create culture

the do lab’s hope flower, 2006
photo by: Natalia Valik

it’s the middle of summer. this means i’ve been spending time lately putting together the next issue of the Do Lab Artist Network. it started in the winter, when a ton of the producers we work with at the do were making noise about the new noise they were making, so i got the idea to put together an email from the dolab covering the latest moves happening in the music in our music-driven scene. i realized even then that if we were to do this on a quarterly basis, we could time the spring issue to coincide perfectly with the peak of promotions for lightning in a bottle, the do’s music festival. it just so happened that there were a bunch of new videos (music and doc-stylie) coming out of our community at that time, so the spring issue was dedicated to this multimedia explosion. with LIB over, and my move to a freelance lifestyle giving me insomnia, i started sharing work space with skin.graft designs in an effort to curb the sensation that my home was my office, hoping this would get me back to sleeping normally. it’s no surprise then that summer is going to be the do lab artist network “vogue” issue with a focus on fashion designers/photographers.

as always any do lab project inevitably becomes more than just the sum of its parts. (the do motto is “go big” after all). a great part of the reason that i cherish what i get to do with the do is that at its most profound, my ideas and projects develop into all sorts of insights on everything from branding, to campaign strategy, to business organization, the artist network publication is now no exception.

for the past seven years the do has been producing events, and in the past couple of years is when the scale of these productions has begun to grow exponentially. we now count such companies as redbull, scion, lexus, and the coachella music festival among our portfolio of clients (and before the fall issue of the artist network comes out we will have added summer sonic festival in japan, electric picnic in ireland, virgin festival in baltimore, and that’s all i can keep track of so far). on top of this we are still also producing our own events. we had our biggest creation ever (LIB) go down just a couple of months ago. creating events for our community is what the dolab was doing before any big corporate brands ever knew our name, and it’s still where our heart is and always will be.

what we do isn’t just about entertainment. it’s about taking people’s breath away. people come to our events to have visions, make discoveries, get inspired, fall in love, (among other things you don’t mention in polite company). we design super dynamic, interactive environments, and our creations move people. it’s hard to describe what it’s like to see people ride up to the giant hope flower, and look up at this insanity that was pulled out of the ether of magic and heavy machinery, speechless, tears streaming uncontrollably down their faces.

then a funny thing happens when you are the consistent purveyor of epic, life-changing, reality-bending experiences… you end up developing a very dedicated and suuper engaged community.

people not only keep coming back to event after event, but people spend the time in between telling their friends about it, or talking to the new friends they made there about it. people become interested not just in participating in the experience, but in actually being a part of the creation process itself. our events run on an army of volunteers, and everything we build is the result of a kaleidoscope of collaboration. the fact that an event production crew said “sure, let’s do it,” when i suggested we start an arts publication is testament to this collaborative spirit.

(…. and thank god that segue brings us back to the point–i was getting so far into back-story exposition there, i was kind of getting worried about how i’d be able to suavely transition us back to the action. did you notice?)

in the process of brand development there are elements that are the well-established usual suspects. experience and design are crucial, “content is king,” and community is…. well, you know. but there is such a vital element that is so often neglected.


in all the time i worked at house of blues, the only kind of communications we ever sent out to our huge database of avid music fans were emails bugging them to buy tickets. there’s a never-ending stream of popular musicians touring through the clubs at any given moment, and yet the idea of leveraging these relationships with culture creators into, say, a house of blues publication, that could, for instance, offer its readers exclusive interviews with the artists, conducted over drinks after soundcheck…. would have been considered ridiculous. instead it was all just emails about show pre-sales and desperate reminders. cuz what would a concert promotion company get out of becoming a publisher, right? (you know… just thinking about the out of control drinks at the house of blues restaurant–a chocolate vodka concoction that sips like an alcoholic tiramisu, margaritas that are so whipped you’ll feel like any other margarita is cheating on you thereafter–i’d be down to read an interview even with the bartenders.)

anyway…something really strange and amazing happened to the open rates on do lab emails that we were sending out leading up to our music festival. they kept getting better with each one! which is unheard of in the land of event reminder emails. the difference between the kind of “reminders” that the do sends vs. house of blues–or, i suppose, really any other major concert promoter–is that we make sure to approach each communication with our community as not just another opportunity to send a banner ad into their inbox, but as culture creation. that is, a transmission of the aesthetics, sound, news, and values of the community.

not like hiring the words “culture” and “marketing” as a team to model your brand’s latest collection is all that new. in fact, no less a sage than faith popcorn has already hailed “culture as the new medium,” pointing out that in the future (and by that i mean, you know… the present) brands need to find ways to “embed” themselves within culture to stay relevant and competitive, and that considering a “culture plan” is just as important as a “media plan.” culture marketing, however, depends on the process of co-opting existing culture. and hey, i’m not knockin’ that. the hippies, hipsters, and hiphop-sters are all equally entitled to free redbull, and brand logos on their flyers. it’s all love, baby, fo sho. but i’m not talking about “embedding” your brand into culture here. (most “sponsorship” at this point has devolved into essentially nothing more than just getting a new place to put a billboard.) this post is called “create culture.”

it’s about brands being platforms of cultural expression. in the ballyhooed (what the hell kind of word is ballyhoo?) future where “brands are the new networks, and advertising agencies are like Hollywood producers” you can think of culture as… cable. mtv, in fact, is THE perfect example of a brand creating culture. (in case you didn’t really think i meant that the concept should be applied literally, you’re wrong.)

ok, but not every brand is mtv or house of blues or even the do lab for that matter, that has cultural content literally walking through its doors, right? and by the same token, not all cultural content is created equally relevant to your particular community (though music is almost always a good place to start). either way, it’s not necessarily about brands needing to create their own proprietary cultural content (we’ve totally got enough of that already, thanks). but perhaps partnering with culture creators to license their stuff would be a direction to consider. after all, the do lab artist network is not us stroking our own egos on our decor and lighting designs, it’s about the many varied cultural creators relevant to our community.

culture not only facilitates communication within a community–it is a medium for expression and communication at its core, after all–but it’s a way to build brand value! think of it like the advanced level you get to in the game after you beat the koopa at the end of the “creating community” level. and this level involves giving something back.

Go Big!


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