Kindness As Cultural Currency

kindness

The other day I was having a chat with a few “fellow travelers” – one of whom is a C suite executive for a pretty big global company. He had been dealing with a lot of management stress and in-fighting amongst his leadership team and was talking about a call they had over the holiday break and how he made a conscious decision to take the reigns and change the tone of the conversation. He decided to react to stress and angst with an unlikely maneuver: kindness. He said the experience that followed was nothing short of amazing. It shifted the entire tone of the conversation – diffusing the tension and allowing the team to get down to work and see the light at the end of the tunnel so much more clearly.

As I was stuck in traffic this morning, recalling this story it occurred to me that I finally understood the phrase “kill ‘em with kindness”.   What it meant to me in that moment was that kindness is the antidote to our darkest shadows. It literally neutralizes our demons and gives humans who receive it permission to access their own light – and share it with others.   So, kindness – in a very direct way – equals death – which ultimately is an opportunity for renewal and rebirth.

So lets stop and reflect for a minute on the frame we are trying to bust here. When we think of words like kindness as a counter to aggression, some might conjure images of pacifists – draft dodgers, pot smoking, acoustic-guitar stroking hippies and a sort of weak, vapid resistance rooted in disconnected idealism. But what is hidden beneath the surface is a strength that rarely gets recognized.

That strength is knowing the power of love as a force for positive change. It is the courage to use something stronger than weapons of war to connect to our most basic human values and needs and the wisdom to know that squeaky wheels might get grease but ultimately get worn down.

After all – we wouldn’t exactly call someone like Gandi weak, would we? But he represents the epitome of leading with kindness and love – and in so doing moving mountains of human culture toward progress.

We have seen this shift in the culture of marketing and brands as I elaborated on in my last blog post. And it’s looking like the culture of the C Suite may also be moving in that direction – if my friend’s aforementioned experience is any indication. This also has strong implications for the way corporations and brands will need to engage their customers to develop winning strategies – which I talk about in more detail on my business blog

So, I say today is a good day to die to the “greed is good”, cola-wars culture as we usher in a new era of kindness. Let the army of the amiable advance!

Categories: Consumer Culture, Culture | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Creating The Culture That Will Change The World

Superhero kid

 

I’ve had a bit of an absence from the blogosphere lately.  Not for lack of inspiration and desire to pontificate on the quirks of consumer culture – but because I have been busy trying to figure out a way to save the world.  Okay, so perhaps it’s a bit Narcissistic to think that a humble cultural strategist can save the world.  Then again, I resemble that remark.  But here’s the thing – so do the swelling ranks of consultants, brand strategists and corporate leaders who have been awakening to realize the power of business and brands to create positive social change in the world.

I have spent the bulk of the past year whilst in a bit of career transition trying to figure out how to more overtly begin applying my skills as a brand strategy consultant and cultural researcher more directly to the practice of helping my clients make the world better through the power of their brands.   I’ve always had a secret superhero identity under my blazer, t-shirt, jeans and Converse.  It’s the wonder girl who sneaks the “better for you” customer values vitamins into the “how do we sell more soda” strategies for my clients.  But it’s time to bust through the costume and wave my true colors.  I’m officially coming out as a  do-gooder!

But I’m not the only one.

 

Anyone who doesn’t live underground in a bubble devoid of communication with the outside world has seen the turning tide in global brands and purchase behavior.  We have seen the rise of small players like Warby Parker and Tom’s Shoes whose purpose from inception as ideals based brands was to help provide resources to those in need.Web-based entities like Etsy and Kickstarter provide platforms for individuals to live their dreams and establish their own small businesses instead of succumbing to life in a cubicle cage.

Jay Coen Gilbert and Bart Houlahan, formerly co-founders of the And1 basketball lifestyle brand, in a quest to find a way to serve the world through creating a better way to do business, established B-Lab and  the The B Corporation Certification of which there are thousands of global companies (among them brands like the aforementioned as well as  Patagonia ,  Ben and Jerry’s and Green Mountain Energy ) that have been proven via rigorous metrics that they are contributing to a better for the world.

