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Life Lessons From Prince: Four Things I learned After Four Days at Paisley Park. Part 3

160422-prince-mural-ef-1405_93a2543c912dc15145b85a058ae6b46c.nbcnews-fp-1200-800
(photo credit

3. Embrace your weird. It’s what changes the world for the better.

Prince was certainly not a human you would describe as “ordinary” or “mainstream” or the N word – “normal”. I think we all agree he was eccentric to put it midldly. Some might call it “weird” – for lack of a better word.

But weird is the perfect word. And as Demaris – one of Prince’s friends and dancers, who was master of Ceremonies for the main events at Celebration 2017, said – “If somebody tells you you’re weird, you should say thank you.” Because if someone thinks you’re weird it means you look, sound or act different than the mainstream. You challenge people’s perceptions of the world. You encourage those around you to think about their comfort zones and give them the opportunity to grow and create new comfort zones.

Prince is the ultimate example of how weird create’s change.

He transcended social boundaries of gender yet was “someone” exceedingly attractive to the opposite sex. He found ways to express himself through music and fashion that somehow transcended while at the same time being held to iconoclast status by the general pop culture appreciating public. He also had several pet doves, only ever wore platform shoes, would routinely steal his (ex) wife Mayte’s clothes and tailor them for himself. Because that’s how he rolled and we all loved it.

At one point during our weekend in Metro Minneapolis, I had a conversation with an Uber driver who said he wishes Prince’s music hadn’t been so mainstream. My sentiment is exactly opposite. How wonderful that someone so very different was embraced by mainstream culture. It speaks to the need we all have inside ourselves to express our own “weird”.

I always advise young ones who are different to keep on doing what their doing and embrace their “weird” – because I know that their peers (whether openly or not) admire their courage. Let’s face it. It takes guts to be different. And if none of us had the guts we’d be stuck in a debilitating, boring sea of sameness.

So thank you, Prince , for your changing the world with your weirdness and encouraging us all to be the love that is inside of us, no matter if it might look strange to others. Because there will always be someone else who thinks it’s beautiful and will be inspired to change even just a little bit for the better because of it.

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Categories: Art and culture, Consumer Culture, Music, pop culture, Uncategorized | 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.

b-corp_logos

 

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

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

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:

BlHWYafIYAAgUfh

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

The Talking Walls of Wynwood: The New Face of Creative Miami

Imagine South Florida, in all it’s hot, sticky, sunshine-laden sunburned glory – filled with pastel colored houses and apartments to repel the UV rays, cruise ships, retirees, the oceanfront and an ever-growing melange of cultural communities.  The Latin influence is strong there – in a way that gives the city a truly ethnic vibe that makes you feel like you are on a cultural immersion vacation – which this Narcissistic Anthropologist just loves!

A friend was telling me a popular phrase there is “I love Miami because it’s so close to the United States”.  I am sure that in some way this was initially meant to be a complaint by one of the slow-to-adapt natives (of which there are few, btw…”natives”, that is), but I revel in the awesomeness of that designation.  Miami truly has become its own cultural destination – whether you are recently immigrated looking for a taste of home or a local / tourist looking for an authentic cultural experience to hang on to in this dangling peninsula of transients and bronzed south-beach “beauties”.

And if  you travel a bit away from the beach into midtown, you have the opportunity to go even further down the rabbit-hole.   As the evening shade begins to cool down the pavement, you can stroll down blocks where the walls, sidewalks, and any municipal surface (including the bike racks,  garbage cans) are covered in art and the air wafts through, lightly scented with hints of marijuana and Gucci Rush.  It’s the only part of town where you can start off enjoying Latin-inspired tapas in a restaurant where the walls are filled head-to-toe with Shepard Fairey Murals, take a short stroll  around an expansive outdoor courtyard that doubles as a painted wall gallery, purchase a book on street art sculptures, have a cocktail outdoors on the bleachers of a “takes all kinds” (including dogs) watering hole complete with a life-size Jenga set while sharing some smoke with another human who knows no strangers, go hear a live Cumbia / Electronic music performance and then end up eating grilled cheese at a food Truck with Gallagher (yes – I mean the American comedian from the 80s who wore suspenders and smashed watermelons).

