Consumer Anthropology

Do Brands Have The Power To Change The World?

 

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Here is the one true thing I know about humans having studied them in action and been one myself for many years: we are essentially “good”. Whether we all know it or not, we share a light of truth that binds us to one another in a spirit of belonging whereby we all have the opportunity to thrive.

This is fact. However, if you disagree with this fact, feel free to stop reading and I’ll catch you later once you have experienced proof of concept. Which wont be long now.

So, yes its true that people are naturally inclined to be good. We know that. But for too many of us these days, that light is hidden in shadows or buried altogether. Or at least we think it is.   We have a tendency – especially in the more economically developed parts of the world – to dive too deep into the distractions of daily life – letting the shiny things substitute for soul shine and forgetting that the good stuff is on the inside. I suppose we have started to forget we belong to one another –that we are love and we are loved.

But here’s the good news – light and love is contagious. It is downright virally infectious. When one human allows their light to shine through in its purest form – that energy draws out the light in others. It is a reflection of our highest common denominator truth and the more pervasive its exposure the more effective its result.

That’s why I like working in marketing strategy. While some people might think marketing is the art of fabricating persuasive fiction, I see it for it’s potential to give and spread the gift of truth. It is the medium through which those who direct mass-communication can remind a world full of customers to reflect, empower and spread that truth.

You see, brands have an opportunity to be so much more than shiny things that might be granted the favor of our attention for a fleeting moment in our lives.

Companies who market consumer brands have not just an opportunity but also an obligation to be more than an idea attached to the stuff we use. They can and should be the fuel – the nuggets of energy we engage with every day – that help us get stuff done – driving momentum for the positive social change that will allow all humans to thrive.

It really is a pretty simple concept:

A Brand is an idea or collection of ideas that has cultural meaning, represented in products, packaging and marketing communication as well as in the ways that the companies who market them conduct their business. When we see a brand sharing an idea that represents a deeply held human truth, we can feel that sense of belonging to one another being validated.

So, If brands can truly embrace and reflect the highest common denominator truths that exist in their most engaged customers – for example – they can reach thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of people with that same light-filled message – since many other humans who might not necessarily be engaged with that brand will also share belief in and commitment to those truths.

 

This projection of highest common denominator values not only provides an opportunity for that brand to reach more humans, but for more humans to connect to one another based on those shared values.

Its also important to realize that getting at those truth’s is not as difficult as one might think. As it turns out, humans like to share their truth – whether they tell you or show you through their behavior or how they curate their lives. I should know – I have spent the last 15 years listening to eager consumer research participants share their stories. And when a brand shows interest in really understanding the human truths their customers hold dear it creates a bond that builds love – the same way it happens when you are cultivating human relationships. Because we are inclined to bond with people who care about who we are deep down and allow us to shine.

So it stands to reason that when brands and companies seek to understand their customer’s humanity, they are not only building a bond that ensures a loyal following but one that also puts a little more love out in to the world.

Now imagine if even half of the world’s gazillion brands were spreading that kind of light every day…to multiples of millions of people at a time. Imagine the world we could create if people were empowered to radiate that kind of love and light and truth and belonging every day in their interactions with all of the brands and other humans they encounter.

Based on the math alone we can see the big picture and it illustrates a very very bright future for humanity.

My mission is to help find and spread this light and remind humans how much we belong to one another so we can get on the same path toward a better tomorrow. Sure there are several light-spreading callings out there from music to religious practice to art and film.   I choose work that communicates through the lens of consumer culture – because I truly believe in the power of marketing love to the world.

Our mission at Culture – the cultural strategy firm where I am a partner –  is to cultivate human connection in the interest of shared thriving. We do this by strategically helping companies understand the potential of their brand from the perspective of their best customer’s highest common denominator values. In the process of finding the upside of humanity in the people who support their companies, the humans who run those companies also get the opportunity to bring their own humanity in to their work. It makes for better business and it makes for a better world for all of us.

So yes – brands do have the power to change the world – by elevating the consumer cultural conversation. Because shiny things with fictional stories are simply disposable objects. But brands that share human truths in their communications and their business practices are love machines that have can bring humans into the light and help us achieve the potential we all have to create the world we want to live in – one where we don’t live in fear of our ability to survive but rather embrace our power to thrive.

 

All it takes is a little love and the willingness to seek out our truth.

