March 11, 2006

March 11, 2006

In this 'brand' new issue:

* Robert Kozinets on understanding great brand stories
* Grant McCracken on refreshing a brand
* Video downloads gold rush
* Microsoft patents gaming as spectator sport

--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------

Making Stories and Marketing Brands
By Robert Kozinets

Popular business books expressing cutting edge ideas on branding have recently fixated on a fascinating idea: that when consumers consume things they are consuming not only functional factors but symbolic stuff. Management guru Tom Peters has quoted Scott Bedbury, the former marketing maestro of Starbucks and Nike fame in saying that "A great brand is a story that's never completely told. A brand is a metaphorical story that's evolving all the time."

In his book Legendary Brands, business author Laurence Vincent similarly argues that crafting and nurturing a brand narrative is the essence of brand management. This brand narrative will "convey a worldview, a set of sacred beliefs that transcend functional and epistemic product attributes," it will operate and create "a self-fulfilling cycle that engages consumer participation." These complex and open-ended stories are at the heart of the mystery of Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Robert's "Lovemarks." For the University of Oxford Professor Douglas Holt, "Iconic Brands" are rarities created in the interstices of particular moment's cultural contradictions; positioned in the midst of this turmoil, they offer consumers an "Identity Myth" to help them navigate these tensions.

The initial snowball of this realization--that consumer are actually sating themselves with symbols in storied form--was packed together almost 50 years ago by pioneering consumer researcher Sidney J. Levy in a classic Harvard Business Review article on brands entitled "Symbols for Sale." Since that time, marketing sleuths have been assembling the pieces of the brand symbol puzzle into recognizable contours.

My consumer research colleagues and I have subjected brands to the synchrotronic particle smashing of extensive cultural analysis in order to tease out the deep intertextual web of connections that brings brand stories alive. We've exposed the Hell's Angel outlaw and American patriotic machinic machismo at the heart of Harley Davison's essence. We've analyzed the wild and unpredictable and reckless, aspirational but under-educated lower class rural ethos that drives the Mountain Dew brand. We've unpacked the proletariat hippie, radical individualist, do-it-yourself sixties retro imagery that charged up the VW Beetle's brand. And we've teased out the therapeutic, schism-healing, morality-building intergenerational adhesion of the American Girl brand. Behind each of them there is a vital story.

And there is now no reason we would not want to apply the exact same techniques to entertainment content and brands. We know that particular motion pictures and television shows catch the spirit of the times and provide powerful messages to feed consumer identities. Star Trek and the technologically utopian optimism of Space Race America. Star Wars and Reagan's Evil Empire. X-files and the Millennial techno-superstition. The essence of management in cultural industries such as advertising and entertainment lies in the often-subjective judging of these properties and their sociocultural impacts before they are fully produced. Great executives in these industries are those with a mysterious barometer, an uncanny ability to take the pulse of the times and somehow accurately gauge its popular reception.

Some, albeit a small cadre, in the world of business academia and communication studies, have been watching. For the past decade or so, we have been building a body of work that seeks to understand marketing and consumption in our postmodern, post-convergence experience economy. In this world, not only are the engaging stories of successful entertainment properties viable as brands, but also brands themselves are viable as entertaining and meaningful stories.

We see popular culture and consumer culture are united at their core. That essential core is richly meaningful consumer experience.

What methods should marketers use to study this experience and its core of meanings? What role do new technologies and new ways of reaching the consumer play? What drives consumers on their constant search for meaning? How do those meanings gain authenticity and staying power? How do they work for individuals and their communities? The answers lie in a deep understanding of the Postmodern Consumer Experience. These answers inhere in the complex ways that brand and entertainment stories weave into themselves consumers' everyday lived and collective cultural experiences, and the coincident ways that consumers wrap themselves around brand and entertainment stories and consume them away.

And that, as they say in Hollywood, is a story for another day...

An anthropologist by training and a marketer by nature, C3 advisor Robert V. Kozinets is an Associate Professor of Marketing at York University's Schulich School of Business in Toronto. He can be reached at


Want to know more? Rob Kozinets continues the story live and in person at the C3 Conference at MIT, 27-28 April 2006. Mark your calendars... now!"

--------------- TRANSMEDIA ---------------

--- " is in talks with three Hollywood studios about starting a service that would allow consumers to download movies and TV shows for a fee and burn them onto DVD's, according to three people briefed on the discussions."

--- AOL intends to offer downloads of video content on a Windows-based platform by the middle of the year at $1.99 a show in addition to a possible subscription package.

--- iTunes launched a new service called Multi-Pass that lets users buy TV shows on a monthly basis.

