Posts tagged trends
Posts tagged trends
The literary critic Lionel Trilling predicted in his 1972 book Sincerity and Authenticity that our culture would come to a point in which the only truly authentic artist was an insane one.
If all you have to rebel against is “whatever you got,” then rebellion for rebellion’s sake turns against your own humanity.
How seductive is open-ended rebellion when it first blooms in the heart of a healthy, attractive person - as perfectly captured by Charlie Sheen’s extraordinary cameo in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
But Charlie Sheen adopted this pose and never grew up. We paid him a fortune to stay this way. Now he pays the price. And so do we - as we experience the wild but soul-sickening spectacle of his public flame out. As my daughter put it, “we’re not watching him anymore – we’re just watching his addiction.”
This is FameUs culture at its nadir.
FameUs: the ever-widening sense of intimacy we have with our celebrities, the feeling of control we have over their self-expression and the growing conviction that we ourselves are going to be famous.
Now comes Charlie’s brother Emilio Estevez who has directed a movie about a father who goes on an ancient pilgrimage called the Camino Santiago, the Way of Saint James. Entitled “The Way” and scheduled for release this Spring, the film tells the story of a father whose estranged son has perished in an accident while walking the Camino.
Martin Sheen’s character leaves his social bubble in California and goes to collect his son’s body. He makes a decision to walk the Camino with his late son’s backpack and to deposit his ashes at holy points along the way to the Santiago de Compostella, the final destination of the Pilgrimage. This labor of love leads him to a new grasp of what real life is all about.
I have walked this very same Camino. It is a huge cultural phenomenon in Spain and has a rapidly growing cult throughout Europe. Twenty years ago almost no one walked it. Now the Spanish government estimates it attracts as many as 100,000 pilgrims a year.
I have only seen the trailer for Emilio Estevez’s movie. It looks extraordinarily beautiful and totally authentic to the subject.
One of the things that happens on the Camino is that people pretty much stop using their mobile phones and unplug from social media as they walk it. They also find themselves taking a genuine interest in everyone they meet along the way and engaging in soul-searching, amazingly honest conversations. No matter your beliefs or starting motive, it is impossible not to be changed by the experience.
So it is no surprise to me that when the press called Martin Sheen for a comment on Charlie Sheen’s public meltdown, Martin said, “We lift him up and we ask that you do, too.”
He is trying to turn us away from spectacle and turn us to compassion and hope – and that is indeed the pure spirit of AnonymUs.
AnonymUs: the growing conviction that so much of social media is communal narcissism, the impulse to unplug from a culture of celebrity worship, and the spiritual inspiration to lose oneself in pursuing a greater social good.
In the Schizogendria trend, Millennial men and women are experiencing an alienating split between “should” and “feel” in their gender roles; both parties to the drama sense they are losing something valuable.
Schizogendria’s countertrend is Guys and Dolls, whose name takes its inspiration from the musical enjoying several revivals since it first debuted on Broadway in 1950. Its anthem sings:
When you see a guy reach for stars in the sky
You can bet that he’s doing it for some doll.
Guys and Dolls: the return of romantic gender archetypes in which women inspire and men sacrifice; whether the expression is retro, ironic or straight-on serious, the result is the same: the end of PC Unisex.
70s-style feminism preaches that there are no “real” differences between the genders and seeks an ideal world in which genders meld together. The corporate world and some of our more official culture has created an elaborate set of manners and morals that aspire to a gender-less world but thereby feed into the psychic split of Schizogendria. This utopian thinking is one of the hallmarks of Boomer culture. Boomers once said, “never trust every one over 30.” But those under 30 today, the Millennials, have begun a deep rejection of the UniSex ideal.
End of gender, no.
Women inspire. Men sacrifice. This duality is at the heart of primordial gender archetypes which can be repressed but will never die. And when women act like men, men lose their fundamental orientation in life.
It is why women of all walks of life and of all ages enjoy receiving the inspired homage of flowers. It is why poems and songs written in the honor of women take this same exchange to the nth degree. It’s what made Princess Bride and The Notebook instant classics.
You can see it in Transformers in the heroism Shia Leboeuf’s character uses to win the heart of Megan Fox, echoed by the self-sacrifice the Autobots are willing to make to save humanity from the predatory Decepticons.
You can see it in the hit movie The King’s Speech, a world in which a man isn’t celebrating his own vanities but, inspired by his wife and family, is striving to sacrifice his own comfort and overcome himself to be of service to his country.
