The future of marketing lies in collisions (where no one gets hurt)

Mexican artist John Raya recently redesigned all 32 NFL team helmets as "Star Wars" characters.
Mexican artist John Raya recently redesigned all 32 NFL team helmets as "Star Wars" characters.

Stop competing and start colliding, advises Havas Worldwide New York's planning director

Since self-driving cars are right around the corner, with the promise of nearly eradicating auto accidents, the word "collisions" will soon be out of a job. So I'm co-opting it for the ad industry, in part because recycling is good for the planet, and in part because "mash-ups" is already overused and "so 2013."

As the world gets more connected, collisions between technology and humans get easier to spot. You don’t need a ruler to see that devices keep inching closer toward our bodies, leaping from desks to our laps, burrowing in our pockets and resting intimately on our pillows, soon clinging permanently to our wrists before inevitably moving inside our bodies.

These gadgets are not only colliding with us, but with each other, as the hyped Internet of Things starts to fill our home with connected devices that talk to each other. (I know we all can’t wait to swap out our shy, dumb toasters for smart, chatty ones.)

Technology is transforming our behaviors, our social norms, our relationships with people and with things. As a brand strategist, I naturally wonder what all these shenanigans mean for brands, especially ones that make "things" but really want to be loved and regarded more like "people."

To make sense of people’s purchase decisions, we have to fuse human behavioral and cognitive psychology with tech trends, with changing social mores, broadening family structures, blurring gender roles, not to mention a heated cultural, religious and political landscape worldwide. Easy as pie.

Or at least a few pie charts. Havas Worldwide (the global comms agency I work for) just released a massive report on the New Family Dynamic, surveying attitudes and behaviors across 20 countries. It really captures the conflict people are grappling with, amidst so much rapid change in every facet of life, trying to reconcile the simultaneous good and evil that technology has brought to our lives:

Fifty-three percent of people think "technology and the Internet is ruining childhood," and yet 52% acknowledge that "kids who grow up without the Internet/technology are at a major disadvantage’.

Families are caught smack in the middle of this conundrum, with parents wondering, "What’s the optimal amount of screen time for my kids to educate and entertain them, keep them occupied, but not screw them up socially and mentally?"

Read Alla Gonopolsky on heritage brands’ embrace of LGBT families

We're all, in a sense, winging it, trying to find some semblance of healthy balance between work and play, being always-on versus unplugged, ensuring our lives have substance and meaning amidst a tempting stream of superficial encounters with reality TV and viral cat videos.

People don’t fit into neat little boxes anymore ("soccer moms!" "frugal fashionistas!"), and perhaps we never really did, but now the stigmas of non-conformity are finally dissipating, and Millennials are being dubbed the "BE Generation" for their record levels of tolerance, diversity and activism (Havas Worldwide research).

Brands no longer compete for passive eyeballs, but for share of creative energy. Today’s "consumers" don’t merely consume – they conspire. The Internet is basically a giant blender for people and ideas, making them collide in endless (and often hilarious) ways. A few examples:

Brand-on-brand collisions, where two or more brands collide, often from seemingly incongruous categories. (Mexican artist John Raya recently redesigned all 32 NFL team helmets as "Star Wars" characters.)

Brand-on-culture collisions, where a brand’s identity fuses with an event or topic in culture, often to make a point (like when Oreo sported a rainbow-colored cream filling in support of gay pride) and sometimes just to make an irresistible pun (Hanukkah, meet Dr. Dreidel).

Brand-on-tech collisions, where a brand collides with innovation, often involving some figurative time-travel and healthy doses of whimsy and imagination ("If ‘Game of Thrones’ took place entirely on Facebook" episode recaps have brightened up a lot of people’s Mondays, and Nike is boldly bringing "Back to the Future" into the present by announcing plans to actually release the self-lacing shoes envisioned in the film’s futuristic year of 2015.)

Other collision gems include Newcastle’s current "Band of Brands" invite for smaller brands to pool their marketing budgets together for a "crowdsourced" Superbowl TV ad; Canadian male Mina Gerges’ dedicated re-enactment of iconic female pop star photos on Instagram (@keepingupwithmina has 54,000 followers); and the recent business venture "Send Your Enemies Glitter,"which received so many orders in its first week that the founder had to shut it down.

The pervasive thread through these highly assorted antics is that people don’t care who started them or whether anyone stands to profit. Today’s collisions are fueled by creation, creativity and connections, not by destruction and competition.

So what does this mean for brands and marketing? Stop competing and start colliding. Colliding with other brands in various categories, with interesting individuals or groups of people, with new technologies and platforms. Focus on how you can connect people rather than divide them. People don’t want to see petty sparring matches between brands, claiming they are 3.8% better than their competitor on some trivial measure or feature. They want brands that share their values and perspectives, that exist for a reason other than pure profit (that reason doesn’t always have to be charitable, it just has to be authentic). 

Brands that want to be around awhile must be less precious about the boundaries that define them, be more brave and open to change. It shows you not only understand the scary, amazing ever-changing reality your customers are grappling with, but that you want to collide with it.

Alla Gonopolsky is a Planning Director at Havas Worldwide New York.

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