By Melanie Wells
A few years back shoe designer Manolo Blahnik, pausing to consider the craze over his expensive designer footwear, confessed to me: “Sometimes I’m not able to understand all this madness and love.”
I spoke to Blahnik for a cover story I was writing for Forbes about cult brands. For that same story I spent time with Mazda Miata fanatics and chatted with mild-mannered executives who took on Harley-Davidson’s hell-raising image on weekends. Then, as now, there were many Apple enthusiasts to interview. But then, unlike now, most companies didn’t set out to attract cult-like followings. The cult thing happened most often when brands attracted fans and followers because of a basic baked-in promise.
Today, companies are trying to create die-hard fans and followers by harnessing or engineering cultural movements. PepsiCo wants to appeal to entrepreneurial do-gooders with its Pepsi Refesh effort. Kimberly Clark wants to take the stigma out of menstruation in honest ads for its feminine hygiene products. Clif Bar & Co., which markets its snack bars to outdoorsy, environmentally minded outdoorsy people donates money to wind farms, powers vans with biodiesel and encourages employees to volunteer for good causes.
Scott Goodson, the founder and chairman of ad shop StrawberryFrog says there will be many more “cultural movement marketing” efforts to come. He happens to think that connecting with consumers who are passionate about recycling, cleaning up the ocean, fighting a disease or something else is a powerful way for companies to entice them into becoming brand fans.
“The approach usually involves trying to identify an idea on the rise in culture, that is important to people and that folks are uniting and gathering around. Then the company or brand must figure out how to be an authentic part of the movement as it grows and builds, usually from a grassroots level, around that particular idea,” says Goodson, whose independent agency is working on a cultural movement effort for Emirates Airline.
Goodson’s agency created a campaign for Frito-Lay’s True North snacks that included ads and Web videos featuring Baby Boomers finding their passions in life. For Pfizer, the agency quietly created a movement that encouraged people to join in to raise awareness of and fight cardiovascular disease.
Social media tools, fragmented media, and a need for disconnected people to find meaning in an increasingly turbulent and unsettling world guarantees more such movement campaigns, says Goodson.
Can movement marketing really move the needle when it comes to sales?
“The key for marketers who want to ride this wave is that they have to stop talking about themselves and their products and start listening to what people are talking about and are passionate about,” Goodson says. “When you identify that big idea you want to align your brand with, it should be one that fits your corporate identity and values—an idea you can believe in without being phony about it.”
What do you think? Can efforts like these contribute to the kind of enduring brand lust that keeps Apple and Harley fans addicted?