 

 

 

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Categories: Branding, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Hold the Soda: The Case for Ordering a Beer During the Work Week Lunch

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Many thanks to the team at Letsgraba.beer for their continued support of the Narcissistic Anthropologist and allowing me to contribute to their tumblr page from a “beer behaviorist” perspective.  The blog below was originally posted on their tumblr page, right here

“I’ll take a lager.”

A simple sentence that wouldn’t normally elicit any reaction during happy hour or a weekend.

But it’s a Tuesday at noon.

Since the start of my study around beer culture, I’ve been conducting a fun experiment:

I’ve swapped the expected lunchtime diet soda or iced tea for a beer at meetings with clients, colleagues and friends. The reaction usually falls into two camps: either that of the guilt-ridden worker or the unleashed rebel. I’ve heard everything from a resigned sigh coupled with “I wish it would be okay to have a beer, but I have to go back to work,” to a jubilant “Let’s start a revolution!”

Which made me think, why not a revolution or more of an act of solidarity among beer lovers? To make my case, here are three reasons to have #Beerswith our colleagues, friends and clients for lunch.

1. Beer time doesn’t have to mean “play” time.
Anthropological studies have shown that drinking in general is “already segregated and separated from work” and more of a nighttime activity, likely due to leftover social misconceptions from prohibition era. But these same studies also show that this attitude is far from universal. In cultures the world over, regrouping at lunch with a beer is just as common as the after-work drinking session.

In countries like Germany beer is such a vital part of the culture that not only is it normal to have a beer with lunch in a workplace setting, but it is also common to see the right to drink beer at lunch written into a employment agreements.

Based on studying beer lovers in the U.S., I hear time and time again how they feel some of their best procrastination-busting moments come after relaxing with co-workers for a few minutes over a beer. Just imagine what we could accomplish by shifting gears away from the “grind” mentality with an occasional office-hours beer.
2. Having #Beerswith colleagues is good for workplace morale.
From both an anthropological perspective and basic human reasoning, beer has long been regarded as a social leveler, and the act of getting together for a beer fosters communication between those of different ranks and status in society. In a workplace setting, allowing coworkers to enjoy the occasional brew at lunch (especially those on cross-functional teams or between bosses and their direct reports) can open up lines of communication. The mere presence of beer creates a relaxed, collaborative atmosphere that one wouldn’t get over a coffee break or around the water cooler.
3. Prohibition is Long Gone: Our forefathers suffered enough so we don’t have to.
Sad, but true. Drinking at lunch almost ruined beer for all of us. In the early 1900s, it was commonplace for pubs to offer “free lunch” with a purchase of an adult beverage, thus attracting the attention of the temperance movement. In the context of rampant unemployment of the time, day-drinking in exchange for free food represented a social ill that prompted extremist to side with banning booze altogether. It was this attack on the idea of “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” that actually fed the temperance movement argument, ultimately leading to the passage of prohibition.
Today, let’s not judge ourselves by such antiquated rules. If you’re holding down a job, chances are you’re a responsible adult capable of drinking in moderation.
To sum suds it up, most beer lovers and Americans know how to enjoy beer responsibly – and sometimes the responsible thing to do is to trust and empower our employees, coworkers and ourselves to be a little more human and social. If we were able to repeal prohibition, then we should be able to also give ourselves permission to go back to our roots and enjoy a work day lunch with a beer. After all, there are plenty of lagers and sessionable ales that offer lower alcohol content for this mid-day occasion.

Fellow beer lovers – do your part – have #Beerswith – lunch and a friend this work week. Who’s in?

Categories: American Culture, Beer, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Getting Down To Business By Letting The Love In

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I originally posted this article on LinkedIn
but felt compelled to share here as well, since the Narcissistic Anthropologist in me is certain you will want to read it.  😉

Most humans will readily admit to wanting people to like them. While it’s a mild demonstration of vulnerability to do so, it’s one a good amount of people are okay with disclosing, even if they never say it out loud.

All we have to do is look to social media. We affirm one another with “thumbs up” on status updates, selfies and pictures of our dinner. But we all know that this is a more surface-level way of engaging with the world: toe-in-the-water assimilation to norms and mores in hopes of ensuring we belong.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Humans are social creatures. It is encoded in to our DNA to belong to one another so we can ensure our survival. But in a big world that seems to keep on growing, with so many people who focus on differences more than similarities so we can more easily define “us” versus “them, it’s difficult to go really deep with our social relationships. After all, we have been trained not to let the “wrong” person in lest one rotten apple spoil the bunch. Better to be liked so we can ensure we belong somewhere safe and feel a sense of social security.

