Wednesday, February 24, 2010

And some people think it's just an advertising campaign

I remember this Nike ad 'tag'. And remember liking it. But it wasn't until I read Grant McCracken's lastest book 'Chief Culture Officer' did I really understand perhaps why I liked it.

Wieden + Kennedy made this ad in 2001. At its most basic level, the ad is playful and enjoyable. Who wouldn't want to make their daily city commute less dull or mundane?

Grant points out more subtle culture trends - "Americans were giving up the northern European idea that public behaviour ought to be guarded and expressionless". Street theatre was becoming more popular. Cities were becoming the place for spontaneous expressive events. Grant points towards the influence of Mork & Mindy on TV, with Robin Williams bringing the idea of improv to american living rooms.

Another trend at the time that 'tag' picks up on is the value of simplicity. Physicists were interested in the idea that "complex order could issue from simple rules". Because 'tag' is a very simple game with easy-to-understand rules which bring pattern to the disorder of city life. To quote Grant directly - "At this time, culture that was 'emergent' was more interesting than culture that was organised."

Another trend at work here is what Grant called the 'generous stranger' - the concept of doing random acts of kindness for complete strangers. This was picked up in Hollywood with films like 'Pay it forward' and 'Serendipity'. This was acted out in real life with examples of 'phototagging' - disposable cameras left in a public place where the finder is asked to take one photo and pass the camera on. Grant points out that Howard Rheingold was also on trend at exactly the same time with his 'Smart Mobs' book about groups freezing together in public city places.

This is why 'tag' is genius. Dan Wieden understood these trends and tapped into them early. As a consumer, I loved the ad without really understanding or articulating why. I do now.

To quote Grant again - "And some people think it's just an advertising campaign".

Pick up his book here. Let me know your thoughts if you do.

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