Wynwood is like Brooklyn, West Hollywood and Miami made a test tube baby that consisted mostly of their “good” genes.   And I for one am a new fan.  It is a far cry from the Miami I knew as a teenager growing up in South Florida and I couldn’t be more pleased with the creative haven.  As as far as I can tell, it has become a city to at least try out for a little while for both the cultural creatives and young , aspiring  and acculturating bourgeois. I definitely encourage a visit on your way to your next cruise or after a day at the beach.

I would like to thank my friend Andy for giving me a heartfelt tour.

Here is a “photo walk” of my evening in Wynwood – starting at a nearby “quintessential” creative high-rise residence and then hitting the streets:

IMG_3518 IMG_3520 IMG_3522 IMG_3527 IMG_3530 IMG_3533 IMG_3535 IMG_3536 IMG_3537 IMG_3538 IMG_3539 IMG_3541 IMG_3544 IMG_3549 IMG_3553 IMG_3554 IMG_3556 IMG_3561 IMG_3565 IMG_3566 IMG_3574 IMG_3578 IMG_3581I highly recommend a visit.  If you are making plans, here are a couple of websites that have more info:

http://wynwoodmiami.com/home.php

http://www.wynwood.com/

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Art, Art and culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, hipster culture, pop culture, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

More! A Nostalgic Snapshot of 80’s Consumer Culture

As I was sifting through the magazine rack at my local thrift store – searching for “stimulus” for an innovation ideation (say THAT ten times fast) session – I came across the type of rare gem that made my narcissistic anthropologist day. It was this issue of Soap Opera Digest from July of 1984.

20140303-192651.jpg

I was 7 years old that summer. I remember my child and tween days well. Lots of neon “fashions”, hair crimping, after school specials like the one featuring A “roid rage”-afflicted young Ben Afflec or PCP-crazed Helen Hunt and the mall – for both conspicuous-consumption-oriented shopping at stores like The Limited and touring pop stars like Tiffany and Debbie Gibson.

Madonna may have been the up-and-coming “Material Girl”, but my Mother was THE ultimate perpetuator of the 80’s consumer lifestyle and the ideal marketing target.

Mom, I know you are going to read this. Please know that my objective (and potentially mildly offensive)
analysis also comes with “with love”.

Caveats aside, I came to this conclusion when I flipped to the back page and saw the following ad for More Red 100’s – my Mom’s brand of cigarettes (which she was loyal to until she quit smoking in the early 2000’s) – which explained EVERYTHING!

Just look. I will tell you what I see but would love to hear other interpretations and anecdotes from my generational-bubble brethren:

20140303-192156.jpg

Here is what I see: elegant brunette beauty (she’s serious about her career-driven affluence- she doesn’t just want to “have more fun”…she’s earning it), wearing all white (because she doesn’t get dirty when she’s working it and she vacations where it’s very warm and sunny- notice the tan complexion and pantyhose), waiting with two snifters of brandy (because it’s the classy way to get drunk) at an outdoor cafe table (because she’s been to Paris).

She is long and lean and lovely like her cigarette – which with it’s cigar-like appeal, along with the aforementioned brown liquor, also demonstrates a certain masculine “carnivore” vibe that was the instigator of the rampant capitalism that made the 80’s so much “more”.

It reminds me of making my mom vodka and tab (we learned young back then) while she lounged in the sun on a plastic lawn chair in the back yard, slathered in Johnson&Johnson baby oil.

I remember spending week-nights before going to sleep at the foot of my parent’s bed watching Dynasty and Dallas and Knott’s Landing.

I remember our suburban duplex McMansion neighborhood, our leased Cadillacs, knock-off Eames lounge chairs, shag carpeting, walls filled with Joan Miro prints from the “Art of the Month” club and Formica dining room table.

I remember my parents, who had both been born to working class recent immigrant Jewish families in the Bronx, jet-setting off to their lucrative wholesale garment rep jobs in the city every day. They often came home late at night in Stockton limo rentals after having entertained clients. They spent every penny they had on stuff and on house parties (as well as “partying”) and a live-in nanny/ maid to take care of their young children while they earned and enjoyed their newfound middle-class living.

Then the 80’s ended and excess gave way to recession. My parents started experiencing theirs a little prematurely but the rest of the nation was to catch up in a couple of decades.