You can see it in the Twilight series which indirectly celebrated the heroism and deliciously sublimated erotic energy of chaste romantic love, hidden in the subtext of vampires and werewolves. Millennial women know that they rule “their bodies, their selves” but they also know that by controlling how they give their love, they control the wellsprings of male creative energy.
You can see it in how great guys look at a blacktie wedding. Because the tux is a uniform and a man in uniform has prepared himself for sacrifice.
Guys and Dolls runs even deeper than eros. Some of the most creative gay men would be lost without women as their inspiration. What would Yves Saint-Laurent ever have been without the most beautiful women who were his muses? Or Truman Capote? Or Tennessee Williams?
And, as nightlife expert Gamal Hennessy wrote in his recent study of New York nightlife, Seize the Night, “the attempt to attract and appeal to women is basic to every aspect of the nightlife experience. The lyrics in the music are for them, or about them, or by them. The dance floor is put there to entice them. All the fancy cocktails and impressive interior design are created to appeal to their senses. Men don’t really care about any of these things; men care about women. And if you’ve ever seen straight women hanging out in a gay club, you know they are treated like gold there, too.”
You won’t find this in an HR Manual or spelled out at a corporate offsite.
But it is a perennial enduring truth and when a brand connects with it, the results can be profound.
Here are three ways to approach the power of Guys and Dolls.
1) Don’t be afraid of retro
Schizogendria is still at play in our culture. Sometimes, by looking at things through retro lenses, we can easily escape its clutches. Retro brand thematics are not just nostalgic in their appeal and won’t necessarily date your brand. Consider that The Darby, a supper club with the feeling of 50s Hollywood, is one of the coolest nightlife destinations in New York City this year. That muscle cars from Detroit are making a huge comeback. That craft cocktails with personalities loaded with masculine swagger and femme chic are all the rage.
2) Bring back heroic men
The critical and commercial success of The King’s Speech is a powerful example of how much today’s audiences are longing for genuine tales of heroic men who sacrifice themselves for family and country and doggedly pursue duty. Brands have just barely scratched the surface of this longing. There’s the new campaign from Chivas on Chivalry. And Brooks Brothers has done it by publishing a book it sells in its stores: As a Gentleman Would Say - Responses to Life’s Difficult (and Sometimes Awkward) Challenges. Both of these brand initiatives are somewhat obvious, but ownable, concepts in the right direction. The opportunity is still ripe for many other brands.
3) Move beyond patronizing empowerment and into romantic inspiration
There was a marvelous scene in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings when the Lady Galadriel, beautifully portrayed by Cate Blanchett, is tempted to take unto herself the power of the ring that the Dark Lord seeks. Suddenly she becomes terrifyingly beautiful and mesmerizing as her voice runs deep.
“In place of the Dark Lord, you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair.”
But then she sets aside her power and becomes radiantly graceful once again. And the memory of her will rouse Frodo back to action even as his will to pursue his dangerous quest flags. “For the Lady,” he shouts and fights again.
I think of Joan of Arc, no literary creation she, yet as fantastic as any mythic construct. She was willing to fight not because she wanted to be a man but because the men of France did not. Frightened, young and vulnerable she brought the beautiful nation of France back from its rape by cruel King Henry VI.
Women of great power and spirit, not just materially successful, will inspire the next generation of men to become men again. Brands that know how to tell these tales will be iconic of the new Millennial romanticism.
A beautiful French woman who is a high-ranking government official once told me, “I find American men unappealing because they always talk to me as though I were just another man.”
I suspect it’s not just French women who feel this way. But being bi-cultural, French and American, I knew exactly what she was talking about. What in France would be welcome as a gallant compliment might in America be construed as evidence of a “hostile environment.” Like many other bi-culturals, I’m split in on how to behave around women. My French side; my American side…which one should I be using?
And I would argue that most Americans, particularly college-educated Anglos, feel a similar split between their gender archetypes and what’s considered “correct” behavior.
I call this split Schizogendria, from the Greek word for split (schizo) and gender, the irreducible core of our sexual identity.
Schizogendria: the contradiction men and women are experiencing between “should” and “feel” in their gender roles; the growing conviction that each party to the changing drama is losing something valuable.
Millennial women have a degree of freedom and opportunity undreamed of by their grandmothers.
But, at the same time, they are shown far less courtesy and respect than were their grandmothers. Their daughters will be pressured to be sexualized by our culture at an age that their grandmothers would have found criminal.
