Gaga Goggles and Kardashian Kollections: Does Celebrity Supersede Design?

The age of celebrity branding is in full swing. From Polaroid hiring the meat adorned, egg hatched Lady Gaga as their “Creative Director” to the Kardashian Klan brought in to “design” a line of clothes, shoes, accessories and more for Sears, one important thing has been tossed aside in the name of celebrity. That thing is called PRODUCT.

Polaroid chairman Bobby Sager claims that he wants Polaroid to be the next Apple, so what does he do to achieve that? He hires Lady Gaga as a faux “creative director” for the brand. I have a tip for Bobby. Apple is Apple because of design, not because of celebrity firepower. Apple has never used celebrities nor has it ever used focus groups to determine where their product should go. Innovation comes from a deep creative process. If Polaroid wants to reinvent itself as an innovative leader, they should focus on product design and technological advancements, not gimmicks. Celebrities are fleeting. Great design is iconic.

Next on the agenda is the Kardashian sisters being paid to “design” a line for the tired Sears brand. I watched a segment the other morning on Good Morning America about the Kardashians “creating” their Kollection. The Kardashians have not created or designed anything. They have simply licensed their name. They flew out on a private jet to view the line for the first time in a mini store within Sears with the clothing already designed, produced, shipped and out for sale. Their claim to the design of their product line demeans the design process and the lengthy and complicated process of manufacturing a product.

These are just a couple of the myriad of celebrity brands. Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie, and yes, even the ultimate Jersey Girl Snooki, all have product lines in their namesakes. It’s not enough for celebrities to become celebrities anymore; they often seem to need more. Actors selling makeup, singers selling clothing, reality show losers selling shoes, greed and America’s insatiable appetite to get a piece of the wealthy and famous seems to have taken over its desire for anything of lasting and meaningful value. Great design, perhaps with the exception of Apple, has become a niche market.

There are two approaches to building a brand. You can create a great product, with fabulous design and an honest brand story that will build a lasting brand. You also can find a celebrity, license their name and attach it to anything for success that will be a flash in the pan. In my book, a great brand and innovative design supersede anything that any celebrity can bring to the table.

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The Tortoise vs. Hare Approach To Business

tortoiseandhareWe all know the online world moves fast. Ideas can be spread in an instant. Technology changes seem to happen in the blink of an eye, and many have come to expect all aspects of business to move and grow at that same rapid pace. Sometimes no matter how fast technology moves, other meaningful growth in business still does (and should) take its sweet time.

I had a recent client with a very small start up consumer product company. The brand has a website with online shopping, a Facebook page and a Twitter profile. Tiny sales and a tiny following is what they had. But that’s ok, because they were just starting. I was hired to do some outreach work to promote the brand online. I got to work and started getting some good response online to the product. Buzz was starting. People began to enthusiastically talk online about the product. Traffic to the company’s site was starting to increase. Their Facebook and Twitter interactions increased. And yes, their sales increased a little bit too. I was feeling pretty good about what I had started for my client.

But in a short period of one month, they decided to abandon the outreach simply because it didn’t result in a huge increase in immediate sales. Although sales did increase as a direct result of the online campaign, it wasn’t immediate enough and it wasn’t huge enough by their standards. I tried to explain to them that the campaign was an investment in brand building and brand awareness. I told them that brand building is a process that happens over time, which leads to measurable increases in sales further down the road. I told them that there will be incremental growth, but to expect instantaneous explosive growth is unrealistic. Slower growth is longer lasting and more meaningful. I told them that they were a new brand that no one had heard of yet. They needed to spend some time, get their name out there, get to know their customers and build some excitement and online talk, then they would begin to see some more significant sales in return.

They couldn’t wrap their minds around that. They saw their dollars go out and expected them to double back in instantly in sales. Brand awareness cannot often be measured directly in sales, especially in the initial stages of a start up. Brand building (which in SM terms is essentially the same as relationship building) takes time. You wouldn’t expect to go out on a first date and be married by the second. Brands need to court their customers a while before they’ll go steady or even consider marriage.