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Even global corporations have begun to see the light of the “Triple Bottom Line” and  retool their business and brand strategies to keep up with the growing imperative placed on big corporations by their customers to use their powers for good.  A great example is Project Sunlight, an initiative spearheaded by  global packaged goods giant,  Unilever, to empower youth to help youth activate their power to solve some of the worlds biggest problems – like eradicating hunger.

So what’s an anthropologist got to do with it?  Well – I’ve teamed up with another superhero cultural strategist and we have relaunched our cultural strategy agency with a very distinct purpose in mind.  We will use our powers for good – and help our growing roster of global clients do the same.  Because as it turns out (and it’s about time to let the secret out of the bag), doing business that makes the world better is actually better for business.

Companies who are run based on ideals and who employ sustainable and socially forward business practices actually grow faster and are more profitable.  Don’t believe me?  Read the studies.  Books like Grow by former Procter and Gamble General Manager, Jim Stengel show proof based on rigorous research that ideals-based brands who apply rigorous socially forward standards are those who reap the fastest rewards.

In an excerpt from B Corp Handbook, the authors play hardball, citing the following for those who are more motivated Wall Street:

        “For example, Goldman Sachs reported that ‘more capital is now focused on sustainable business models, and the market is rewarding leaders and new entrants in a way that could scarcely have been predicted even fifteen years ago.’ Goldman Sachs found that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of investors seeking to incorporate sustainability and environmental, social and governance factors into their portfolio construction.

In a report that echoes this sentiment, the International Finance Corporation found that the Dow Jones Sustainability Index performed an average of 36.1 percent better than the traditional Dow Jones Index offer a period of Five years.”

Therefore, pardon the recent conspicuous absence while my partner and I have been in “Pinky and The Brain” mode. But rest assured I have been on a worthy mission in my mouse-house.

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Look forward to more blogs that focus on those elements of enlightened consumer culture.  The ultimate form of Narcissism is, after all, enlightened self interest.  So lets all get interested in how we as individuals can use our power to make the world a better place.

If you would like to know more about what I’ve got going on when I’m busy not writing blogs, you can find me here.

 “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means.” – Albert Einstein

 

 

 

Categories: Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, pop culture, sociology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Coca-Cola Life Launch: Inspired Creative

thenarcissisticanthropologist:

Now that this product has hit the shelves in the U.S. I’m doing a “Throwback Monday” to honor product innovation and marketing that makes the universal grade…

Originally posted on The Narcissistic Anthropologist:

Growing up comes with a number of sacrifices that double as blessings.

One: starting to pay more attention to your diet and your health. It’s the right thing to do and comes with it’s rewards: a better quality of life so you can enjoy your adulthood with minimized physical discomfort.

Two: having kids. They uproot your entire world and lifestyle. You forget what it’s like to sleep for the first few years and basically give up your privacy and sanity. But it’s totally worth it and from what I hear the most rewarding sacrifice their is.

Coca-Cola has recently launched a Coke for said grown ups (in Argentina – but coming soon to the US)- a low calorie Come made with Stevia instead of artificial sweeteners. The target: adults if a certain life stage who still want to enjoy but know they need to start thinking more seriously about their…

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[Book Review] Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing Ethnography in the Private Sector by Sam Ladner

thenarcissisticanthropologist:

Excited to read this. It’s he book I would have written if I had the commitment to write a whole book instead of a blog but looks like it’s full of stuff I do everyday and train clients in.

Just ordered my copy…

Originally posted on Anthropologizing:

Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 11.38.28 AMI always eagerly anticipate new contributions to the field of business and design anthropology because it’s an area of practice that is still growing and could use as much thoughtful ideation around its identity, values, and application as it can get. My hope for new books, articles, blogs and other forms of idea-sharing in this field is that its practitioners continue to build on its foundations through sharing relevant experiences, case studies, research findings, theoretical frameworks, and ways of communicating its value to others. I am happy to say that “Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing Ethnography in the Private Sector” (2014) by Sam Ladner lived up to my hopes by adding a useful, practical and fresh perspective to the conversation.

