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Brand Identity Crisis

by John Rodat on June 22, 2011

Good morning, gentlemen and ladies. Or esteemed colleagues. Or bros and hoes. Or just . . . dudes. Look, I don’t even know what to call you, anymore. That’s how bad it’s gotten.

We’ve called this meeting of the Huddle of Identity Promotors to address exactly this confusion: the industry’s cooption, over years, of the signs, symbols and signifiers of “the cool” has been incredibly, almost unimaginably, successful. Perhaps too successful. We have become the cool. Which may not be all that, you know, cool.

Where once, with broadcast network media, there was essentially a single pipeline of messaging for us to ride like stylishly-dressed symbiotes, the digital revolution—do we still call it that? the digital regime?—has decentralized and defused the process. It’s like trying to surf a water sprinkler.

This challenge has led to some remarkable wins for us, though. Thanks to the incredible young creative talent that we’ve lured away from the menial fields of education and fine and even guerilla art—allow me a quick riposte: Suck it, Banksy!—we’ve had tremendous success navigating this challenging new sphere: From subservient chicken to Old Spice Guy, from promoted hashtags to unbranded ads we’ve not only responded to but shaped the use and expectation of advertising in new media.

We are the early adopters, the bleeding edge. In online parlance, we are the caps-locked “FIRST!” There’s a very good chance that around this table are gathered Wikipedia editors, Improv Everywhere participants, several Foursquare mayors—I know how Kurt loves Pinkberry!—and I’m not naming names, but at least one person whose hide-a-bed still has an Assange-shaped dent.

We’ve even tempted celebs with street cred up the wazoo to open shops: Thanks for being here, Will, Jason—I’m a huge Arrested Development fan. Can’t wait for the movie. And Mr. McInnes. OK, Gavin. Hey, tell me, is this outfit “Street Boner”-worthy? I kid.

While the population, at large, is still trying to figure out how to count 140 characters on their fingers, we’ve gone viral with ads that nobody even knows are ads. I mean, when they figure out that Stewart, O’Reilly, the Geico lizard, Tracy Jordan and Charlie Sheen are part of one campaign for . . .

Well, look, you know what I’m saying. We’re not merely reactive. We are a cultural engine.

See, we are at the coolest table in the lunch room, gang. We are it. We are au courant to the nanosecond. We’re so goddamn hip, I’m going to have to Google half my own speech. We have become the arbiters.

Which raises the question, have we become the Man?

One of our most reliable tactics over the years has been to position our clients as rebels, outsiders, the choice for true individuals. If there is a central trope, a load-bearing wall of American advertising, this is it. Why, think of Apple’s canonical Super Bowl ad, 1984. And now, let’s line up our matching iPhones here on the table in orderly rows and chant over them, “Freedom is Slavery.”

I mean, look at us. There can be no greater density of rad T-shirts, tactical iPad cases or expensively retro eyeglass frames outside of Williamsburg or Silver Lake. Actually, it’s kinda awesome: Hold up, let me Instagram it.

OK, but fun as it is to be this influentially stylish, we must ask if youthful anarchy is the norm, how long before we are totally irrelevant? We’ve put our best social ethnographers, brand futurists and trend grinders on it and, frankly, we’re still uncertain on exact positioning.

But it’s critical that we work this out. So, I propose we brainstorm with what we have come up with: Plastics.