Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Color My World

We live in a consumer culture whose appetite thrives on brands for survival. And if you’ve got a cause, it needs to find its way into the brand stream of our collective conscience. It needs marketing.

These days everything is a brand, from people and places to politicians and products. Causes are no different.

From the moment we awake and turn off our buzzing Sony clocks, to brushing our teeth with Crest to pouring the Kellogg’s…well, you get the picture. Consumers come across over 3000 brand messages a day.

Finding a way above the pack has always been a challenge, but in a glutted world of media overload, how does a brand rise above? One way is to attach itself to a cause that is higher.

If it sounds crass, have a look at the most recent edition of Vanity Fair, now on newsstands. It’s the Africa issue, edited by Bono. Bono’s cause has been third world debt with a focus on Africa. Pictured on the current cover lying in front of me is Alicia Keys whispering in the ear of the supermodel, Iman. It will be one of twenty covers by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz. Photos will also include some of the most famous celebs (brands) around. Like Bono and Iman they’re so famous, they need only one name (Oprah will soon be another.)

To read Bono’s Guest Editor’s Letter is like being punched in the gut in terms of the dire situation that exists (10 million children’s lives will be lost next year to extreme poverty, half in Africa due to HIV/AIDS.) What he’s done, is link that crisis to a brand simply called Red. Red is the color of emergencies. Tied to his cause however, are marketing’s All Stars at their best including corporate partners Amex, Apple, Armani and more. Red lifts their brand and the profits they make leveraging it, goes to fight the world’s ills. Win/Win.

On the other side of the color spectrum of red, every other brand is green. With global warming rising like the tides onto the mainstream surface, due in part to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, so called green marketing is all the rage.

I don’t have to tell you about the plethora of colors adorning wristbands.

For Jewish philanthropic organizations, gaining an understanding of the power behind branding and linking their message with the sway of the other kinda green is key if they are to maneuver their message to the forefront.

Perhaps, had this kind of thing been around in the 1930s and 40s who knows what might have been.

Ironically, advertising as an industry grew out of that era. Today it’s so enmeshed into pop culture that corporate iconography is worn like a badge of honor.

Are there dangers in lending an institution’s prophetic message to the world of profit? You bet. A thin line exists. Carefully managing it is key.

Read Tova Reich’s My Holocaust for a satirical send up of how the philanthropic Holocaust industry “Make Your Cause a Holocaust” gets diluted and exploited and goes haywire from over exposure.

But while most advertising is derivative, taking its cues from pop culture and using them to sell stuff, in a world where advertising needs to be entertainment and important information needs advertising, the lines flow both ways.

Advertising, while a flimsy medium on its own, actually benefits by the weight of the world’s problems but has the pockets sewn in to help sustain it.

Brands, while possessing an ephemeral essence were at one point only figments of some creative director’s imagination. Now however, they live in the same world that we do and they’re here to stay. They’re as tactile as the Apple I’m pounding this out on.

Finding the right way to use them, for the benefit of humankind, is a notion that can go right to the heart of Judaism’s central belief in Tikkun olam. Again, like a brand, a metaphysical notion but grounded in the real world.