I am right there with the tortoise. I believe a slow and steady pace will lead to more meaningful and long-lasting growth. We all dream of instant success. Wouldn’t that make life easier? But it is rare for a brand to find overnight success and it’s even more rare for those that do to be more than a flash in the pan.

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LOST Lost Me, But Target Spots Hit The Mark

I haven’t been following LOST for the past 6 years like most of the millions of series finale viewers on Sunday night probably have been. It did have me in its grips for about the first 6 months, then they lost me. It kind of reminded me of the phenomenon of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks back in 1990, with its ever twisting and turning sub-plots and mysterious happenings. As with Twin Peaks, watching LOST gave me the distinct feeling that the writers were just taking it an episode at a time without any idea of where it would take them or what it all meant. I couldn’t imagine how it could possibly be tied up in the end. But, for some reason I felt curious to watch the much hyped LOST finale this past weekend. Maybe all the hype sucked me in like a vacuum cleaner, but the thing that stands out in my mind now is not the mysterious ending, but these fabulous 15 second spots from Target that appeared throughout the finale:

Target sure knows how to target their customers. Or I guess the agency that creates them does. Target used their understanding of LOST’s audience, the apparent understanding of the insider images from the show and used them to their advantage. Tying the smoke monster into the selling of a smoke detector, the wild boar to BBQ sauce and the life or death inability to execute on an outdated computer to a new cordless keyboard was simply genius advertising. The spots are simple, clever, funny, completely memorable and unmistakably Target. They connected to the audience and made them feel like: “Hey, those execs at Target must watch LOST, just like me.” Like LOST viewers and Target are part of the same insider’s club.

Knowing your audience, connecting with they way they think, the things they like, the things they can relate to, all while tugging at their sense of humor, makes for a successful ad campaign. This is a prime example of how old school advertising can still connect with consumers. There was no conversing with Target going on here. Sometimes, if done correctly, a good commercial can still connect with consumers. I doubt the sale of Kraft BBQ sauce, First Alert smoke detectors or Microsoft cordless keyboards will suddenly start flying off the shelves at Target as a result, but these ads do wonders for the larger picture of Target’s own brand building. They create an image of a smart, modern, fun and savvy place to shop and save money. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

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Excuse Me, You Have Some Twitter On Your Facebook

blog-illustrationTweets on LinkedIn. Tweets on blogs. Facebook and Twitter updates on blogs. Blogs on Facebook. It seems that many people don’t want anyone to miss a single word they ever say. Duplicate content is becoming the norm. I brought this up on Twitter recently, and quickly got a bunch of responses from people agreeing that it is a bit noisy. Some said that they hate it but do it themselves because they thought it was just what you were supposed to do. But as far as I know, no one is supposed to do anything in the social media space. If they are, then they neglected to give me that rule book.

This over-connectedness and need for everyone to read everything you ever write or say online is starting to overwhelm me. The thing is that oftentimes those with whom you are connected on Twitter may also be connected to you on Facebook and/or LinkedIn or subscribe to your blog. They’ve seen it already on one of the other platforms. For me, I see each venue as having a unique function. There is some cross-pollination going on in my various online arenas, but overall each platform has its own audience. Each platform also lends itself to unique styles of communication that don’t always translate well on a different platform. Even though I am not your cubicle type, I am finding the need to compartmentalize my social networking use.

Welcome to my compartments

LinkedIn for me is purely business. I try not to get too personal there, using it for business networking, promoting my business and my blog with business related content, and looking for new clients and other business uses. My Blog also serves a similar purpose. I generally write about issues and ideas related to what I do – marketing, writing, design, and branding stuff. I leave personal stories out of it unless they’re part of a larger story that relates to what I do. Hopefully people will read what I write and some even hire me.

Mix n Match:
Twitter for me is easier to mix personal and professional content. The short format lends itself to allowing me to quickly share a myriad of things – pictures of my puppy, links to interesting articles on business subjects of interest, quick chats with my virtual friends, and just random observations of the strange, funny and interesting things I find or think about. I tend to be a bit more liberal with Twitter followers. Let”s face it, the majority of the 1001 people I have following me on Twitter are people I have never met and probably never will. Some are real friends, online friends and people I have worked with or might work with, but the vast majority are complete strangers.