Their consumer lifestyle was a tale from the movies filled with characters from American Hustle. It was a grand party and everyone wanted “more”.

I have been known to say that I might have rather been a “Huxtable” instead. But truth be told I am glad I had my parents. It enabled me to get grounded in my anthropological roots and develop a love/hate relationship for consumer culture that would be my passion and career for years to come…and counting.As I was sifting through the magazine rack at my local thrift store – searching for “stimulus” for an innovation ideation (say THAT ten times fast) session – I came across the type of rare gem that made my narcissistic anthropologist day. It was this issue of Soap Opera Digest from July of 1984.

20140303-192651.jpg

I was 7 years old that summer. I remember my child and tween days well. Lots of neon “fashions”, hair crimping, after school specials like the one featuring A “roid rage”-afflicted young Ben Afflec or PCP-crazed Helen Hunt and the mall – for both conspicuous-consumption-oriented shopping at stores like The Limited and touring pop stars like Tiffany and Debbie Gibson.

Madonna may have been the up-and-coming “Material Girl”, but my Mother was THE ultimate perpetuator of the 80’s consumer lifestyle and the ideal marketing target.

Mom, I know you are going to read this. Please know that my objective (and potentially mildly offensive)
analysis also comes with “with love”.

Caveats aside, I came to this conclusion when I flipped to the back page and saw the following ad for More Red 100’s – my Mom’s brand of cigarettes (which she was loyal to until she quit smoking in the early 2000’s) – which explained EVERYTHING!

Just look. I will tell you what I see but would love to hear other interpretations and anecdotes from my generational-bubble brethren:

20140303-192156.jpg

Here is what I see: elegant brunette beauty (she’s serious about her career-driven affluence- she doesn’t just want to “have more fun”…she’s earning it), wearing all white (because she doesn’t get dirty when she’s working it and she vacations where it’s very warm and sunny- notice the tan complexion and pantyhose), waiting with two snifters of brandy (because it’s the classy way to get drunk) at an outdoor cafe table (because she’s been to Paris).

She is long and lean and lovely like her cigarette – which with it’s cigar-like appeal, along with the aforementioned brown liquor, also demonstrates a certain masculine “carnivore” vibe that was the instigator of the rampant capitalism that made the 80’s so much “more”.

It reminds me of making my mom vodka and tab (we learned young back then) while she lounged in the sun on a plastic lawn chair in the back yard, slathered in Johnson&Johnson baby oil.

I remember spending week-nights before going to sleep at the foot of my parent’s bed watching Dynasty and Dallas and Knott’s Landing.

I remember our suburban duplex McMansion neighborhood, our leased Cadillacs, knock-off Eames lounge chairs, shag carpeting, walls filled with Joan Miro prints from the “Art of the Month” club and Formica dining room table.

I remember my parents, who had both been born to working class recent immigrant Jewish families in the Bronx, jet-setting off to their lucrative wholesale garment rep jobs in the city every day. They often came home late at night in limousines after having entertained clients. They spent every penny they had on stuff and on house parties (as well as “partying”) and a live-in nanny/ maid to take care of their young children while they earned and enjoyed their newfound middle-class living.

Then the 80’s ended and excess gave way to recession. My parents started experiencing theirs a little prematurely but the rest of the nation was to catch up in a couple of decades.

Their consumer lifestyle was a tale from the movies filled with characters from American Hustle. It was a grand party and everyone wanted “more”.

I have been known to say that I might have rather been a “Huxtable” instead. But truth be told I am glad I had my parents. It enabled me to get grounded in my anthropological roots and develop a love/hate relationship for consumer culture that would be my passion and career for years to come…and counting.

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Ethnography, Marketing, middle class, pop culture, Suburban Living, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Love: There’s an App for That #millennials

Some more perspective in Millennials and love from So-Called Millennial. I particularly appreciate the analysis on love and “risk”…

So-Called Millennial

Happy Valentines Day Art Print Image courtesy of Allison Johnson Creative

I thought the title of this post was rather clever, but upon googling it I found that The Bold Italic has already used it, so I thought I’d at least give them a shout-out. The tech panel event they hosted called “Love? There’s an App for That” has already passed, but if you’re located in the SF Bay Area check the other upcoming eventsThe Bold Italic will be hosting.

