black t shirt
NOT LONG AGO, we were invited to participate in a brainstorming session. In the email, we were summarily informed that no one still calls it ‘brainstorming’ anymore, so our first assignment was to come up with a name for the meeting.
None of the ideas we submitted are even remotely repeatable, at least not to a family audience. We will say one involved a large crowbar – and leave it at that.
At 8 AM sharp, the moderator insisted we each ingest 3 cups of super-caffeinated fluid while we got to know our co-brainstormers. Hearts racing at a dangerously high rate, we found out some interesting things.
For instance, a pretty woman in jeans and a tee dallas cowboys 3d veteran hoodie said she recently “stepped away” from a medium security prison, where she had been doing time for forgery.
(Note: to avoid defamation, all names have been changed – along with the crimes committed. For instance, “forgery” might actually mean “aggravated assault”.)
The first exercise split us into 6 smaller groups, each with the same assignment: choose a celebrity who best embodies a certain Brand.
After 5 minutes, we merged back into the large group. Who best embodied this Brand? In no particular order, the sub-groups reported:
1. Richard Nixon
2. Josef Stalin
3. Vlad The Impaler
4. Lou Gehrig
5. Sarah Palin
6. The Vienna Boys Choir
The moderator wrote each of these names on the chalk board – which was followed by a stunned silence. The moderator took the client aside and all the participants could hear were terse, somewhat ugly whispers.
During this unscheduled break in the action, we decided to figure out why this Brand – an unscented fabric softener which smelled like old socks – meant different things to different people.
The pieces of evidence pointed the way:
The Ad Agency cast a man in the TV commercial whose photo in a dictionary would fit perfectly next to the word “virility”. This guy’s mustache could beat up Jean-Claude Van Damme.
At the same time, the client was running magazine ads featuring a tiny, very pretty ballerina – sniffing a fresh white rose.
The client website treated you to a video: a marine firing a.50 mm machine gun from the turret of his Humvee. You could turn off the sound, but why not hear those hot shell casings pinging wildly against the vehicle?
Their social media united behind a theme of “be polite”. But they built an iPhone App allowing users to play a game that wiped out entire cultures with nuclear weapons.
Too many different images and ideas.
Which got us to thinking how does a Brand get to be a Brand?
First, we figured a Brand is no more than what consumers think of that Brand. It’s the words, the music, the colors; and yes, the celebrities who are chosen to represent that brand.
Which then made us wonder: well, how does one determine all that? How does the music and color and feel and tone start to evolve?
The question brought us back to our favorite quote in the universe – from Harper Lee, author of “To Kill A Mockingbird”. She wrote, “You never really get to know a person until you’ve spent some time walking around in their shoes.”
We don’t know about anybody else, but the words of Atticus and Scout Finch were good enough to live by – even figure out a brand by!
So what our clients had to do was put themselves in the pittsburgh pirates hawaiian shirt of the Brand’s consumer – and walk around in them for a day. Listen to what people said to them and hear the music people liked. It’s hard work, but you can’t work a brand until you understand and translate what the Brand actually means to people. In other words, what do they hear, feel, smell, taste and see – when your Brand is mentioned?
BACK AT THE brainstorming Session, our moderator finished the hush-hush confab with the client. Angry words aside, they delivered a somewhat elegant solution: ignore the results and move to the next exercise. Which was each of us writing our favorite wash day experience on a piece of paper, folding it into an airplane and sailing it across the room. Whoever got hit with the plane had to add something. Other than the poor shmoo who got a paper airplane in the eye, it worked out very well and everyone seemed to get involved.
Not us, though. We spent the rest of the session looking at our shoes.
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write by Aidan