Douglas Holt has come to save us all
Some books I read and some I chew on.
Chewy books are those where the thinking is so profound or ideas so counter intuitive that they are tough to digest.
Douglas Holt’s How brands become icons is a chewer.
Holt’s belief that brands achieve iconic status because they provide real identity value for consumers is pretty much received wisdom. However, the concept that they do this by resolving a fundamental contradiction between the expectations placed upon people by society and the reality of their day to day lives is a little more challenging. He does this with brands like Budweiser and VW which make loads of sense but it’s when you try to apply this to your own examples that things get interesting. Is Apple a run away success because of great products and great marketing or because the brand allows millions of people to feel they are part the creative economy when the reality of their lives is very different?
Add to that his challenge to the dreary dogma of relationship marketing and you have a book that messes with a lot of our assumptions about the way brands achieve and maintain iconic status.
One day this book will make it onto my bookshelf but for now its still in my bag close at hand for a daily chew.
(the UK’s most influential branding blog, written by Saatchi&Saatchi Director of Strategy Richard Huntington)
The book also has attracted some interest as a work of cultural criticism. Here’s a review in the great pop culture criticism e-mag PopMatters that views the book for the non-business reader:
Douglas Holt has Come to save us all…Again.
A few years ago I wrote a post about Douglas Holt and his then new book ‘how brands become icons’. The post was called ‘Douglas Holt has come to save us all’ and he may well have pulled this off a second time with his latest book ‘Cultural strategy’. Monumentally dull though the title is ‘Cultural Strategy’, which Holt co-authored with Douglas Cameron of Amalgamated fame may well be one of the most important books on advertising and branding in the past ten years.
Broadly Holt and Cameron contend that while every marketer craves innovation to provide new sources of growth for their brands and businesses, on the whole they are looking in the wrong place. For most innovation is either a functional endeavor – introducing new product benefits or colonising additional markets, or else it is purely about emotional territory – owning different ‘need states’ or ‘mindspace’. This philosophy of innovation is unfortunately rampant in our Client’s organisations and it is rendering the big marketing companies impotent when it comes to creating the ‘game changing’ ideas that they desperately want and need.
Instead Holt and Cameron advocate what they call cultural innovation, which does exactly what it says on the tin. This is about innovation in the cultural rather than functional or emotional space by introducing or playing with the ideology of that brand, ideology that at best conflicts with the cultural orthodoxy of the moment.
The examples Holt and Cameron give after eight years of interviewing the entrepreneurs, clients and agencies behind the most powerful cultural innovations are not simply fascinating, they given you an evangelical zeal to follow in their footsteps. If you do nothing else read the account of BBH and Levis developing Launderette, the work that followed it and why and when it went wrong.
And if you need any more encouragement to pre-order this book now you absolutely must read the chapter on brand bureaucracies, sciency marketing and the importance of creating cultural studios that collectively author the ideas and bind visionary clients, agencies and creative craftspeople together. They deliver a brilliant and withering critique of the faux-science that is endemic in our client’s marketing departments and with which the research and agency world is entirely complicit.
Hurrah for you, Holt and Cameron.
And another review in Harvard Business Review on-line:
The Consumer Society Reader Juliet Schor (Editor), D. B. Holt (Editor), Douglas Holt (Author)