Alright let’s get down to business! I’ve been studying the many facets in which millennials demonstrate pragmatism and practicality, and I thought it would be interesting to examine how this trait influences their ideas of relationships. I know– love and practicality? They don’t seem to go together. And if you read on, that may be something millennials need to do some soul-searching about.

This week Time Magazine released an article called Millennials in Love:…

View original post 1,118 more words

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Generation Y, Millennials, pop culture, Rituals, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Why Coke’s “America The Beautiful” Superbowl Ad Brought Out America’s Ugly

coca-cola-super-bowl-commercial-america-the-beautiful-non-english-muslim-islam1

Let me start by saying that I may be a few day’s late to this party having been engaged in other life event activities over Superbowl Sunday and not having turned on a television until last night.  Why?

soundof music football

That being said, I am aware that I apparently missed a doozy of a backlash against one Superbowl ad in particular: Coke’s “America The Beautiful” spot:

And before I had even had a chance to view it (I will admit it was this morning), I had already consumed an onslaught of media about the outrage this “highly controversial” ad had sparked.  First, I read This article from rawstory.com  showcasing the trending Twitter dialogue of outrage featuring hashtags like #SpeakAmerican and #Boycott Coke – with sociopolitical commentary from both conservative “White America” and immigrants.  They talk about everything from accusations of Coke’s Amnesty and Gay agendas to the idea that any ad talking about America in any way ought to speak in English.

I found the aforementioned blog in a discussion started in the Multicultural Trends group on LinkedIn  by my friend Tom LaForge  ,who is Global Director of Human and Cultural Insights at Coca-Cola.   Even in this business-oriented context we are redirected to This blog making a case for the vitriolic reaction  in a pretty articulate and really enlightening manner.   Pointing to the idea of the founding fathers coming from England and, essentially, the American dream and our concept of America being firmly rooted in English.

What I see in the ad is Coca-Cola defining the America they believe in: the melting pot of multiculturalism and refuge that connects Americans based on this value of diversity, rather than the value of a common language, in the literal sense.  Essentially, I read it as the common “language” being about America representing freedom to pursue  your happiness – regardless of your native tongue.  I thought the response below from news anchor Brenda Wood illustrates this counterbalanced point of view well:

But the fact is, people don’t like to have their frames shifted – and are comfortable in the points of view that allow them to define an “us” versus “other”, and in this case the “us” being those seeking the American dream of accumulating wealth and power and the “them” being the immigrants, underprivileged and otherwise unworthy “huddled masses”.    This is classic Conflict Theory – a sociological macro theory about the nature of social order that basically says the only way societies stay intact is when you have oppressors and those being oppressed – with the wealthy and powerful being the oppressors.  It essentially states that this conflict and power struggle are what maintain social order – and that even attempts by those in power to create social change with charitable works is still in the best interest of the powerful.

What this means to me from an anthropological, cultural perspective is that many Americas who share values with “the powerful”, whether that be religious or economic, take the idea of the American brand / dream / ideal being about ultimate equality and sharing of multicultural values as an attack against the status quo and the deeply held values that drive their existence.  And this is as true for right-wing conservative operating from within the privilege of power to the newly arrived immigrant who strives to integrate into American society and follow a path for himself or his family to financial success and power.

“Wow”, you might say.  “That’s a lot of reading into a commercial for soda pop”.   But it’s not necessarily the anthropologists and sociologists inflating the conversation.  You can see it in the articles I have referenced in sentiments referring to the idea presented in this ad as “communists destroying our way of life” or promoting the destruction of the American family (there is a split second in the ad, if you watch very carefully, where you see a gay male couple roller skating).

I asked Tom Laforge (mentioned earlier – the Human and Cultural Insights guy from Coca-Cola) what he thought was happening and he had perspective that I think sums up the situation. He says, “concepts like America are continually evolving.  All culturally defined artifacts are. Errors: assuming the definition you like does not evolve or is shared”.   So I suppose the idea a company like Coca Cola could be powerful enough to change a definition as enormous as America hits a pretty deep cultural chord.

Even more to the point, Tom says, “change can be scary, especially to something that is part of your identity.  Change has always been scary”.

But perhaps if Coca-Cola believes it can “teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” and this is a core belief that does and continues to drive the message of their brand, that it is an appropriately bold step for them to take in sparking a passionate conversation about change in America.