My real friends:
Facebook, on the other hand is beginning to define itself to me as the place to connect with my friend-friends, not my “friends.” I do have a few business related connections there, but I’m thinking about dropping them and keeping it purely personal. I don’t necessarily want potential clients or colleagues reading my chatty comments or stupid insider jokes with old friends. I see this as a place for me to really relax and stay in touch with friends and family. I generally keep business out of it. My real life friends and family don’t care to know my thoughts on marketing or writing. Those people care more about the recipe for that tasty roasted red pepper dip that I make all the time.

Stop and think about the various platforms you use and how they can each be utilized in unique ways to do whatever it is that you do. Go ahead, Tweet on Twitter, write on your Facebook wall, update your status or start a discussion on LinkedIn, and cross-promote now and then, but I don’t think the world is going to stop turning if someone somewhere misses something you say.

Do you use each platform in different ways? What do you think?

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Is New School Marketing Really That Different From Old School?

oldschoolhouseMy online friend John Cavanaugh’s recent post got me thinking about the hot rivalry between new school vs. old school marketing. We all know those feel good buzz words like transparency, conversation and engagement, but I question their truth in meaning in the online world. I am realizing that the new way of marketing is not as different from the old way as we are often led to believe. It all depends on your perspective and your approach.

Putting a business out there with a blog and on Facebook and Twitter is a good thing. It allows consumers to at least feel like the company is accessible, but does it really offer that transparency that everyone says is so essential? I think it’s more like translucence. No company is going to be completely transparent. Most companies and organizations highly monitor their Facebook posts, blog posts and Twitter feeds. They are most often manned by PR, marketing, communications or customer service people within the organization. In other words, trained professionals well-versed in the company’s mission, style, philosophy and message. These people are in fact crafting their posts to serve the best interest of the company. You know, just like advertising, only folksier.

I submit that social media usage by business is simply a newer form of advertising. Let’s face it, a Facebook page is designed to generate interest in and attention to a brand (just like advertising), with the added bonus of actually hearing and seeing what people are saying about you (just like focus groups). The point of a business gaining fans, followers and subscribers may seem like it’s about building a “community,” but when it gets right down to the core, it’s about getting a following of existing or potential customers to like your brand, with the end goal of selling whatever it is that you are selling to them (just like advertising). It’s a powerful way to get consumers to try your Kool-aid, like it, then buy it (just like handing out free samples in the grocery store). The more fans, followers and subscribers you get, the more people start talking about your brand or business around the web, which in turn builds brand awareness (just like advertising).

So I propose that we stop the bickering between the new school and the old school and realize that we’re not as different as we may think. I suggest we stop using the word “transparent,” adopt the more accurate word “translucent” instead, and just feel hopeful that businesses can no longer get away with being opaque.

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Toms Shoes: The Big Business of Being Good

Bad boys are no longer in style, and it looks like being good is the new black. Many companies are now incorporating feel good, do good deeds directly into the culture of their business models. It’s not an afterthought. It’s the core foundation built right into the structure of the business from the get-go. Businesses obviously have been “giving back” for years – that’s not new. But what is new is the trend of making the giving back itself the business model, in some cases superseding the importance of product that is being sold. This is called Social Entrepreneurship.

Deeds that were once left in the hands of the non-profit sector, now have spread their wings and landed in the for-profit arena. Some savvy entrepreneurs are now realizing that harnessing the power of doing good can make for a nice profit, an undeniably positive brand image, a loyal customer base, unlimited PR opportunities, and last but not least, charity.

Companies like Terracycle and are following this basic model, but one company that seems to be mastering it is Toms Shoes. Toms is a company founded by Blake Mycoskie in 2006. Blake is in the business of making and selling shoes, but ironically, the product that his company produces and sells is secondary to what his company does.

While traveling on a polo vacation in Argentina, he noticed that the impoverished village adjacent to the polo field was filled with children who were all running around barefoot. Because these children did not have shoes, they were not allowed to attend school and they were susceptible to various diseases that could be picked up from the ground. On his way flying back home from his vacation, Blake decided that he would start a company that would make shoes, sell shoes and give one pair away to needy children for every pair sold. He calls it the “One for One Movement.” This is all very good. He is doing a good thing by helping needy children, I will definitely not argue with that. But don’t forget, he is in the business of making money too.

