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Posts Tagged ‘environment’

sun splash body art tattoo branding self

phillipeImage from a beach festival I covered over the weekend called, unsurprisingly, “Sun Splash”.

In case the image isn’t clear, the guy in the picture has the logo painted on his shoulder. The body art/temporary tattoos were being done by the Teku Teku Daimyo guys, an environmental project who I interviewed a while ago. They started body art because they were bored at their “information booth” at an earlier festival, and quickly found they were getting a lot of attention. They’ll do requests, but they find many people walk up without something in mind, and so they often end up inking people with the Teku Teku brand or with the brand of the festival.

Now, that’s what I find interesting. This festival is a for-profit in its second year; the first year was rained off. It’s not hard to see why people would willingly get the brand of a local environmental group painted on their skin. But how could this festival possibly command the kind of brand loyalty that lets a customer unselfconsciously tote the brand around? Does it festival stand for something?

Take a more stark example: you wouldn’t be surprised to see someone with a facepaint or even a tattoo that said “Woodstock”, but if you saw a guy with a chest tat that read “The Carling Leeds Weekend ’02”, you would probably assume that it was a  horrible drunken mistake. Likewise, if I had sat down at the Teku Teku body paint booth saying, like many others, “just surprise me”, and walked away with a facepiece of the KFC Colonel, I’d probably be walking straight into the sea.

So what prompts those hot young things to offer up their bodies? Well, the festival does have elements that a customer might identify with or want to promote: it still feels local and has a pleasant ramshackleness. And the tattoo does have a kind of ‘I was there’ kudos, albeit in a very temporary, digital camera instant-nostalgia sort of way. Neither I nor any of my friends ever bought any Leeds Festival-branded tat, even when in desperate need of new clothes on the morning of day 3. But we did wear our weekender entrance wristbands as a badge of pride for six months or more afterwards; and heaven help you if you tried to suggest that the Carling Reading Festival was in any sense superior. Our riots were better.

The upshot of all this is that I sat in the sunshine for a while with my rum and coke and lashings of cocktail-gouging water, and I thought about how to recruit people as auto-branders when it’s a matter of life and death, not a question of transient fun.

There are always some people who will auto-brand, based on the merits of, or their relation with, the product or message in question. They are mavens or activists, A-players, boxset bullies who force their favorite show on you, with the entitlement to be offended if you don’t give it a good shot. Those people are great, they’re what marketers of every stripe have been trying to grab since Tipping Point, probably none with more success than the Obama campaign.

p

Hence I first started thinking hypothetically about how to recruit “those guys”. They will be the battleground state for the next British election,all sides having paid neurotically close attention to the American proceedings. Some young, cool, potentially persuasive people will be longing for “their Obama”. Some will already be burnt out on the possibility. Add to that the fact that politics commands so little fervour in this country relative to America, and I suspect all sides will find it a challenge to get any hip teens putting up posters in sixth form or organizing debate parties.

It’s not helped by the fact that activism in this country has proven itself able to form itself into a bloc, what will come to be called ‘Generation G8’ or some similar shit, but this bloc is one which the two leading parties will probably find impossible to own. Arguably the concerns and priorities of the “four horsemen” align much closer than the unlikely union of Karl Rove’s bloc of business, heavy labour, religious conservatism and Southerndom. Nonetheless it would take an almost unimaginable shift in image for those people and the people they influence to support either leading party.

Passion is always cool, activism is always cool, but it may still not be hip by the time the next election rumbles around. Probably one or both sides will have got some foothold among peer-influencers, probably in part through the use of Social Networks to spread and ubiquitize increasingly complex messages, to counter the relatively primitive, pervasive images of the two lead parties which allow me to make such sweeping generalisations.

p

Social Media allows you to spread complex messages more quickly, and as a Social Media sycophant I firmly believe it allows complex messages to be couched within the real relationships and networks which have far more influence on consumption and voting. If two of the people on your friend list get politicised, then it is instantly and potentially-pervasively visible. The argument is always in the light and always among real people.