Naturally, I am very eager to hear what the rest of the blogosphere thinks…

Categories: American Culture, american History, Anthropology, conflict theory, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Marketing, Politics, pop culture, Racism, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Ugly Sweaters, Other Consumer Christmas Traditions and Their Origins

ugly-christmas-sweaters-tipsy-elves-4

Did you find yourself online shopping at a place like The Ugly Sweater Store this season to find the perfect tacky holiday sweater to wear to a theme party?  Did you find yourself wondering when the ugly Christmas sweater party became a “thing”?  I thought Cliff Huxtable (for those who did not grow up in front of the television like me , that would be the Father character on The Cosby Show)  might have something to do with it,  and  according to this Time Magazine article  I was right.  🙂

Being both an anthropologist as well as one who studies consumer culture, it is easy for me to get a bit jaded when it comes to hyper consumer-driven holidays.  I JUST KNOW TOO MUCH! 😉   But things like traditions exist to remind us of our humanity and it’s why, in my spirituality I embrace traditions as highly functional in that regard.

Since I have, in this fourth year of Christmas with my wife, come to finally and truly (albeit reluctantly) appreciate the spirit of Christmas in the suburban gentile world (yes – I am not only a narcissist, but also Jewish), I thought I would spend some time in earnest researching the origin of some of those traditions.  As it turns out, things like decorating the tree and Christmas Cookies are not just obligatory consumer rituals designed to keep us distracted and fat, but actually serve to make us feel more connected and remind us to stop and appreciate the moments in our shared human journey.

As I started going down the search engine Christmas tradition rabbit-hole, I found a few good links with some legitimate cultural origin commentary, like some of the content I posted below, as seen in this article on Allthingschristmas.com.  Enjoy as well as some of the other links and have a very merry…..

Origins of Christmas

From the Old English ‘Cristes Mæsse’ ~ meaning the ‘mass of Christ’ ~ the story of Christmas begins with the birth of a babe in Bethlehem.

It is believed that Christ was born on the 25th, although the exact month is unknown. December was likely chosen so the Catholic Church could compete with rival pagan rituals held at that time of year and because of its closeness with the winter solstice in the Northern hemisphere, a traditional time of celebration among many ancient cultures.

Luke, Chapter Two
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Santa Claus

The origin of Santa Claus begins in the 4th century with Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, an area in present day Turkey. By all accounts St. Nicholas was a generous man, particularly devoted to children. After his death around 340 A.D. he was buried in Myra, but in 1087 Italian sailors purportedly stole his remains and removed them to Bari, Italy, greatly increasing St. Nicholas’ popularity throughout Europe.

His kindness and reputation for generosity gave rise to claims he that he could perform miracles and devotion to him increased. St. Nicholas became the patron saint of Russia, where he was known by his red cape, flowing white beard, and bishop’s mitre.

In Greece, he is the patron saint of sailors, in France he was the patron of lawyers, and in Belgium the patron of children and travellers. Thousands of churches across Europe were dedicated to him and some time around the 12th century an official church holiday was created in his honor. The Feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated December 6 and the day was marked by gift-giving and charity.

After the Reformation, European followers of St. Nicholas dwindled, but the legend was kept alive in Holland where the Dutch spelling of his name Sint Nikolaas was eventually transformed to Sinterklaas. Dutch children would leave their wooden shoes by the fireplace, and Sinterklaas would reward good children by placing treats in their shoes. Dutch colonists brought brought this tradition with them to America in the 17th century and here the Anglican name of Santa Claus emerged. Now, in the present most families have fireplaces that hang on the wall, but the tradition is not changed by this fact.

In 1822 Clement C. Moore composed the poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas, published as The Night Before Christmas as a gift for his children. In it, he portrays Santa Claus:

He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly,
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

Other countries feature different gift-bearers for the Christmas or Advent season: La Befana in Italy ~ The Three Kings in Spain, Puerto Rico, and Mexico ~ Christkindl or the Christ Child in Switzerland and Austria ~ Father Christmas in England ~ and Pere Noël, Father Christmas or the Christ Child in France. Still, the figure of Santa Claus as a jolly, benevolent, plump man in a red suit described in Moore’s poem remains with us today and is recognized by children and adults alike around the world.