But why do we want so badly to belong? Why is our security as part of the social structure so terribly important? Not so shockingly, it is because ultimately what we actually want is to be loved – not just liked. We know deep down that it is our highest calling to truly belong to one another in a way that makes a deeper commitment our common good; to sustaining momentum on the journey to finding our potential and embodying our highest visions of success in this world.

We are beginning to awaken to the idea that maybe there is no such thing as a “them”. We have begun to consider that, as mother Theresa said – “the problem with our world is that we draw our circle of family too small”. It’s a testament our evolution as humans that we are seeking to own the responsibility we have to one another. It’s time to move past the “like” phase and really start sharing the love.

So then, if we are to seek to be loved versus just liked, what does that look like? What does that really mean? What is the difference between “like” and “love”? I recently “liked” a Facebook post that shared the following response as attributed to Buddha:

“When you like a flower, you just pluck it. But when you love a flower, you water it daily. One who understands this understands life”.

Essentially, love means paying attention. It means acting in the best interests of others as you would your own. It means caring enough to be present and experience the world on common ground. It means accepting that it is our responsibility to tend to the care and feeding of all of our humans and not just pluck the ones we think are pretty.

That’s a lot of work. But labors of love are the ones that bear the most fruit. We see it in the relationships that stand the test of time. We see it in the success of die-hard entrepreneurs. We see it in the rapid growth of those companies and businesses that operate from the basis of ideals.

As an anthropologist and sociologist who works as a cultural strategist in the business world, I also see it in the way my clients internalize the deeply human insights around their best customers’ highest common denominator values and light up when they begin to see the possibilities for evolving their brands, products and their business strategies. On a regular basis I see executives make powerful reconnections with their “human” side in a business context in ways that always create change for the better.

Love belongs in business. Love belongs in strategy. Love should be a core competency in our work. Because our work – especially in businesses that have a global footprint – has a profound impact on people. It touches more humans every day (especially in the global brand space) than we can even fathom and in a number of ways we may not even be aware of.

So, consider this a call to action to all those who don’t just want to settle for “like”. If you really want your career, your brand, your company or even just your “self” to achieve its highest potential then you absolutely must remember: we have unrivaled power to succeed when we make a choice to belong to one another and let the love in.

Photo credit: http://www.wallart-direct.co.uk

Categories: Business and Culture, Consumer Anthropology | Tags: , | 2 Comments

It’s A Revolution! The Resurgence of Vinyl and Being Present

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I was raised on great music. Music we listened to in our “den” – usually on vinyl or cassette (once my older brother became a teenager and got a “Boom Box”) but still mostly on Vinyl.  My parent’s collection of Jazz and 70’s rock and Folk was a university course in music appreciation.

I was actually recently the lucky recipient of the entire collection, which my Mother has been looking to get rid of for years so she could redecorate her spare bedroom.

My wife also has a sizable record collection that includes everything from Disco Mickey Mouse to Prince to the entire musical score of Oklahoma.

We actually built out a room in our home to serve as both her teaching studio (she is a voice and singing instructor) as well as our “listening room”.  Since we finished the renovations last summer we have spent countless hours gathered around the turntable, whether with guests or simply alone with one another on an impromptu “date night”.  We comb  through the stacks of cardboard sleeves,  reminisce about the first times we’d heard those records and the moments in our lives they reminded us of and get our ridiculous “groove” on.

These are some of the best times I’ve had in years.  Why?  Because I had no idea where my iPhone was and didn’t care.  Because I’ve learned so much about the lives of my friends and loved ones.  Because i was unequivocally present in every moment, enjoying music as the energy that brings us all together.

In a recent post on my “business” website, my partner and I co-authored a blog about The Return of Vinyl: A Movement in Music and Presence.   In it, we marvel at the return vinyl and listening to records as a cultural trend gaining steady momentum.  We link it to the idea that, as a first-world culture where we spend an increasing amount of our  time and attention on things happening in the digital world, we have lost the art of making human connections “here on earth.”  We literally crave a respite from technology in favor of being present and enjoying simple pleasures – like listening to music, or having a conversation, or appreciating art just because it is there and evokes an emotion.

Records bring us back to a time before the digital when, if you wanted to enjoy music, you went to your local record store and poured through the stacks, had conversations and made connections with the other humans around you, however different, based on your shared love of music.