College-educated Millennial women now live under a social obligation to pursue an ambitious career. They must either defer having children which then becomes more medically iffy with each passing year or have a child or two now and juggle being Mom with professional life. Today’s Millennial women are far more stressed by multi-tasking than their grandmothers.
Despite the advances in preventative medicine and the lower incidence of smoking, they are more likely than their grandmothers to be diagnosed with breast cancer—perhaps due, some experts believe, to the hormonal effects of putting off having children until their biological clock’s eleventh hour.
So with these challenges to their dignity and well being, they can turn to the men in their lives for all the support they need, right?
Look at Euro RSCG’s latest study of Millennials and Gender. While one in two of Millennial women agree that “men should be the ones to lead and initiate in romance,” only 33% of males agreed with the same statement. Seth Rogan’s likable but fumbling character in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up is emblematic of many of these males: a good guy who is capable of manning up but needs a precipitating crisis in order to do so. Are these men at least more willing in today’s more egalitarian society to share in household tasks? Every survey on the subject comes to the same conclusion: in theory yes, in practice no.
Nearly 40% of all children born in America today are out of wedlock. The percentage climbs as we go down the socioeconomic ladder and it’s quite possible that getting married will become a nicety of the affluent, much as it has already become in European countries. This is a massive sea change and one that sociologists says doesn’t bode well for the emotional security of men, women and their children. Talk to those who are cohabiting rather than getting married and they’ll readily supply you with yet another disquieting statistic: 40% of all marriages today are projected to end in divorce.
Millennial men don’t have it easy either.
Not only is their primordial role as provider and father now a mere social elective, they are falling well behind women in completing college. The majority of job losses since 2008 have been among males, particularly in the blue-collar communities, prompting Atlantic Monthly to coin a new expression: Mancession. Joblessness in blue-collar communities is now approaching 15%. Were that a national statistic, we would be at the same level as the Great Depression.
White collar males wonder: am I going to be able to earn what my Dad did? Blue collar males wonder: will I be able to just stay employed as my Dad did?
Anthropologist Lionel Tiger wrote about a new hostility in America’s schools to boyish behavior—bouncy, roving and boisterous—as manifest in the growing propensity to medically treat it as ADHD. 1 in 10 boys in America today are being given powerful ADHD medication.
In the background of all of this, sperm counts among men are plummeting. No one knows why. Environmental toxins? Lifestyle choices? What could it be? Whatever the cause, the symbolism of depleted masculinity endures.
It’s common in talking about Millennials to evoke how “coddled” they were by their Boomer parents and how “entitled” they feel but the fact is that Millennials are facing pressures far greater than their parents knew. And in the realm of their sexual identity, the challenges are massive.
So what’s a brand to do?
Don’t be patronizing
Women and men alike are tired of ads and TV shows that slam guys and fawn over women. Euro RSCG’s Rose Cameron makes this point extremely well: “Judging from the content of TV commercials and sitcoms, men are a sorry lot. It’s a wonder they’re able to brush their teeth without the supervision and assistance of their far-more-capable wives. While the bumbling, skill-deficient guy may be good for a laugh, young people want to see demonstrations of male strength and responsibility.”
Don’t tell yourself you’re “edgy” when you’re just exploitive
Calvin Klein caused a public outcry in the 90s with ads that looked like amateur teen porn shot in some creep’s basement. It’s disheartening that the founder of American Apparel, Dov Charney, would pick up the same style of photography and feature his own employees in the campaign. Ironically, American Apparel positions itself as “sweatshop-free” even while it runs ads that are clearly exploitive. It gets attention but the brand will eventually have to pay for this loss of credibility.
Give men a means to assert their masculinity—but keep it light.
The Iron John “men’s movement” died abruptly back in the 90’s in large part I believe because it was so easily satirized. Men hate to confront issues head on, hearts bared. Some irony, please. Dos Equis’s Most Interesting Man in the World and Isaiah Mustafa for Old Spice hit the spot. There’s room for many more fantasy personae with a humorous touch.
Don’t be afraid of primordial femininity.
Victoria’s Secret and Agent Provocateur do not try to score any points for political correctness and they’re doing just fine, thank you.
But what about motherhood itself? How often is the cleverness of ad agencies deployed against this cultural bulwark? Not very often at all. When it’s well done, it’s remarkable. Proctor & Gamble asked at the last Olympics, “Is there anything better than being an Olympic athlete?” and answered, “Actually, there is. Being an Olympic Athlete’s Mom.” They sent film crews to capture the Moms cheering their children at the Olympics every day and the Mom moments actually became part of being there for us who were watching at home. The spots were topical, fresh and hit home with the most touching message that has ever existed, a Mother’s love makes all achievements possible. So many advertisers would be afraid of being called old-fashioned, lame or schmaltzy, that this this hugely powerful emotional space goes neglected. In swoops P&G to collect the prize: a wrap up of all their power brands, and the tag: “Proud sponsor of Moms.”