I’ve been in the shoe business, so I have a pretty good sense about the cost of shoes. Toms Shoes retail for $48. Knowing approximately what shoes of this type would cost to manufacture, I would estimate that in a typical retail scenario, these shoes should retail for about 1/2 of what Toms is charging. These are basic shoes, known as alpargatas or espadrilles. They are simply constructed out of inexpensive materials by low cost labor in Argentina, China and Ethiopia. There are other similarly constructed shoes on the market selling for about $20 – $24.

My point is that Toms charges about twice what would be expected for a shoe of this type in order for the consumer to pay for the additional pair that Toms gives away. Toms is technically giving shoes away, but seems to be passing on the cost of giving them away to the consumer, and even making a profit on the giveaway pair as well. The consumer really is the benefactor in this scenario, not Toms. Another way to look at it is that rather than Toms selling one pair and giving one away, the consumer is paying for two pair and getting one, so Toms can give a pair away at no cost to the company, and at a nice profit. Toms has also set up a non-profit wing of the company, not for the manufacturing of the shoes, but for soliciting and managing volunteers to distribute the shoes to the needy. The giveaway shoes are paid for by the consumer and distributed to the needy by volunteers. Toms Shoes is a for-profit business, so it seems to me that the distribution of the shoes should be paid for out of Toms’ pocket, not by the donated time of volunteers.

It’s a marketing thing, really. He’s doing some good, helping people, making a nice profit, and making consumers feel good by knowing they are helping shoeless children, and in turn doing some serious brand building. It is a win-win situation for everyone as long as the consumer doesn’t mind footing the bill for what Toms markets to be their own generosity. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with a business making a profit at all, and donating goods or services to the needy is absolutely a good thing, but Toms should acknowledge their consumers more directly as partners in their business model and in their generosity, rather than taking the sole credit for the giving. Blake does refer to himself as the Chief Shoe Giver, but it’s Toms’ consumers who are making the sacrifice out of their wallets, not him.

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How to Break Through Writer’s Block

BlockWhether you are a writer, a blogger, or anyone in any kind of field that involves tapping into your creative side, inevitably you will at some point hit a road block (or a mind block, so to speak.) It’s that sickening feeling in your stomach when you feel like you have run out of ideas or you just cannot move forward on a project. Here are a few tips that I sometimes use when I hit that brick wall.

Location, location, location

Change your setting – sometimes simply moving to another room can bring your head to a different place. Go work in a conference room, outside, at home, at the library, or at Starbucks. The key is to find that peaceful place where you can relax, think and get into your zone.

Go old school

Shut down your computer and pick up a pen and paper. Freely jot down ideas, words, phrases, or key points. Do some free association and you might be surprised what comes out. Don’t worry about having it make sense or sound good. Just get your ideas down and refine it later.

Do your homework

Knowledge is inspiration. Make sure you have done enough research and have asked the right people enough questions to write what you need to write. Know your subject and make sure you give yourself enough lead time to do research.

Who are you?

Just as important as knowledge about what you are writing, is knowledge about your audience. Understand for whom you are writing. Consumers, media, colleagues, peers, customers, or whoever it may be, get into their heads to understand how to write in their language.

What are you?

As you need to know your subject and your audience, you also need to understand your style. Writing copy for an ad, for packaging, for a web site, for a press release, or a blog post all require a different tone and style. Understand the platform that you need to stand on and write from that place.

Don’t think too hard

Sometimes if you are trying too hard or thinking too hard, the words just don’t come. Freedom is the key here. Relax your mind and let the words start flowing.

Don’t spread yourself too thin

Focus on one writing project at a time. Switching voices from a press release to marketing copy and back again takes a change of mindset. If you have multiple writing projects due at the same time, then take a break and tackle something different before returning to your writing.

Do your work in small bites

Don’t pressure yourself into sitting down and writing what you need to write in one sitting. Great writing rarely takes shape in the first shot. Break your writing projects into bite size pieces. Even if you feel stuck, just commit to fifteen minutes to write something…even if it’s just quick thoughts, ideas, or simply a list of free-associated keywords that you want to touch upon in the piece.