Read even more abou christmas traditions andt Santa Claus

Christmas Trees

In 16th-century Germany fir trees were decorated, both indoors and out, with apples, roses, gilded candies, and colored paper. In the Middle Ages, a popular religous play depicted the story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

A fir tree hung with apples was used to symbolize the Garden of Eden — the Paradise Tree. The play ended with the prophecy of a saviour coming, and so was often performed during the Advent season.

It is held that Protestant reformer Martin Luther first adorned trees with light. While coming home one December evening, the beauty of the stars shining through the branches of a fir inspired him to recreate the effect by placing candles on the branches of a small fir tree inside his home

The Christmas Tree was brought to England by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert from his native Germany. The famous Illustrated News etching in 1848, featuring the Royal Family of Victoria, Albert and their children gathered around a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle, popularized the tree throughout Victorian England. Brought to America by the Pennsylvania Germans, the Christmas tree became by the late 19th century.

Read even more about Christmas Trees

Focus on Christmas Traditions in US

The variations of the Christmas traditions of USA equal the number active cultures that have settled in the land. These cultural contributions were given a new lease of life by creative artists, authors, poets and songwriters, and it was melded together by the power of secular and commercialized media in record companies, radio stations, television, cinemas and now the internet. The unwritten law of media is the presentation of a seemingly uniform celebration of the Christmas traditions of USA. This is responsible for the world wide acceptance of a universal Christmas image which they get from the media. Nevertheless, the celebrations are peculiar to each region.

Christmas Stockings

According to legend, a kindly nobleman grew despondent over the death of his beloved wife and foolishly squandered his fortune. This left his three young daughters without dowries and thus facing a life of spinsterhood.

The generous St. Nicholas, hearing of the girls’ plight, set forth to help. Wishing to remain anonymous, he rode his white horse by the nobleman’s house and threw three small pouches of gold coins down the chimney where they were fortuitously captured by the stockings the young women had hung by the fireplace to dry. Read more about christmas stockings

Mistletoe

Mistletoe was used by Druid priests 200 years before the birth of Christ in their winter celebrations. They revered the plant since it had no roots yet remained green during the cold months of winter.

The ancient Celtics believed mistletoe to have magical healing powers and used it as an antidote for poison, infertility, and to ward of evil spirits. The plant was also seen as a symbol of peace, and it is said that among Romans, enemies who met under mistletoe would lay down their weapons and embrace.

Scandanavians associated the plant with Frigga, their goddess of love, and it may be from this that we derive the custom of kissing under the mistletoe. Those who kissed under the mistletoe had the promise of happiness and good luck in the following year.

Holly, Ivy and Greenery


In Northern Europe Christmas occurred during the middle of winter, when ghosts and demons could be heard howling in the winter winds. Boughs of holly, believed to have magical powers since they remained green through the harsh winter, were often placed over the doors of homes to drive evil away. Greenery was also brought indoors to freshen the air and brighten the mood during the long, dreary winter.

Legend also has it that holly sprang from the footsteps of Christ as he walked the earth. The pointed leaves were said to represent the crown of thorns Christ wore while on the cross and the red berries symbolized the blood he shed.

Poinsettias

A native Mexican plant, poinsettias were named after Joel R. Poinsett, U.S. ambassador to Mexico who brought the plant to America in 1828. Poinsettias were likely used by Mexican Franciscans in their 17th century Christmas celebrations. One legend has it that a young Mexican boy, on his way to visit the village Nativity scene, realized he had no gift for the Christ child. He gathered pretty green branches from along the road and brought them to the church. Though the other children mocked him, when the leaves were laid at the manger, a beautiful star-shaped flower appeared on each branch. The bright red petals, often mistaken for flowers, are actually the upper leaves of the plant.

The Candy cane

It was not long after Europeans began using Christmas trees that special decorations were used to adorn them. Food items, such as candies and cookies, were used predominately and straight white candy sticks were one of the confections used as ornamentation. Legend has it that during the 17th century, craftsmen created the white sticks of candy in the shape of shephreds’ crooks at the suggestion of the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.

The candy treats were given to children to keep them quiet during ceremonies at the living creche, or Nativity scene, and the custom of passing out the candy crooks at such ceremonies soon spread throughout Europe.

