The Comfortable Rut of the Familiar
“The bigger and more successful a company becomes, the more antibodies it develops to do anything new.”
~ Alan MacCormack
The hipster brand is on a decline and brands (like Urban Outfitters and American Apparel) that have both espoused and commoditized the aesthetics of this youth counter-culture are in a financial cesspool. The reason – as purported in Elizabeth Segran’s illuminating piece – is the failure of said brands to evolve with their target audience: youth who have graduated from just “looking hipster” (the classically restrained – and sometimes harrowed – aesthetic) to the firm adoption of a conscientious ideology (the ethical and transparent manufacturing process of products for instance).
My 29-year-old-Fred-Perry-plaid-wearing-vegan-lentil-soup-eating-Morrissey-listening-self agrees with the aforementioned transition.
The resounding theme in Segran’s article is that of brand lethargy – the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mantra that unfortunately plagues most corporations. Did both Urban Outfitters and American Apparel not foresee a change of this magnitude? Did they not receive council from their R&D department? Partner agencies? Anybody?
To further buttress this business casualty; let’s look at another industry that also blisses in the embrace of repetition – Hollywood.
In the aptly titled article, “Hollywood’s Tanking Business Model” by Catherine Rampell, the “summer-blockbuster strategy” (wherein Hollywood studios release all of their big films at the same time when they know their competitors are doing the same thing) may have tanked. Her piece further states that the origin of this type of decision-making stems from the successful launch of the 1975 movie – “Jaws” (which cost $7 million to produce and then grossed $471 million at the box office worldwide). The “logical” rule of thumb for all studios then became this: “fancy a blockbuster hit, release your movie during the summer, and only during the summer”.
Why then don’t these studios release their movies in the autumn – as a differentiating tactic? Industry experts say the summer-movie-release-binge is attributed to an “incredibly risk averse industry”. Wicked surprise.
Brands have been inundated with the “woe to thee who doesn’t embrace change” message of “evolve or die”. Why then does it seem that they relish strangling in the noose of sameness? Why do they appear comfortable in the rut of the familiar? Why do they seek illegitimate refuge in the safety of herd thinking? In my opinion, it’s the fear of failing forward.
Refocusing our monocles for a second, take a look at the development of creative work in the advertising industry. For most new campaigns, clients request “fresh-out-of-the-box-and-audacious-work”. Agencies go to hell and back to meet those demands. Seven creative presentations later, the winning idea – to the agency’s dismay – is an iteration of the previous year with a slight tweak (a new font or background treatment).
This infuriates me – for obvious reasons.
The questions I typically circle back to: “how do we as the purveyors of creative excellence urge our clients to embrace truly prodigious work instead of pandering to mediocrity?” How do we get them to adopt new ways of thinking that could be crucial to their survival?
The typical answers I get from ad-savants range from “developing strong client trust” to “gradual goading”. Not to trivialize the validity of these responses – I definitely see their merits – but this is what I hear: negotiations that lead to an eventual compromise; a disadvantaged kind of tolerance in the long-term.
If the ongoing demise of brands like American Apparel, Urban Outfitters – and potentially, Hollywood – are anything worth noting, it means we need to vigilantly remind our clients of the disastrous long term effects of creative timidity.
I leave you with the erudite words of James Goldsmith – billionaire financier, tycoon, magazine publisher and politician – “Tolerance is a tremendous virtue, but the immediate neighbours of tolerance are weakness and apathy.”