Plan projects to meet your mood

If you feel stuck on a press release, then switch to a different writing project that needs doing with a different voice, on a different subject. Not to procrastinate, but to be able to step away for a bit and switch your mind to something else. Be sure to make specific time to get back to it and try again.

What’s in your way?

Stop for a few minutes to try to understand what’s blocking you. Is it a lack of information, inspiration, time, or something else? Once you can understand what’s holding you back, you can try to tackle the underlying problem by seeking more information, resources, inspiration or setting aside more time.

Inspiration through conversation

Look for inspiration through conversations with your colleagues, or if you are out on your own, talk with your clients or your virtual colleagues. Bouncing ideas around with others knowledgeable in the subject can shed new light on a new angle that will free you up and get the words flowing.

Inspiration from unusual places

Sometimes inspiration can come from unexpected places. Stepping outside of your own world or your comfort zone can help you to see things from a different perspective.

Read More

Sometimes picking up a book or reading an article or a blog can work to inspire you to relate to a subject in a different way. Hop online, google your subject, and see what chatter is going on online. Look at what your competitors are doing and saying. Try to understand what works for them and why.

Write More

Don’t see writing as a task, see it as a way of life and as a process. Write for pleasure outside of work. Keep a journal, write poems, comment on blogs, write essays about your childhood – anything to keep writing fresh, exciting and diverse.

Eliminate ADD

Remove distractions. Shut off your email, so it’s not alerting you to new messages. Shut off the ringer on your phone. Shut down your Twitter and Facebook. Clear your desk of clutter and reminders of the hundreds of other things you have to do. Allow yourself the environment to be able to focus.

Are you a morning person or a vampire?

Determine your best time of day for creativity to flow. Are you best in the morning and burned out in the afternoon? Write during the time of day when you are most alert and save the more mundane tasks you need to do for when you don’t need as much brainpower. Fatigue does not promote creativity.

Take a deep breath

Relax. Take a walk. Exercise. Clear your head. Play with your dog. Incorporate a little time everyday for stress reduction. The more you stress, the worse it will be.

Feel free to add your own tips to this list….

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Crowd Sourcing’s Dark Side

11080I’m all for keeping a finger on the pulse of what consumers are saying and thinking, but there seems to be a new trend in over-reliance on crowd sourced results to direct business, especially when it comes to creative work. Crowds, especially of the consumer variety can be very useful for feedback on new products, but be wary of inviting crowds into the intimate creative places of your business. From graphics, logos and websites to tag lines, brand names, domain names and even the products themselves, many businesses are turning to crowd sourcing to get their creative work for free or practically free. As a creative entrepreneur, I find this trend a bit disturbing, not just because it degrades the value of true creative work, but because it can have a larger negative impact on businesses and their brands.

A business image is not something to leave in the hands of the masses. Brand building is a delicate thing that should be orchestrated by the owner of the brand, not by those who consume the brand. Kraft’s Vegimite/Snack 2.0 debacle is a great example of how crowd sourcing can completely backfire. This trend of crowd sourced creative work waters down what a brand truly can be. Brand building comes from creating multiple layers of elements like product, quality, message, image, graphics, website, communication, partnerships and reputation in the industry, marketplace and with consumers. Why so many businesses are leaving these crucial elements in the hands of the masses is perplexing. As someone who created and built a brand of children’s shoes from scratch, the idea of asking the general public for creative direction or creation was something I never would have even considered. The masses don’t know what is best for your business, you do. The masses are consumers, not innovators. In most cases, consumers can’t imagine what they haven’t already seen before.

