Thursday, February 23, 2006

The brand down under.

There was an Australian sleeping on my son’s couch for a while there.

It seems this guy has been in the process of circumnavigating the globe, relying for shelter exclusively on people he’s met on MySpace.com. That’s how he bumped into junior. Some shared interest linked them up, they communicated asynchronously for a bit, looked over each other’s respective profiles, and decided that a) they had enough in common and b) the way they described themselves seemed authentic enough to make one complete stranger curling up in a sleeping bag in another complete stranger’s living room seem sensible.

Crazy university kids, you’re probably thinking.

Or, if you’re all clever and current, you might be thinking this is just another example of the connectedness that being young is all about these days.

But if you’re me, you’re thinking, “Hey, that sounds a lot like branding.”

MySpace.com, the phenomenal web community that gets more visitors every day than almighty Google, is perhaps the ultimate proof that brands have gained full citizenship in the dominion of popular culture. Because it proves that everyone wants one of their very own. And that everyone is feeling pretty good about their instincts for sizing brands up. If people are willing to choose their friends this way, choosing mere products to buy is going to be a piece of cake for them.

After all, even if you totally screw up picking a new espresso maker, it probably won’t steal your iPod and leave town with your girlfriend.

Junior’s guest moved on to the next MySpacer after a few days. Apparently, while he was here, though, he was quite tidy and ate only his own food. When the brand is you, I guess you have to be who you promised you’d be, and that last impressions are as important as first ones. A lesson a few brands I know could stand to learn.

But they’re not going to learn it from me. I can’t afford this do-it-yourself branding thing to catch on. University’s not cheap, and junior’s talking post-grad.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

L'etat, c'est Phil.

By the time you read this, William Perez, CEO of Nike (and latterly of S. C. Johnson, for which I will lampoon him shortly), will have cleaned out his desk. Phil Knight fired him last month after barely more than a year in the job in what Business Week described as “… one of the worst chapters in the history of Nike Inc.” His likeness consumes all of page 35 in this week’s issue, sulking on a Florida beach, looking a lot more like Frank Purdue than, well, Phil Knight. There is now, apparently, a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth over succession, while Nike’s stock fell steadily for almost three weeks afterward.

Yeah, well, Business Week, you don’t get it. And neither does the stupid stock market. And neither did William Perez.

Reading the piece, I practically spat single malt all over the cat. This guy walks into Nike, and actually believes he’s going to have free rein to make the joint over. Make it all clever and efficient. He locks horns with the founder over things like expense accounts, whines aloud that the company is resistant to new ideas, demands that its legendary advertising convey “relevant messages about the product.” And then, in a masterstroke, invites Boston Consulting Group in to ‘fix’ the company’s strategies and practices. Brilliant. Hey, if it worked for Drano it’ll work for Nike, right? Drain cleaner, air freshener, basketball shoes, it’s all the same.

Willy, I gotta say I don’t see a bright future for t-shirts that say, ‘Just analyze it’.

This brand got where it is, became second only to perhaps Apple as the apogee of post-modern branding, because of its sheer guts. It left ‘the product’ behind a long time ago, instead daring to inspire people. It made athleticism cool. It made brands cool. It made mistakes, but it also made history.

The point, Bill, is that for better or worse, Nike has rarely been in the running shoe business. It has almost always been in the attitude business. The authenticity business. Maybe the Boston Consulting Group couldn’t tell you that, but any kid could have. Whether Phil Knight did the right thing for the company remains to be seen, but there is no doubt in this cowboy’s mind that he did the right thing for the brand.

Resistant to new ideas. Man, what were you thinking?

Being resistant to new ideas is, like, the whole point.