i’ll admit right now that this is not what i ought to be writing about.
i’ve been travelling for more of the past month than i’ve been at home, and just coming up with things to write about that i had no time to follow through on. so now that i’ve finally gotten to shower in my own shower, and sleep in my own bed, and the chance to unwind, there’s really so much else that i’d like to write about other than this.
like…. i’d like to give the ad age article, “Dove Viral Draws Heat From Critics” the “STOP SAYING THE WORD VIRAL!” award.
while i’m at it, i’d like to write about how “cool-hunting” ought to be stopped too. and not the thing where brands support emerging artists and underground communities to develop relevant, authentic consumer relationships, but that whole ridiculous concept that “cool” can exist out of context, like some kind creme to be skimmed off the top of one homogenized, pasteurized mass culture.
i’d like to write a post each for like a dozen different sound-bytes that come out of alex bogusky’s mouth during the course of these interviews: 1 + 2 (it’s like a full semester of jedi grad school in the course of an hour.) i’d like to thank john drake for turning me on the existence of these videos–thanks john!
i’d like to write alex bogusky an email asking if it’s by choice or by chance that he doesn’t have a wikipedia entry to hyperlink his name to. (altho i could maybe think of a couple of other questions i’d like to ask too.)
instead what i’m writing about now is NONE of that. i’m writing about the funniest thing i saw yesterday, which happens to have been on a party flyer:
“$15 at the door. 30 in costume. leave the playa in nevada.”
since apparel is one of the easiest mediums through which to fulfil burningman’s “radical self expression” tenet, it’s been a big deal among parties in the burningman scene to encourage attendees to dress up. for years party flyers have advertised that if you were down with costumery you’d get a discount, and if you arrived in “street clothes” you’d have to pay an exacerbated fee at the door. “playa” by the way, is the term used to refer to the dried up lake-bed in the nevada desert on which burningman is held.
the initial idea in encouraging “playa-wear,” i suppose, was about developing a certain immersive atmosphere at the events. it’s kind of like if you’re into society for creative anachronism type stuff, where you recreate medieval battles on the weekend or whatever, then it kind of kills the whole point if people don’t show up wearing period garb, wandering onto the battlefield in track suits or something. the (re)creation of that other time and place is what everyone is there for, and it only works if everyone participates in the process.
of course burningman, like any other subculture, has its own dress codes and aesthetic mores, and after a while what all those flyers were actually saying was that the admission was $15 higher if you weren’t wearing the UNIFORM rather than if you weren’t wearing a “costume.” to people that didn’t get the memo about what the burningman uniform is supposed to consist of, or for whom costumery is not really their mode of expression, the insistent empahsis on it is incredibly alienating, and to people that aren’t interested in uniforms in general (or this one in particular), it’s pretty frustrating.
the joke on this flyer is that it’s turned the whole thing around, and even come up with a brilliantly catchy slogan for the resistance.
which, of course, reminds me of something alex bogusky talked about in that interview….
(oh, if you’d watched those videos you’d know there’s no way i could just spend a whole post not talking about anything he says in there.)
so at one point he talks about this mini cooper campaign that cpb did for the car’s US launch. they bought a bunch of billboards announcing, “the suv backlash officially starts now.”
except that this was 2002, this was pre-inconvenient truth, and there WAS no SUV backlash. they needed it in order to have a way to market a small car for being exactly what it was, a small car, so they created it!
and the crazy part is that then it became real!
whether it was sheer luck, or intense prescience, or some kind of more formal consumer insight investigation, that the message worked–and by “worked” i mean, that it really DID herald the start of the SUV backlash in addition to making mini coopers sell–is because there was indeed an anti gass-guzzler movement brewing. before al gore pushed “green” over the tipping point, however, even a relatively small message like this could speak for an audience that was ready for the backlash to start.
in the interview alex mentions that advertising, and, hey, lets be real, ad agencies, have the capacity to influence pop culture through brands. or…. wait, is it brands have the capacity to influence pop culture through advertising? or is it through ad agencies? well, whichever way it is, the bottom line is that the most powerful influence comes from the capacity to articulate something that is already brewing below the surface. it’s like how quantum particles can be affected through simply being observed, so pop culture movements can be influenced by being given expression…..
“quantum marketing.” (there’s a concept).
perhaps that flyer for the party on friday will herald the start of the costume-mandate backlash? i’ve been repeating “leave the playa in nevada” to everyone since i saw it. the wait for a clever slogan officially ends now (thanks, mike).