Can’t afford a professional? Just ask anyone for a free opinion
So many social media sites have opened up the flood gates to this kind of thinking. Certain LinkedIn discussion groups have become a hotbed for free crowd sourcing of creative work. I’ve seen people asking for marketing plans, brand names, domain names, and logos all for free. There has been one discussion that has been going on for over a month now from someone asking for “suggestions” for a tag line for his music company. To date, there have been 272 responses coming free from the likes of a student in Malaysia, a “Change Communicator,” a “Senior Solutions Specialist,” but more surprising is that supposed Marketing Experts, Copywriters, and Brand Strategists also added their suggestions. For Free. I understand the whole concept of giving in the social media world, but expecting professional results from people willing to simply throw out random suggestions for something as important to a brand as a tag line is simply unrealistic. The results of this person’s request, even though there were 272 of them were pretty terrible. They were terrible because none of the respondents knew anything about this guy’s business, what his goals were, who he was, what his message was, who his market was or what image he was trying to project. These are all the things that a professional would take into consideration carefully and spend time contemplating before even suggesting a solution.

This isn’t work, it’s a contest

I got an email the other day specifically addressed to me inviting me to enter a contest to come up with a new domain name for someone’s business. I was told that I would get $10 for my submission, and then if it were chosen as the best, I would “win” $500. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the link to see what this was all about. There were very specific parameters for this project. It was a domain for a new dating website, but it wasn’t just a domain they were looking for, actually it was a brand name. It had to be nine letters or less, had to be a .com address, had to be available, had to be unique and not trademarked or used by any other business, and it had to capture the essence of the philosophy of their site. There was also a long list of words that could not be used. It was suggested that the estimated work time on this project would be ten minutes. That’s right, I said ten minutes. It was also stated that this was the second contest they were holding because the first one “did not generate the kind of results that they were looking for.” Hmm, you think they mean PROFESSIONAL results?

More is better

Would you rather savor one incredibly delicious meal created by a talented chef or would you rather stuff yourself with unlimited piles of junk food? Crowd sourcing is like a junk food feast. The premise (I think) behind crowd sourcing is that if you get a ton of responses, you will have a bigger pool to choose from, increasing your chances of getting the results you are looking for. More is better, right? If the goal is to find quality creative work, then the answer is no. Anyone willing to enter a “contest” is not going to be giving you professional work. They’ll spend the ten minutes to take a chance – kind of like buying a lottery ticket. But let me let you in on a little secret: Believe it or not, great graphics, design, writing, naming, branding, and marketing all take talent, experience, creativity, knowhow, and time. Instead of blowing your budget on a contest that generates piles of amateur entries, spend your money on talent. You know, someone who will spent some time THINKING and talking to you about your business and what you hope to achieve. That my friends, takes more than ten minutes.

I’ll pay you if I like you

There are numerous sites popping up that are going beyond the bidding wars of sites like elance or odesk for creative work, but they actually solicit suckers to do the work up front, upload it for all to see, and only pay the one that is chosen as the best either by the poster or by votes from the crowd. Would you walk into competing bakeries, eat their respective cakes, and only pay for the one that you think tastes best? Would you expect to have several landscapers come to your house, plant their gardens, build their stone walls and only pay the one who you think did the best job? This is called working on spec. I don’t understand how this approach to hiring creative work is acceptable. It’s a cop out really on the part of the hiring person. They apparently are not willing to take the risk or the heat of hiring the wrong person. Maybe it comes from a lack of confidence in knowing what is good creative or not, but if you do your homework, look at experience, previous work and get recommendations from others who the creatives have worked with, then educated choices can be made. Anyone who is willing to put their time and energy into creating something without knowing whether or not they will be paid is clearly either desperate or an amateur looking to build a portfolio.

I’m not a real ______, I just play one on the Internet

Ah, the self proclaimed guru problem again. I recently wrote about that subject here. But for true designers, writers, marketers or anyone else who offers creative consulting services to business, the guru problem has invaded their potential for livelihood like Kudzu in a Louisiana swamp. Again, it’s a matter of research. Know who you are working with and find out if a person has ever done what they profess themselves to be.

The bottom line is that you have a choice. It all depends on what your goals are. You can risk your budget and/or brand on a contest with amateurs who will only spend a few minutes on your project, or you can do your homework and hire a professional who will take a vested interest in your business’ success. Your success, image and happiness is their success, image and happiness. Don’t underestimate the power of talent.

