Why we need luminaries

This third blog in our series on the luminary archetype explains its' important role in society. More specifically, a luminary’s role is to ‘make us aware’ and it is this goal that drives the work of many of today’s contemporary artists. One great example is the conceptual artist and political activist Ai Wei Wei whose statement of artistic purpose reinforces the important role that contemporary art can play. To quote the artist,

“An artist can only raise new questions and offer insight into social change after reflecting on the feelings of the time. I don’t see art as a highly aesthetic practice…Rather than thinking of my projects as art, they attempt to introduce a new condition, a new means of expression, or a new method of communicating. If these possibilities didn’t exist, I wouldn’t feel the need to be an artist.” 

The artist’s power to convey important social commentary through his work is why the Chinese government confiscated Ai Wei Wei’s passport. In spite of those government imposed travel limitations (now lifted), the artist was still able to produce and show art that inspires the exchange of ideas. His work challenges viewers to think about and become more aware of social and political issues and in discovering more about the world also discover more about themselves.  

From February to June 2019, The Gardiner Museum in Toronto is exhibiting some of Ai Wei Wei’s work giving Toronto viewers a chance to experience this luminary’s ‘voice’ first hand. The exhibition, titled ‘Unbroken’, features ‘Colored Vases’, a seminal work acquired by the Seattle Art Museum. In that series, the artist sourced  Han dynasty earthenware vases and dipped them in bright hues of industrial paint. Covering these iconic forms from a defining period in Chinese history, says one critic “is equivalent to tossing away an entire inheritance of cultural meaning about China.” In the artist’s own words, “by covering the surfaces with new paint, what is underneath—like history itself—is no longer visible, but is still there.”  The vases represent centuries old craftsmanship and the industrial paint into which the urns are dipped serves as a powerful metaphor for the Chinese Cultural Revolution which also sought to destroy centuries of culture.

The Gardiner exhibit of select Ai Wei Wei works touches on such important issues as identity, free speech and human rights.  At a time in history when many of us bemoan the loss of truth and truth-telling, the call of the luminary to make us aware, to encourage us to explore boundaries , to face hard truths and in doing so to effect change is an even greater imperative.  It is this imperative that makes the work of luminaries such a Ai Wei Wei so essential in our lives.

'Canadianness' and Pride

Next year, Canada will be celebrating its 150th birthday and many brands will try to capitalize on the heightened feelings of national pride. Over the years our work has explored objects and images that evoke metaphors of identity and which give insight into ‘Canadianness’ relevant for brand building.

We have had people share stories of themselves through objects they selected as important to them. In one case it was a young man’s canoe paddle.  It helped him describe Canadianness.  The paddle spoke to his great love of the outdoors, the pristine lakes and rivers that he retreated to regularly to connect with the Canadian wilderness and himself.  His story revolved around the discovery of a great land, which he saw as synonymous with Mother Nature and her nurturing of his own hero journey of self discovery.  

This young man’s narrative, evoked by his paddle, is thematic and emerges time and again.  Nature, the expansive and pristine landscape of this country represents the value of ‘freedom’ that drives Canadian pride across demographic groups.  This country’s beautiful landscape represents physical, emotional and psychological freedom necessary for nurturing possibilities and potential. While the objects introduced differ from person to person:  a beautifully rendered Haida eagle tattoo, a river rock, a photograph of the Rocky Mountains, the shared value of freedom emerges and its manifestation as a source of pride.

It is because of this work using evocative objects and metaphoric imagery that we were not surprised by the findings of the latest Havas Prosumer Report. ‘Pride and Prejudice: Shifting Mindsets in an Age of Uncertainty’ suggests that Canada was one of the few countries where its values at 69% and not its history or culture, are the top drivers of pride. It is consistent with our exploration of ‘how customers think’ and reaffirms that values and their associated emotions are the unconscious drivers of behaviour.