The act of listening to a record is one that forces us to be present.  It’s good medicine for a world that can seem sometimes detached and bitter.   Sharing the music means sharing the love – and sitting down to listen to some vinyl for a while means you allow yourself to let life revolve around the music.

Categories: American Culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Honoring America’s Love of Beer

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As with most things in a narcissistic anthropologists life, our emerging passions become contextual obsessions of sorts. We believe that if we have an affinity for something, then there must be a rich cultural significance around it – and we will stop at nothing to find and share that anthropological enthusiasm with our fellow humans. Because they deserve to know and love the things we hold dear.

You’re welcome.

It is no secret from those who know me that I enjoy a well-timed and finely crafted (or sometimes just cold – or sometimes just in a glass) alcoholic beverage. I developed a passion for the craft cocktail during some fieldwork on spirits trends (I know, life is hard) several years ago. My wife introduced an appreciation for wine. Well, really mostly wine drinking while she does the more serious “appreciating”.

Over the past few years, however, another benevolent spirit has entered my world. Beer has been finding it’s way into my restaurant and bar patterns – from cocktails made with beer, to food pairing and ultimately a refreshing addition of variety into my imbibing and social routine.

So it’s only appropriate that I have now been engaged as a professional social scientist sponsored by Lets Grab a Beer http://www.letsgraba.beer to do what I do best and “dig” in to the cultural history and present social context of beer.

I hear you. I keep getting the really tough gigs.

But here is what I promise. I will continue to periodically share my findings along with my anthropological perspective on the interesting topics surrounding beer drinking behavior and why you should care.

Again, you’re welcome.

So lets start with a few fun things I have learned thus far in my social exploration of beer:

Perhaps the most affirming cultural context of beer is this fact (or what some might call a convenient data coincidence) that I found recently: neatly packaged in the infographic below connecting beer to the founding ethos of our American way of life: Democracy! That’s right – in most free (or at least partly free) countries, you also find that the most commonly consumed alcoholic beverage is our freedom-loving foamy friend, Beer. At least according to the sound logic presented in the comparative “beer” an “democracy” maps below:

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Then there’s my favorite quote about our fine fermented friend, which comes from one of our founding fathers, Ben Franklin, who said: “Beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy.”

But wait, I have one moreexciting fact! did you know that April 7th  is National beer day?! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Beer_Day_(United_States? That’s right. Our great United States and the powers that be recognize this national treasure as something to be honored with a day of focused appreciation.

In light of this context that is no doubt worthy of celebration, I have decided, in my narcissistic wisdom, that I ought to write a toast to honor our sudsy buddy in appreciation of its irreplaceable place in our lives and on our bar tabs. So here it goes:

An Ode to Beer

 In our hearts and minds

Traditions bind

Of rituals we hold dear.

Like finding friends

When the workday ends

To share an ice cold beer.

 In any season

For any reason

Be you rich or poor

Taking time to stop

We pop our tops

And enjoy just one more.

To suds with class

We raise a glass

For a spirit tried and true.

Whether lager or ale

We say “all hail!”

To America’s favorite brew!

Be sure to incorporate this as a toast when you buy your first round of beer on National Beer Day.  Or tonight.

And thanks again to my sponsors at http://www.letsgraba.beer !

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

Is Customer Social Responsibility The New “CSR”?

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Sometimes work and life go together.  For Narcissistic Anthropologists like me, this phenomenon happens more often than not.

For the last several months I have been building momentum as a partner at Culture Agency in Atlanta, GA.  In the new year we made an official commitment to, at all costs, only work with clients and on projects that we feel will move human culture forward.

I sit here today, typing out my point of view,  in awe and gratitude for the response we have gotten from our community of clients and fellow strategy practitioners.  It has been amazing to the see the shift in momentum in corporate and “consumer” culture and couldn’t be more pleased to be a part of it.

I wrote the blog below for our company page- but life and art are one so I felt compelled to share here.

Empowering a New Era of CSR: Customer Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility has been a mainstreaming trend in business for the past decade or more. The intentionality of corporations to make it a point to use their resources as a source of social good is a direct reflection of evolving cultural values. To quote Ryan Honeyman from the B Corp Handbook,

“Business is, for better or worse, one of the most powerful forces on the planet. At its best, business encourages collaboration, innovation and mutual well-being and helps people to live more vibrant and fulfilling lives. At its worst, business and the tendency to focus on maximizing short-term profits – can lead to significant social and environmental damage, such as the BP Deepwater horizon Oil spill or the loss of more than $1 trillion in global wealth in the 2008 financial crisis.”