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The American Idol Guide to Brand Building

idol-logoOk, I’m going to make a confession. I’m coming out of the closet and admitting that I watch American Idol.
There, I said it. But it’s not what you think.
Although I always pride myself as someone who generally operates outside of the mainstream, I find myself intrigued by this American Idol phenomenon. It’s not because I love the music or the contestants or that I get caught up in the voting frenzy. I don’t wear t-shirts with “I heart whoever” or make signs on poster board with glitter markers saying “Whoever rocks my world.” I actually can’t stand most of the music and contestants. But what does intrigue me is looking at American Idol as a study in mass market brand building. Although Fox tries to make its viewership think otherwise, this show really isn’t about listening to singers perform, enjoying the music or finding the best of the best. It’s about the guided and careful crafting of a mass market commodity. It’s about the structured building of a product and an incredible buzz machine. It’s about the selling of lots of stuff to the masses.

From the beginning of the season where hundreds of thousands of singing and screeching characters prance through, do their thing and either get booted out or “Go to Hollywood,” the brand building has already begun. The producers choose who to feature more heavily in clips, quietly influencing the soon to be voting public on who they feel has the most potential as a marketable product. The contenders are chosen for their poignant stories of a desire to overcome poverty, crime, disease, homelessness, blindness, loss of a loved one or shyness. They are chosen for their good voices or their quirky interpretations of standard songs. They are chosen because they are eye candy or they are the ugly duckling with a great voice, but with a hip haircut and a trip to the mall, they might actually look pretty good. The producers are looking for a brand story, a decent product and a good package.

I watch Simon Cowell as he observes the singers before him. He’s not just listening, but he’s looking. He’s checking out their demeanor, their style, their song choice, their hairdo, their clothes, their facial expression, their personal story and he’s measuring the potential marketability and pliability of this commodity that stands before him. You hear comments like “you are so commercial” or “you are this kind of ‘artist’” or “I love your look.” You see week after week, contestants trying so hard to be what the judges are telling them they should be. An artist can’t be crafted. It’s quite sad really. The art isn’t in the music; the art is in the building a money making machine, this American Idol brand – the show itself, the record deals, the tours, the gear, the ringtones, the commercials, the sponsorships. It’s like watching a Walmart product being molded and manufactured and promoted before your eyes. It is guided crowd sourcing.

American Idol is a reflection of what I see happening more and more in business and online. Crowd sourced opinions and masses being guided unknowingly by those who have marketed themselves as authority figures are becoming the norm. Real talent, skill, creativity, experience and innovation don’t seem to be noticed, valued or rewarded as much anymore. Mass appeal seems to be winning over originality, and fame and/or fortune seem to be the primary goals. Is that really what Americans idolize? If so, maybe I need to move somewhere else.

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The Cashier At Walgreens Is My Consultant

The “Consultant”
I was at Walgreens the other day and I noticed that the young woman who rang up my birthday card, shampoo and toothpaste was wearing a name tag that read:
Susan, Beauty Consultant. I also noticed that Susan had chipped electric blue fingernails, multiple rings on all of her fingers, mellow yellow teeth, too many piercings that were visible and my guess is that she also had too many more that weren’t as well. I looked at her tag again and thought, “Hmm, I wonder if I should consult with her on that nagging beauty question that I have.” Then I looked at her fingernails again when she held out her hand to take my money and told me the total amount of my purchase in between the click clicking of her chewing gum, and I thought, “Nah, I’ll seek a consultation elsewhere.”

The “Designer”

I was watching a commercial the other day for a local furniture store, and the staff, instead of being referred to as sales associates, were referred to as design consultants. My guess is that the likelyhood that any of these consultants attended design school is pretty slim. What type of design would that be, designing a methodology for getting me to buy a chair from them?

The “Guest”

I went into a store to return something and noticed that instead of a customer service desk, they had a “guest services” desk. Apparently I am no longer considered a customer in the store, I am now a guest. Does that mean they’ll serve me a nice homemade dinner with a glass of wine or put me up in a fully appointed room for the night? Really, I just wanted to return a t-shirt.

The Writer

Consultants, Designers, Guests. I’m getting confused, but have come to realize that there are designers and “designers,” there are consultants and “consultants,” and there are guests and “guests.” Just in case you all are wondering, I’m a writer not a “writer.”

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