I highly recommend this book to just about anyone in this field of work, including:

  1. Students of ethnography who eventually want to apply it in a business setting and…

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“Fixing Culture”: The Case of Olive Garden

thenarcissisticanthropologist:

A classic dilemma that so few corporations ever actually take the time to scope and solve. But there is an anthropologically-based solution possible here—starts with remembering that companies are made up of…wait for it….HUMANS!!!

Originally posted on Anthropologizing:

olive gardenTasteless, hotdog-bun-like bread sticks. Bland pasta sauce. Operational inefficiency. Excessive corporate spending on private jets and a crappy new logo. These are just a few of the issues identified with the casual dining chain Olive Garden in a scathing September 2014 report entitled “Transforming Darden Restaurants.”

The 294-page report was written by Starboard Value*, an investment firm representing Darden/Olive Garden shareholders. A decline in profits has caused the firm to demand some serious change at both the corporate and storefront level to increase sales and keep shareholders satisfied. It presents a 14-point “turnaround plan” based on what it thinks are the key causes of the decline, and calls for the resignation of all executive board members, who the firm sees as the root cause of the chain’s poor performance.

Conceptualizing Organizational Culture

While Starboard Value sees a change in leadership as the first step to success, another top priority…

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Love, Haters and Hipsters: The Irony of Being A Millennial

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I have officially decided that I’ve  spent too much time commenting on a recent Facebook thread started in the last day  by fellow bloggers Eve Kerrigan, Rachel Gall and Anna Akbari, about a recent article on Millennials called  “Generation Wuss” by Vanity Fair’s Bret Easton Ellis.

I am, however, compelled to share and express my very “special” point of view in a blog post.  No, I’m not an “entitled millennial”,  just a Narcissistic Anthropologist who needs a fix.   Also as someone who has been studying, marketing and helping  to develop brands and products for Millennials since before they were even getting their first driver’s licenses  – I have a point of view on the topic.

I honestly say that I feel a great deal of empathy for this cohort who has been the object of intense scrutiny and marketing-targeting since they started getting an allowance.  They had the distinct privilege of growing up during the evolution of the information age and I think it’s safe to say that everyone feels we are officially at a point of “TMI”. The aforementioned article dishes out some tough love for what he essentially chalks up to a  hypersensitive and seemingly ill-prepared-for-life cohort.

Lets take a step back and reflect upon this generation that entered the consumer world with so much love and fanfare.

 Lets start with the love.   Their parents – mostly boomers – decided that they were going to love them with all their hearts  – and the fierce dedication of a tiger protecting it’s pretty. They gave them everything they didn’t get from their parents from cradle to constant cradling in the arms of self-esteem focused education.

They also gave their time: micromanaging every aspect of their school and extra-curricular lives to make sure they grew up to get into the “right” college and become successful, well-rounded adults.  They encouraged their passions and told them they could be anything they wanted to be when they grew up.  And after 9-11, followed by the sub-prime crash happened and we seemed to “lose everything” – they became the epitome of close-knit families.  Which is good – because as the young adults were graduating college with no job-prospects to speak of there was a home for them to come back to until (some are still waiting) they could get out of the nest and get on their feet.

 

keep-calm-interview

But lets remember that their parents aren’t the only ones who have loved them.

Millennials have been the object of the marketing community’s affection ever since they started being able to count money.  Not only did they begin their lives during a period of economic prosperity, which gave them above-average spending power from a young age, but since their parents also wanted to be their best friend’s and openly engage them in household dialogs they have always had a huge influence on family purchases as well – everything from groceries to home electronics to Mom’s next car.

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Then they started to grow up – and the haters came out of the woodwork – especially when they entered the workforce.  Employers couldn’t handle their neediness – for work-life balance that kept them from wanting to live for work, for rapid career advancement, for constant feedback on their day-to-day performance and for their boomer colleagues to be their best friends and family.

Given what some would call their coddled upbringing, it stands to reason that they entered the “real world” in a state of fantasy – believing in their infinite value and the world has been waiting on pins and needles for them to com share their specialness.  And the disappointment has been palpable as HR organizations scramble to retain and grow their next generation of worker-bees while Millennials began experiencing a Quarter-Life Crisis – dropping out of the corporate world to go back to school and re-learn or to create careers out of their passions, less they end up like their parents who gave their lives to their jobs and lost everything as the market crumbled to pieces.