Pictured above, “Paparazzi” sunscreens in Brazil turn a dashboard into a FameUs cultural commentary.
A recent survey of Millennial teens by the Barna Group showed that over 1 in 4 believe they will “probably” or “definitely” be famous or very well-known by the time they are twenty-five.
Some might say these Millennial teens are delusional and blame it on their over-empowering Boomer parents. But that would be to miss the point. Because these Millennial teens are part of a fundamental shift that has taken place in the boundaries of our private and public selves, one that Andy Warhol saw coming, long before the invention of the Internet: “in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”
What do you suppose distinguishes the 1 in 4 who expect to be famous from those who do not? Would it be any surprise to learn that they are extroverted, plugged-in, creative and socially influential? In other words, the 1 in 3 destined-for-fame undoubtedly match the psychographics that are most valued by almost every brand in the marketing business.
Extroverted, plugged-in Millennials have all had the repeated experience of directly contributing to the fame of other people just like themselves. They’ve voted, liked, commented, forwarded, reposted, tweeted and retweeted—directly making previous nobodies become well-known, famous or even superstars. They haven’t just seen it happen. They’ve made it happen.
Millennials live in daily intimacy with their celebrities—just as they are, uncut and unplugged. Starting with Puck in Real World, and coming all the way to Kim Kardashian, Heidi Montag and Snookie, there are a myriad of celebrities who got famous just by being themselves, not through portraying fictional characters. And Millennials hear the most intimate thoughts and daily experiences of any young celebrity they are interested in. Who adores who now? “I am your whore,” proclaims Lady Gaga to her fans, her “little monsters.”
Welcome to the culture of FameUs: the ever-widening sense of intimacy we have with our celebrities, the feeling of control we have over their self-expression and the sneaking suspicion that we ourselves are going to be famous.
The perfect club night involves the same kind of emotional transport: being around celebrities, or people who feel like celebrities, and beginning to feel like one ourselves: special, entitled, recognized, beautiful in our own way.
The trailblazer of this trend, Andy Warhol, spent his nights in clubs at a time when they emerged as the primary means by which the cultural cutting edge enters the mainstream.
So there’s your new target audience.
“OK,” I hope you’re thinking, “maybe you’re right; so what does that mean I have to do differently? Do I have to start giving everyone expensive gift bags and dive into an endless procession of awards shows and glitzy after parties?”
Maybe. But my first advice is: Make sure your own brand behaves like a celebrity. Because, celebrities like to be around other celebrities.
Here are four ways for brands to be relevant in a FameUs culture.
1. Be special. Control your appearances.
Look at Societe Perrier, a nightlife insider’s program in New York City that helps young influentials rediscover this classic brand in the context of cutting edge nightlife.
Specialty artwork, with a nearly secret backstory, superb POS and Brand Ambassadors helped produce some spectacular results, powering this brand into the consideration frame it deserves. As a result, the program is being expanded globally.
2. Or…be a celebrity sidekick to your FameUs consumer.
Tapping into FameUs doesn’t mean you have to be grandiose. You can also be a great celebrity sidekick. Electric-blue-colored Hpnotiq liqueur was saved from Death by Novelty by finding a new role as a valuable fashion accessory to that cultural space called Girls Night Out. Girls Night Out is all about flaunting it and enjoying the attention. A sweet, beautiful and attention-getting cocktail plays a perfect role here.
The same humble approach was used by Post’s Natural Advantage cereals when they offered pre-ride breakfast to Harley riders at this year’s Sturgis. It’s one thing to offer someone a free sample of cereal, it’s another to do so in the emotionally charged cultural context of the Harley brand and the Sturgis Festival.
3. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
In a FameUs culture, what could be more disarming than the deliciously grandiose Most Interesting Man in the World? Here’s a perfect tongue-in-cheek fantasy of celebrity that nevertheless gets its point across: our beer is too interesting to waste your time with a pedestrian message.
4. If you screw up, recover with style
Think of Domino’s “We admit we suck” campaign as Celebrity Rehab for Brands.
It has the complete narrative arc of recovery: an intervention, a change of heart, public amends and continuing admissions of guilt and accountability. And everybody involved—consumers, employees and company management—ends up…FameUs.