only got us on Twitter to fling our stuff, but made us want to make the stuff we’re flinging in the first place.
Imagine you’re moving down the isle of a major supermarket — or shuffling, more like it. You’re slowly shuffling past endless brands of laundry detergent. They all present brightly colored, cleanly designed product packaging with bold lines and accessible but awfully bland slogans. You don’t even need detergent, or at least you didn’t know you wanted it before your subconsciously drew you over, expecting to be so subtly seduced by their irresistible marketing messages.
Do you choose the one that claims to “clean your clothes with freshness” or the one that boasts, “the freshest clean your clothes will ever seem”? Or how about the one that offers, “the cleanest fresh feeling ever your clothes seem will have”? Probably not that last one. It doesn’t even seem to have been composed by a human. It’s probably a spam-bot, just ignore it and it’ll soon be deleted.
So, you wander off to the next isle and end up debiting that $2.99 – 15.99 on some other impulse buy with slightly more clever wordplay and now 30% less sugar. And you weren’t even hungry, but that packaging and slogan seemed to offer a sense of inclusion in this post-modern grid of smugness and detachment.
Well, that’s more or less how Twitter works for creative types who hawk their wares daily, hourly, sometimes in automated intervals, to the vast, uncaring, bleary-eyed would-be customers who can’t be bothered to click your link and buy your thing. Especially when it seems more like a favor and less like the whispered promise of happiness or belonging or rebellion. Twitter is less like the classic bazaar where merchants and customers haggle and joust and much more like the pseudo-sterile modern supermarket — as satirized above — with the occasional brown, patchy stain and bruised cans of mystery products with pidgin-English slogans. In the bazaar you’re greeted by living, shouting, sweating people, but in the market you’re faced with neatly stacked rows of nearly identical brands.
These days every creative is their own brand, we’re constantly told in advice columns on mid-ranking marketing blogs and rushed non-fic titles (many of which are only available in the Kindle or Nook store), but what does it mean to be a brand?
A brand is a name or title which represents a product, through an experience, communicated by a primary feeling. And that experience can change, sometimes drastically, depending on the needs of the market. Coke is positivity, excitement and energy — but not too much energy, otherwise it would be Rockstar. Pepsi is all those things but in a blue can and with celebrity stunt casting. It’s also diabetes and tooth decay in excess, but that wasn’t included on the creative brief. Ralph Lauren was originally clothing intended for upper-middle class white people until “urban” black influencers assimilated the preppy style into their own cultural positioning. But these are the major brands, the celebrity brands. When you’re a celebrity brand people just want to feel like they know you. When you’re not a celebrity brand you have to offer something. Anything. Don’t have anything? How about an intellectually unchallenging motivational message that may or may not have anything to do with the thing you’re selling?
If you’re a creative reading this, you’re likely not a celebrity or a major brand. You’re the fiftteenth bottle of detergent from the left and you’re actively tweeting how “fresh” and “clean” your formula will make one’s clothes, but then again, so are all the rest. So, how do you stand out? Do you refine your message? Do you clearly define yourself and your approach so maybe your brand actually means something and carries some sort of significance?
Yeah, you could do all that, or just yell your marketing message more often into the greater white-noise feedback wall, hoping that this most recent, “hay guise buy my thing thansk!” will be the one that does it.
One of the first rules of sales and advertising is to provide value. Not actual value, naturally, but perceived value. Coke doesn’t actually make anyone younger, or cooler, or dance spontaneously in suspiciously clean urban apartment hallways, but on the other hand it’s got caffeine and sugar and you hate Starbucks just because. McDonald’s won’t facilitate intimacy in your immediate family or transform your turgid and disappointing Friday night out with your co-workers into a series of Kodak (remember them?) worthy-memories for your Facebook wall, but the bleached-teeth actors on the commercial (who probably gagged themselves in their honey-wagon bathroom immediately after shooting) seemed to be having a great time under their beauty lighting.
Even Pabst Blue Ribbon, long remembered only as a violent and junior college giggle-inducing punchline from the film “Blue Velvet”, has achieved a new crowd-sourced cool as the hipster beer of choice. A sort of anti-brand, for anti-people, who wear anti-clothing and grow ironic mustaches on their anti-faces. Suck it, Budweiser and your corporo-fascist, tasteless and not-inexpensive-enough beer.
All of the brands above offer, or pretend to offer, some sort of value beyond endless reminders that their “thing” is now on sale. And amassing followers only confounds the problem, as the people most likely to immediately follow back are up to the same tricks, not interested in meaningful interactions or providing any value, just racking numbers up with other salespeople who are also constantly posting their own anonymous ads, to each other. Ad nauseam.
This may be how modern advertising works, but it’s not good advertising by any means.
The main character in my novel “Stockholm” (see, that’s subtle product placement, my friends) works, for a while anyway, in advertising where he finds modest success recycling ideas that aren’t his own for lack of any inspiration beyond survival. Until, that is, he meets a model named Natasha that he’d never heard of but who completely derails his life in one fateful production day. Suddenly he’s inspired simply to work with her, the subject matter itself not even important enough to be secondary. His creative bankruptcy ends up distinguishing himself in the way he pulls off the same old ideas. But for that to work for you and me there has to be some spark of desire beyond mere selling. Something that elicits a feeling through the experience.
Something other than saying, “my thing k thanx BUY”. The chemical reaction between Anakin and Natasha becomes ‘the difference that makes the difference’, but if you want to know how he pulls this off… (do I even have to say it?)
Once we understand that our primary psychological motivations are social – it’s a sense of social connection and belonging that not only got us on Twitter to fling our stuff, but made us want to make the stuff we’re flinging in the first place. (Unless you’re a different sort of primate acting on the defensive.) You make a thing – you show your thing to the world (Purposefully, not like Anthony Weiner, hopefully, but imagine the PR!) – you get accepted into a social group with other people who make things. You learn from them, take their cues and adapt in order to belong and therefore survive. It’s an unnecessary natural selection that weakens the individual, without strengthening the collective.
Without a clear sense of self and personality, the undulating mass absorbs and gentrifies you. You read the free marketing blog posts posted in your news feed that are also read and followed by all the other creatives, who also assimilate the same ten fearful commandments into their own approach and soon everyone with something special to sell is just another indistinguishable, smiling bottle of brightly-colored stuff demanding the casual shopper to “Follow Me On Twitter!”
You can follow me on Twitter – @anakincarver
(Heh heh heh…)