One problem is shared by the Red and Blue teams, and that is apathy and political disillusionment, and that is why this war will be fought tooth and nail. UK politics is dogged by the appearance of impenetrability and a lack of a sense of consequence, which causes a reaction of increasingly simple stereotypes: politicians as hogs or dogs, incompetent or malicious (though “simple” belies the huge amount of sophisticated thought and design which goes into sustaining those images).

It should (theoretically) be relatively easy to convince individuals of the irrelevance of this image to political reality, which is why I believe that the that party wins the youth will be the party who first effectively communicates a complex message, one which entices young, independent-minded potential activists to identify with it, and which crucially pays respect to their ways and thoughts. The message may not take this exact form, but I think it will be the same in gist: It’s Time to Grow Up.

A message like that is a challenge to the reader, and when it is passed onto you by a person you respect, you’re challenged to take it seriously. It acknowledges the grimy past, makes a gesture of un-sugaring it, and it makes a show of asking not for your loyalty but your decision. It is, inherently, British.

If the theory were actually used the slogan would likely be softer, something twee like “Let’s Get Serious”, especially if used by Labour. As the incumbents Labour would find ITGU even more dangerous a slogan, but they have even more need of recruiting and building cells of people suceptable to a certain kind of aggressive message. And this is a message that would provoke votes, good and bad.

After all, slogans are public property, used to hang the authors as often as the opposition. The main danger of such a caustic, demanding slogan would be that while it tried to earn respect from one group it could be used to alienate another. By demographing the message you might be accused of political larceny: using different words to different people. And even if you wanted to, the idea of keeping the message within its target demograph is completely untenable. It would be harder, not easier to contain, assuming the message will be communicated on the supposed “youth-scapes” of the Facetubes and Myboxes.

p

Even more important, transparency has to be the law when you’re conducting people politics online. If a message comes from your office, no matter how it’s released, you have to take responsibility for it, and let your opponents publicly hold it to any standards they wish. Attempting to astroturf or disguise your work in social networks may still work on some people, but it is kryptonite to the kind of thoughtful, hyper-brand-sensitive, potentially brand-loyalist person that you are trying to politicize. The kind of person who could read and respect It’s Time to Grow Up, and pass it on to people who want to grow up just like them.

robin by batamarang from bugs is icky

Even if the message is different from what I predict, the market is the same. They are sharp, they are pragmatic, they are active. They can take a message that assumes that they are realists, that they are bruised but not finished. They are IT-GUys. And, political idealist that I am, I believe that if you treat people like one, talk to them one-on-one, like they’ve got some sense, you’ll find that almost anyone can be one.

p

But then, maybe I’m being idealistic and contradictory. I’ve argued extensively about the limitations of the Internet as a medium for political “radicalisation”, and after all radicalisation is what we’re talking about: recruiting activists, putting them in cells, giving them the tools to work with but little central instruction. Maybe it’s for the best that I don’t have the ear of anyone important. Yet.

So, thanks to Teku Teku and the fact that I was about to apply for  an unpaid internship for a green concern, I began thinking about the same branding problems in a situation when the message was environmentalism: relatively baggage-free and appealing across the board. Of course, the strategy is much the same: the liberal=environmental abstract=ideal equation isn’t as strong in Britain as in America, but isn’t going away anytime soon (though hopefully the irony is no longer lost on “conservatives” of every stripe).

I present to you then, a different slogan for the same theory: the name of a group, a movement, a new realism, a new aggression, a new appeal to the jaded: Out Of Our Way. A slogan for a group just entering adulthood and preparing the face the consequences of a previous generation’s laziness and abuse. For a generation ready for the first time to go out of its way, to lose some of its conveniences, for the sake of the future. A generation that realises that everything on Earth is part of our environment, that nothing is “out of our way”. And a generation that realises that nothing is out of its reach.

Right?

jivejournal

p

PS Who are these people? They are some of these people.

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