In reaction to a string of global phenomenon of the aforementioned “for worse” part and thanks to the powder keg of awareness and transparency that has been sparked by connectivity, we have seen the responsibility for creating positive social change become distributed with a new balance of power that is fueling significantly stronger momentum. Where the world once relied on the power of governments and their peacekeeping forces to reactively defend (or keep at bay – depending on the government) human rights and try, in the midst of the constant struggle, to carve out room for progress, we now see corporations and civil society realizing both their influence and their obligation.

Three sociological spheres that used to orbit one another, accessing the light of truth separately and unequally depending on their position, are now traveling on a shared path. Civil society has asserted its power to drive social change. The growth and impact of NGOs like the Human Rights Campaign and 350.org have made great strides in areas like marriage rights for Gay and Lesbian couples and battling Climate Change. Crowd-sourced movements like Occupy raise voices and awareness around income inequality.

When it comes to directing change in the corporate sphere, people are exercising their influence by exercising their wallets – being choiceful about purchases based on their values. People who are passionate about reclaiming the food supply and eating with sustainable health in mind might seek out only those food brands and products that are certified organic or certified non-GMO. Some who care about solving problems related to income inequality might choose one brand over another because they know a portion of the profits (or products) from that company are given to humans in need.

If one trend is clear, it is that more and more “customers” are putting on their “human” hat when they choose how to spend their money. Transparency and corporate social responsibility play an increasing role in our evolving social contract. But as corporations and civil society are finding synergies, new innovations in brand-to-human engagement are arising.

In particular, civil society is realizing that money is not the only powerful force driving social change. Sure, it helps and is a great start and an energetic catalyst. But momentum isn’t driven by bank accounts. It’s driven by action. Change can’t happen unless human hands take those resources and do something with them.

Many businesses leaders in industries across the board have been seeing this light as well. Here’s a little secret about how that’s coming to bear…. lean in closely…

…business leaders are also “customers” and “humans!”

I know. I just blew your mind (insert wink here).

But the other plain fact is that business leaders are the ones who have the power to change the world for the better. Not only do they know it, but they are feeling more and more empowered to embody it the more civil society raises its voice.

According to the co-founders of B Lab, quoted from the same book mentioned above:

“Business leaders are the rock stars of our time. But the rock stars of the next generation will be different from the rock stars of today. These rock stars will build companies that are both high growth and high impact. These rock stars will make money and make a difference – at the same time.”

I tend to think that the trend in better business is heading to a new era of CSR – evolving from Corporate Social Responsibility to a shared ownership rooted in Customer Social Responsibility.

I’ve mentioned a couple of examples of this sort of kindness-in-action before, with Airbnb’s One Less Stranger campaign and Unilever’s Project Sunlight.

I bring them up here again as an example of corporations truly engaging their customers to do something above and beyond using their wallets to affect change. Rather, these two programs encourage customers to get out there and DO something that makes the world better, whether it be a small action like sharing some hot chocolate and a conversation with a “stranger” or downloading a toolkit to help provide guidance on how to start or participate in food sharing programs for the hungry.

This is good news for both businesses and their customers – because it means that we have an opportunity to make life better by reminding us of our power to make this world the caring place we all want it to be by not just putting our money where our mouth is, but also our energy and our time.

Here at Culture, we are proud to work with a number of such business leader “rock stars” who inspire us every day by their willingness to find ways to engage both their organizations and their customers to connect with our shared core human values and make the world a more “human” place for everyone. After all, the first step toward “Customer Social Responsibility” as a part of any business is understanding what drives those customers at their very core and choosing to connect with the highest order values and beliefs that give us permission to share the love.

To see this content in its original form or to read more “Culture” perspectives, click the following link: http://www.culture-agency.com/blog/

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, CSR, sociology | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Creating The Culture That Will Change The World

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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

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 prey. They gave them everything they didn’t get from their parents in the form  of constant cradling with 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, when 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 that 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 don’t have to go back to square one and stew when things got tough.  They have  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  – among them 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 and GoFundMe.  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 – no tot mention building business organizations to nurture and groom their future leaders.

I also think that the collective cultural kick-in-the-pants that Millennials have been getting 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 of sensitive superheroes is actually all about the love – and they have been taught to share.

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture | 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: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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

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