According to the National Confectioner’s Association, in 1847 German immigrant August Imgard used the candy cane to decorate a Christmas tree in Wooster, Ohio. More than 50 years later, Bob McCormack of Albany, Georgia supposedly made candy canes as treats for family, friends and local shopkeepers. McCormack’s brother-in-law, Catholic priest Gregory Keller, invented a machine in the 1950s that automated the production of candy canes, thus eliminating the usual laborious process of creating the treats and the popularity of the candy cane grew.

More recent explanations of the candy cane’s symbolism hold that the color white represents Christ’s purity, the red the blood he shed, and the presence of three red stripes the Holy Trinity. While factual evidence for these notions does not exist, they have become increasingly common and at times are even represented as fact. Regardless, the candy cane remains a favorite holiday treat and decoration.

Christmas cards

A form of Christmas card began in England first when young boys practiced their writing skills by creating Christmas greetings for their parents, but it is Sir Henry Cole who is credited with creating the first real Christmas card. The first director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Sir Henry found himself too busy in the Christmas season of 1843 to compose individual Christmas greetings for his friends.

He commissioned artist John Calcott Horsley for the illustration. The card featured three panels, with the center panel depicting a family enjoying Christmas festivities and the card was inscribed with the message “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”

Read more about Christmas Cards

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

The Chicago-based Montgomery Ward company, department store operators, had been purchasing and distributing children’s coloring books as Christmas gifts for their customers for several years. In 1939, Montgomery Ward tapped one of their own employees to create a book for them, thus saving money. 34-year old copywriter Robert L. May wrote the story of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer in 1939, and 2.4 million copies were handed out that year. Despite the wartime paper shortage, over 6 million copies had been distributed by 1946.

May drew in part on the story “The Ugly Duckling” and in part from his own experiences as an often taunted, small, frail youth to create the story of the misfit reindeer. Though Rollo and Reginald were considered, May settled on Rudolph as his reindeer’s name.

Writing in verse as a series of rhyming couplets, May tested the story as he went along on his 4-year old daughter Barbara, who loved the story

Sadly, Robert Mays wife died around the time he was creating Rudolph, leaving Mays deeply in debt due to medical bills. However, he was able to persuade Sewell Avery, Montgomery Ward’s corporate president, to turn the copyright over to him in January 1947, thus ensuring May’s financial security.

May’s story “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was printed commercially in 1947 and in 1948 a nine-minute cartoon of the story was shown in theaters. When May’s brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, wrote the lyrics and melody for the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, the Rudolph phenomenon was born. Turned down by many musical artists afraid to contend with the legend of Santa Claus, the song was recorded by Gene Autry in 1949 at the urging of Autry’s wife. The song sold two million copies that year, going on to become one of the best-selling songs of all time, second only to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”. The 1964 television special about Rudolph, narrated by Burl Ives, remains a holiday favorite to this day and Rudolph himself has become a much-loved Christmas icon.

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Holidays, pop culture, Rituals, Suburban Living, Trends, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Future Dream Job: DEO

And by dream job, I mean – this is the role I will create for myself. It’s all about self-authorship and the image below is the “cloud” of my life.
I am reading Rise Of The DEO  by Maria Giudice and Christopher Ireland as research for a client white paper I am writing on prioritizing macroforces and identifying trends in the “golden triangle” of business, government and civil society (NGOs, etc.).

It’s my favorite time of year when my most forward-thinking clients call me to use their remaining budgets to help their organizations think more critically about their business strategy by getting a sociocultural perspective on “whats going on out there” , “does it matter to us” and “if so, what should we do about it”.

In this case I am thrilled to find that, despite my frustration  of late with the misguided grind and the slow pace of change among corporate leadership (those Boomers just can’t seem to get with the program!  😉  ),  I can remain affirmed that my way about the world is not just a whimsical cartoon drawing flitting about  and disrupting an otherwise very carefully constructed  and delicate matrix, but indeed at the apex of change.

So, go forth ye dreamers, risk takers  and socially aware people-persons – you are on the right track and I hope to work with you at the end of the rainbow and the beginning of the next big thing

inside_mind_map_ME

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Corporate Culture, Culture, pop culture, sociology, Trends, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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