But unlike other generations – Millennials didn’t have to just go back to square one and stew when things got tough.  They had a globally-wired communication to share their woes – and to seek affirmation from their peers.  Social media means they can find friends by the hundreds and thousands to affirm their contributions great and small.  The blogosphere has provided a medium for their musings and media has provided a soap-box for their angst.     So, not only do they get to put it all out there, but they also get to suffer the consequences  – now being barraged by generationally-driven editorial backlash by those who find the Millennial point of view to be insufferable.

It’s no wonder that hipster culture emerged as the Millennial embodiment of Irony.

If nothing else, this is a generation who knows how to poke fun at their situation and themselves and use social schizophrenia as a way to play with the concept of adulthood. What else  can a generation do that grew up being adored and are now dodging bullets from every direction – whether it be economic or simply socially un-empathetic.  They were blown up into big beautiful, colorful balloons and then popped the minute they left their padded homerooms. But they are finally growing up and finding their “option C”  by creating new concepts.

baltimore-crosswalk

 

They are adults and young adults who place tremendous value on play.  They put serious energy into social commentary in the form of cartoons and couture.  The mating game has become quite literal with apps like Tinder.  They raise funds for entrepreneurship as a team via platforms like Kickstarter.  They Instagram their exploration of the world – like a  virtual refrigerator filled with art class projects  and they will never EVER stop wearing Chuck Taylors to work.

I for one am excited by the energy I see entering the workforce – and the fortune 500 warriors who are doing their best to help this generation make their way.  I am also impressed by how Millennials are waking up to their collective purpose – to create a new world that works for them – and asserting that power using their consumer clout.   I know at least the world-class brands and marketers I work with have been eagerly engaging very deeply to understand this generations unique context and develop brands and business models that are far more empathetic.

I also think that the collective cultural kick-in-the-pants that Millennials have been getting them is preparing them well for the road a head.  It’s good for them to have to fight a battle and know that they can win – and they will win.  But here’s the deal – when this generation steps up to take the gold medal that they actually earned – I know in my heart of hearts that they will take the haters with them.  Because this generation sensitive superheroes is actually all about the love – and they have been taught to share.

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Experiencing “Old School”: The Middle-Aged Mosh Pit

So, I was enjoying an extended happy hour at my favorite local pub – out on the patio watching folks walk by, when a punk rock couple – complete with mohawk and combat boots – ambled on by.

Here I was thinking “nice to see the neighborhood getting more bohemian and diverse” when I was informed that there was indeed a concert happening around the corner at one of Atlanta’s iconic concert venues – Masquerade.

The show: Bad Religion, Offspring and Pennywise.

I was instantly transported back to high school and remember going to see these bands’ shows. I think one was my senior year….twenty years ago!!!

My friend and I were immediately compelled to go re-live our youth. We walked to the venue down the street, got our tickets, our “you’re over 21 and can drink” bracelets (which – when we were in high school going to all ages shows were typically the “you’re under 21 so don’t let me see you drinking” bracelets)  and headed to the bar, excited to get our drinks and join all the “kids” outside at the big show.

And when I say “kids”, this is not what I was expecting:

Punk Rock Kid

Yes…that would be a child on his dad’s shoulders.

I don’t know why I thought that a concert for a band I saw 20 years ago would have an audience full of 20 year olds. Perhaps I was a little delusional.
The reality was the entire venue was filled with people around my age: late 30’s and early 40’s.

Then I decided that this was actually a really cool thing! My generation still knows how to party. We’re all at a “punk” show -doing shots and bouncing in the rain to super-loud guitars!! It was AWESOME! I decided it was time for the mosh pit and mustered up all my frenetic energy to go throw some elbows….

For future reference I have learned that a mosh pit full of 30-and-40-something’s might as well be a “does my insurance cover that” pit.

