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Cultural Jäger bombs and the public consciousness

By Chris Moody 

Mrs. Moody suggested we turn off the television this weekend. And so we went to Tate Britain – essentially a HD, 3D version of i-Player that predominantly broadcasts BBC4 content. 

Throughout the course of the morning we managed to down a veritable cocktail of cultural influences. Changing the channel from James Martin to JMW Turner, toggling from Paul Hollywood to Klee. A mishmash of masterpieces and mass media.

I can’t say if it was the Chapman brothers poking fun at McDonalds with their creepy wood carvings or a creepy child, in a hat with a Pringles logo, poking fun at the Chapmans but I found myself questioning the crucial role the public has in making, breaking and forsaking brands. I also started to realise just what it means when something enters our collective minds.

Getting the public to acknowledge (let alone interact with) a brand is a distinctly Darwinian process. First, a brand needs to survive an early clubbing by studio and boardroom. Next, it has to negotiate PowerPoint pedantry, then a barrage of tricky focus groups. Then and only then can it face its toughest battle – a planned invasion of the public consciousness, preceded by more defeats than victories.

Public consciousness is not ‘the zeitgeist’ or 'what’s trending’ nor is it simply 'pop culture’. It’s not high art or low trash it’s a complex Gaga'ian mashup of all these things.

More importantly, it’s also a privileged space that, once earned, gives a brand license to behave in ever more creative, provocative and imaginative ways.

The Olympics opening ceremony was a fantastic display of the power of public consciousness - Brunel, Berners-Lee and Mel B all sat side by side in a fresh take on Britishness. 

Over the pond The Big Bang Theory is one of the most popular comedies on TV precisely because it skillfully weaves jokes about Schrodinger’s cat and CERN with everyday banality.

Wikipedia’s public consciousness transcends notions of class or cultural elites. It does not discriminate. It just celebrates what it likes and encourages true creativity. 

Recently two chocolate brands showed how to and how not to embrace the public consciousness…

Google launched Android KitKat a seemly ludicrous amalgam of an operating system and the worlds favourite four-finger wafer snack. It was simple, daft, bold and warm. Brand cross-pollination that makes everyone smile.

Cadbury, meanwhile, got kicked out of the high court for trying to own a colour they already own in the minds of the public. Rather than trying to outlaw Pantone 2865C, Cadbury should be spending that money on more of the wonderfully weird stuff they do, like the current Christmas ad.

Creatives often think that if a product, service or expression has mass appeal then it’s a dumb sell out. Far from it. It means you’ve already got over the threshold, people know you, now they want to be impressed and amazed.

The public consciousness isn’t a cul de sac. It’s a drag strip where you have to constantly innovate just to keep up – and keep up you must.

Take Sony, years ago they exploded into the publics living room with a range of awesome products illustrated with the famous balls ad.

But then nothing. 

While the product stuff remained smart, the way they talk about their brand is stuck in 2005. Today they are chasing past glories with an ad that references it’s history so hard it’s indistinguishable from a load of balls.

It takes a brave/idiotic brand to maintain a constant presence in the public consciousness. Kanye West’s brand activity implies he is both. You can’t deny that, having forced his way into the public’s minds, he’s behaved like a restless innovator and he revels in playing there.

Ultimately the public consciousness is hyper intelligent. Our collective mass knows their stuff and won’t put up with laziness. Brand builders should want to embrace all contemporary culture and not just busy themselves with their creative cliques. Stop being precious, stop worrying about selling out and drink it in. In fact Jäger bomb a bit of everything, at every available opportunity.

Everyone knows you’re a lot more creative when you’ve had a few…

Chris Moody is a creative director at Wolff Olins London. 

Image credit: Mariel Clayton, after Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring from c. 1665