Here’s part two of my conversation with Alex Bogusky about CP+B’s new book, Hoopla.
John: So much of the work in Hoopla is innovative. The work is cool, gaining “insider” status with the audience, without trying to be cool. Usually, when a brand exhibits such a progressive attitude, trying to be cool, it can come off as arrogant and inaccessible. Conversely, I found the CP+B work featured in the book very accessible. For example, the GT work in the book brought back memories of my bike racing days. They feel very insider. Yet, the message is broad enough that anyone looking at it will get it. How do you balance being innovative and pushing the culture with being accessible?
Alex: I’ve never really thought about that but it’s a good point. It probably starts with the fact that none of us are really very cool. The agency is made up mostly of cast-offs and mutts. And none of us is really very socially evolved. So these relationships we have with people though the brands we work with are too valuable to screw up. We get to pretend to be popular and fun and likable even though we’re squirreled away on our laptops. Yet at the same time we get to try to move things forward. So we try to be relevant. And for us the definition of relevance is being part of the conversation that pop culture is having with itself about which direction to go next. That probably helps the work be progressive without getting inaccessible.
The other way we try to strike that balance is to use most of our formative time doing an exhausted archeology on the history of any company we work with. So the personality and voice isn’t that of CP+B, it’s the voice of the brand.
John: Lastly, with increased power people have to amplify their voice the message to brands is: “Let me in.” People want an honest dialogue with the brands with which they interact. Unfortunately, many companies are afraid to open their doors and let people in. They shroud themselves in secrecy and obsessively try to control every interaction with the outside world. Consumers are so leery of the perfect message and fear it’s not believable or, even worse, dishonest. The work in Hoopla is different. It feels human, engaging and, in the end, honest. Publishing all of the internal emails in the front of the book certainly helps! How do you think about honesty when trying to deepen the conversation between brands and consumers?
Alex: There has been a term that marketing people have been fond of saying for a long time, “The consumer owns the brand.” I think it’s been so easy to say because nobody really believed it. But now that the tools are in place for the consumer to prove they own the brand, most marketing people are terrified by the loss of control. It used to be you could put something on TV and be blissfully unaware of the conversation surrounding it. It didn’t mean it wasn’t out there. It just meant there was not real-time feedback loop. If consumers were calling you “Taco Hell” instead of “Taco Bell” you didn’t have to read it on blogs every day. If you can have a relationship with a brand then why do we expect this relationship to be completely different than the others people have in their lives? Nothing and nobody is perfect. That’s a good place to start.
So don’t act like you’re perfect. It’s boring too. Then decide to have a conversation with the consumer. And model it after any other interesting conversation. Don’t just repeat everything they just said. Don’t be a mirror. Be willing to disagree. That’s interesting. Make up nick names for each other. If they call you “Taco Hell” it doesn’t mean they don’t like you and that they don’t come over. The consumer wants to play. But the stuff they want to do with the brand it often so far out of the bounds of traditional advertising that the brand is unwilling to go there. The brands that commit to and explore this new space first can gain a huge advantage. But that have to be willing to really loosen the reins or it can backfire.
Thanks for talking. There’s no doubt that Hoopla points the way to the future of marketing.