And if I hadn’t realized yet that I was at a concert for old people trying to be young people it became an acute reality when Offspring finished their set – and 75% of the sweaty, mildly intoxicated concert-goers (who decided not to stick around for the last band because It was “getting too late”) filed out with me to the street.

It was 9:45.

I patted myself on the back for knowing I would be in bed before midnight and perfectly lucid for my morning conference call.

I may have accepted my lot in life as a full-fledged grown up and that my moshing days may be behind me but I will remain grateful that at least my generation had music that rocks!! And that we are “hardcore” enough to bring our toddlers to punk shows.

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Participant Observation, pop culture, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

London Auto: Posh and Parked

I’m spending the next few days In London in a very “posh” part of town as I prepare for some consumer automotive focused fieldwork.

As I strolled the streets it occurred to me that the car culture here is a quite unique one. Lots of expensive and / or statement cars that scream Britania!!
Thought i would share some of the local motors for the auto enthusiasts. Enjoy the car candy:

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A “Download” on Post-2000 Tech-Driven Consumer Culture-isms

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Last night my wife and I took a chance on a new local restaurant and music venue.  It was a slow night and we stayed until they were ready to close up, having conversations with the chef and bartender.  In an effort to let us know they were in no rush to kick us out, the bartender said “see, I even left your table candle turned on”.  The candle was one of those waxy electronic candles with an on and off switch that glows like it has a flame, but in deed poses no threat to the flammable table cloths.

Not the newest “technology” of course, but it still struck me in that moment that you would never have heard someone talking about “turning off” a candle even ten years ago.  You blew it out.  Because that’s how you extinguish a flame.  Archaic, I know.

It got my consumer anthropologist brain spinning on all of our modern-day terminology that has been driven by technology and become part of our vernacular in referring to things or situations that are distinctly non-technological

For example:

  • We use the term “bandwidth”  – a computing term referring to bit rates and data transfer capacity – to refer to our available time / brain power when referring to our capacity to take on new tasks at work – e.g. “I don’t have the bandwidth for another project right now”.
  • We use the term “hacking”  – also a computer-focused term related to “creatively overcoming and circumventing limitations of programming systems” to refer to multiple types of boundary-busting – e.g. “life hacking”, “hackathons” for building entrepreneurial concepts,  etc.
  • We use the term “download” – referring to transfer of digital data – to signify sharing information – e.g. “lets have a meeting to download the findings from our latest research study”.
  • We use the term “ping” – a tech term referring to determining if an internet IP address is accessible by sending a small data packet and waiting for reply, as slang for getting someone’s attention, e. g. “ping me when you have a minute so we can talk about that pressing issue”
  • And my personal favorite – “multitasking” – used to refer to a computer’s ability to simultaneously execute more than one task, and now a very human term for the ability to do several things at one time – and often listed in job descriptions,. E.g. “must be able to multi-task and handle several projects at once”.

You can find more such “consumer-isms”  here:  http://www.netlingo.com/top50/common-expressions.php 

It’s fun to think about how culture changes when the structural environment changes and how that gets integrated into our everyday communication.

Any other good ones from the WordPress Peeps?

In the meantime, this  Narcissistic Anthropologist needs to “Sign off”  so I can get some work done before I’m “cached out”.

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Jargon, Linguistics, Technology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

From Meme to Marketing: The Power of Viral Meaning-Creation

 

memes-what-you-think-it-memes-princess-bride

This morning whilst enjoying my leftover steak dinner turned steak omelet (waste not want not) I was also going through the Sunday paper coupons (as is a typical suburban Sunday morning activity – so I have observed).

Whilst perusing the pages of discounts for new, necessary hair care products and butter substitutes I came across this full page ad / coupon combo that made my consumer anthropologist nerve center tingle:

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This is just one of a long list of once random internet memes that have been adapted and adopted by brads for their marketing draw.  This is a practice aptly labeled “memejacking”.    It has been going on since internet memes started becoming “a thing”, as detailed in this 2012 article on the top 10 internet memes masquerading as marketing .  But what struck me was how this meme had moved from the “internets” to a Sunday paper coupon.  Proving memes are now no longer relegated to the hipster “inside joke” set but now have as much mass appeal as vanilla ice cream.  But don’t let the idea lead you to believe memes have lost their luster.   Quite the contrary.  Memes are all about transmission of meaning and the internet has become the ideal mode for spreading them.