- George Lucas sees the end of big-budget flicks. "The market forces that exist today make it unrealistic to spend $200 million on a movie," said Lucas. "Those movies can't make their money back anymore. Look at what happened with 'King Kong.'"

- A video game based on the Left Behind series of Christian apocalyptic books and movies will be launched later in 2006 and will place gamers in the position of New Yorkers who are "left behind" after the Rapture.

- MTV2 airs a fashion show hosted recently in Second Life.

- Depeche Mode's "Suffer Well" song was translated into Simlish and is featured in the The Sims 2 expansion pack "Open for Business."

- Microsoft was granted a patent covering "technologies that allow people to not just play video games against each other online, but to join the game as a spectator from anywhere in the world."

--------------- TECHNOLOGY ---------------

- Business 2.0 places its bets on the hottest "Web 2.0" companies.

- "Emailing, downloading music and watching television are among the new services that consumers want on their mobile phones, according to an industry study released by Siemens, an AFP report said."

- Google has introduced a new service - when you search in Google mobile and click through to a site, Google re-renders the webpage to make it readable on the small screen.

--------------- ADVERTISING ---------------

- A study by Frank N. Magid Associates of 798 iPod owners (12-55yo) found that 72% would be more likely to download a TV program in exchange for watching an ad.

- "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey has tapped place-based media rep MediaPlace to begin pitching national marketers on tie-ins and product placement deals associated with the world's most famous circus."

--------------- END NOTE ---------------

Branding: a River Runs Through It
By Grant McCracken

Brands used to be carried around the big top of popular culture in triumph. Clowns scattered. Children thrilled. The crowd roared.

Now culture and commerce are so changeable, disaster is always near at hand. It's harder to keep pace. It's harder to stay put. Brands no longer move in triumph. Now it's all they can do to hang on.

There are two ways to restore the brand to glory.

The first is to give it a new breadth of reference. The brand has to talk to lots of smaller consumer segments. And we're not talking about the long tail brands here, but "fat middle" ones. These must make their great big markets out of lots of little ones.

The second is constantly to renew the freshness of the brand, to keep the brand in touch with the hyperactivity of popular culture. After all, the phrase "attention span" is now a misnomer. My attention stopped "spanning" a long time ago. Now it tends to hop and skip and...I'm sorry, what was I saying again?

I found a nice solution from Aquafina (the water brand from PepsiCo). According to Jon Lafayette and TelevisionWeek, Aquafina has done a deal with IFC (Independent Film Channel) to sponsor a website that will show short films submitted by the public.

The website will be called Media Lab (which will surely interest the people at MIT). Evan Fleischer sees the website as a way to build the IFC brand.

One of our core missions is to provide filmmakers with a place where they can express themselves unedited and uncut. That's the way we run it on the network and the way we run it online.

No doubt, Media Lab will do good things for IFC but what impresses me is how well it works for Aquafina. Media Lab builds a shunt into the brand through which the most contemporary of contemporary culture can run like a river.

IFC is not going to edit this material. Some of it will be bad film making. Some of it will be outrageous film making. Aquafina doesn't need to care. It is close enough to take credit and far enough away to avoid contamination (when this might occur). Now it has a constant stream of various meanings and absolutely current ones running through it.

This needn't be the sum and total of the brand. It will be a relatively small part of the meaning portfolio. But there it is what Michael Hammer, senior brand manager, calls a "more alternative [and] unique way [] to complement the other media that we have."

Brilliant. We have seen something like this strategy before. Absolut did a particularly brilliant campaign in which the bottle was made to take up residence in the city. Yellow taxi cabs in Manhattan in the shape of the Absolut bottle, say. Benson and Hedges, the British cigarette brands, did something similar.

The IFC "river runs through it" strategy is in some ways more effective and vital. It brings diverse and current meanings into the brand, better than taking the brand out into the world (as Absolut and Benson and Hedges did).

I believe we are getting the hang of this, we really are.


- Lafayette, Jon. 2006. IFC banking on user-made films. TelevisionWeek. February 6, 2006, pp. 6. 18.
- This commentary has been adapted from Grant McCracken's regular blog "This Blog Sits..." located at Visit Grant's blog to find regular updates of his view of the latest developments in the world of advertising, branding and various other issues related to C3.


Agree with Grant? Feel differently? Share your comments with him live and in person at the C3 Conference at MIT, 27-28 April 2006. Mark your calendars... now!

Compiled by Ilya, Sam, Alec, Geoff, Ivan and Parmesh
Edited and signed off by Ilya (

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