This about.com article defining internet memes and explaining the origin of the term  does a great job of putting the evolution of internet memes in context. For example:

“The “meme” word was first introduced by evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, in 1976. “Meme” comes from the Greek word “mimema” (meaning “something imitated”, American Heritage Dictionary). Dawkins described memes as a being a form of cultural propagation, a way for people to transmit social memories and cultural ideas to each other. Not unlike the way that DNA and life will spread from location to location, a meme idea will also travel from mind to mind.”

That same article points to some other great examples of internet memes from our recent history, like the classic “rickrolling” phenomenon that began in 2007, featured in this UK news story from “around then”

And who among us with their short-term memory still intact can forget

i-can-has-cheezburger

which rapidly evolved to own its own funny-animal-pictures-with-anthropomorphic-phrasing focused media property, icanhascheezburger.com . I daresay our dearly beloved Grumpy Cat should be grateful to his trailblazing predecessors in ridiculousness.

So, why are these internet memes a marketer’s dream? Obvious to most who are internet savvy or not living under a rock with no electricity, but laid out nicely in a a recent article on memejacking: why it works so well and how to do it :

They’re already established. Based on the previously mentioned definition, memes are not memes unless they’re already a popular, spreading theme throughout society. By using something that’s already popular and attaching a branded message, you’re leveraging the success of something that’s already gone viral without starting from the beginning. It’s easy street at its best.
They draw traffic. One of the most frustrating aspects of any marketing campaign is trying to drive traffic to a specific website. Memes do it for you. Regardless of their form, when they’re attached to a link, visitors are likely to check out the message behind the meme. They also attract likes and followers, increasing social network presences across the board.
We live in a culture that likes to share. Social media users of today are accustomed to going online and sharing the information they find. Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or another network, each one is designed to help users engage one another through sharing. If you’re meme attracts attention, it’s likely to be shared unlike any other marketing form.
They’re practically designed for social media. Along with being easy to share, social media networks tend to prioritize images and videos. Users want to see information that’s easy to process and sends a message without a lot of thought. This is a basic tenant of memes.
They couldn’t be easier to create. For any marketer, content creation is a regular activity that requires intense effort and thought. There’s no way around it: marketing campaigns are driven by targeted content. Because memes are simple to create and easy to share, they could become a staple of any successful marketing initiative.

An anthropological colleague of mine, Grant McCracken also wrote a more intensive “field guide” for marketers to help them understand how to leverage memes.  He did a couple of years ago it in the form of  a book entitled Culturematic , which I found to be a fun dive into the topic of the memetic experiment.  Indeed that very book inspired this very blog as it’s own experiment.  My goal was to write a blog a day for a year and see what comes of it.  Suffice to say, I am glad i did it and that this Narcissistic Anthropologist now has a successful outlet for her sociocultural musings.

Whatever your POV on internet memes or marketing, you must acknowledge one thing – that internet memes are a powerful example of the power of human creativity and the immeasurable value that our digital connection to one another can have to communicate new ideas on a global scale.  It also proves the value of humor in mobilizing the masses.    I don’t know that i have an appropriately anthropological answer for what that means for the future of marketing-kind or mankind, for that matter. But I do believe that we have an opportunity to think about how memes can help us shift our frame and change our game.   This phenomenon tells me that getting people’s attention isn’t so complicated and doesn’t need to be [fraught with fear or anger to call people to action.

A point to ponder as you continue about your day, and seek to find meaning in the messages that will cross your path.

For the marketers out there, I encourage you to seek meaning in the meme.  There is undoubtedly something appropriate for your brand out there – and it likely comes from the heart and mind of one of your most coveted influencers.  It goes to show that sometimes you don’t need to dig too deep into the magic of marketing science to find gold.  Sometimes the most innovative communication is right on your computer screen during a Facebook break.

meme-marketers

Categories: Advertising, Anthropology, Art and culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Culturematic, Marketing, pop culture, Technology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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