In the best selling book, ‘Art as Therapy’, authors Alain de Botton and John Armstrong discuss the important role that objects play in communicating our identities to the world.  “We don’t just like art objects. We are also, in the case of certain prized examples, a bit like them. They are the media through which we come to know ourselves, and let others know more of what we are really about.“

Next we will explore objects and imagery that deal with ‘acceptance’, another Canadian value that drives pride.


'Canadianness' and Branding

The 150th anniversary of Canada on July 1, 2017 is prompting the 'Canadianness' question for some brand builders.    The Hudson’s Bay ‘Country of Adventurers’ is one example of a lead up campaign.   To stimulate 'Canadianness' in brand building, are posting a series of blogs featuring objects that tell Canada stories.   In our work uncovering human stories, we have found objects to be profoundly evocative tools for exploration. They often serve as metaphors for lived experience and can help access unconscious thoughts and feelings.

This inaugural blog in the series, takes inspiration from the self-described ‘junk yard artist’, Patrick Amiot.   His recycled solar powered carousel commissioned for the city of Markham, evokes feelings and stories about Canadians and Canada.

The renowned artist and his collaborator, Brigitte Laurent, are known for creating whimsical sculptures that connect to their roots as Quebecois artists and Canadians.  Hockey and its players, coureurs de bois in their canoes, Mounties, moose and beavers are among the Canadian symbols that have been represented and reinvented through their art.  A humble, self-deprecating sense of humour, which we think of as typically Canadian, is always evident in the work and immediately puts smiles on viewers’ faces as it invites them into the story.

Amiot has the instincts of an anthropologist intent on teasing out the stories told by the objects or artifacts. Instead of focusing on the instrumental value of his found objects, Amiot focuses on their narrative value. To quote the artist, “ the whole purpose of my work is to glorify these objects, because they have their own spirit. This hubcap, or whatever piece of metal, from the day it was manufactured until now, has an important history. … these things lived incredible lives. If they could talk to you, they could tell amazing stories.”

Just as ‘The Pride of Canada’, a carousel made from metals collected across the country shares Canada’s story with Markham’s new immigrant community, so does the tattoo that a young man shows to help us understand his story of how it feels to be Canadian. Look for that story and more in our next blog on evocative objects of 'Canadianness'.


Advertising as Metaphor for 4 Campaigns

Here are four ads that engage you with a compelling metaphoric story.

Metaphors are about transferring associations from one experience to another.   Our brains are metaphorically hard wired which gives well-selected metaphors the power to tap into the unconscious mind, the emotions and values that trigger behaviours. 

Volvo...uses the metaphor of a beautifully rendered piece of orchestral music featuring Swedish conductor, Marie Rosenmir.  Both the conductor and Volvo passionately attend to small details to realize beauty in life.  Just as a world-class conductor uses each component of a piece of music to support the structural integrity so too does Volvo in delivering the technical beauty of the Volvo V40 R-design.

IBM . . . used ‘complex recipes’ and learning as ‘food for the brain’ to introduce super computer Watson and its ability to combine complex ideas. A food truck was hired as the ‘communications vehicle’ and taken to SXSW to ‘nourish’ developers with algorithmically created recipes. The metaphor based event created an enormous appetite with thousands flocking to eat Watson's exotic dishes hungry to learn more.

SoFi . . . uses the deep metaphor of good and evil as a disruptor financial services brand.   In the inaugural ad for this California based financial services company SoFi or Social Finance, the agency metaphorically frames traditional banks as man-made, heartless and unseeing giants. The ad taps into the prevailing sentiment about Wall Street in order to differentiate SoFi’s ‘for the people’ offering.

Ikea . . . uses the metaphor of a heavenly container to frame beds as a safe and cozy refuge from the world in this award winning ad.  A young woman is slowly dropping from a sky filled with soft fluffy clouds moving from one different shape and size bed to another until she finally ‘falls into her own bed’.  The tagline is simply ‘there is no bed like home’.  Like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz she is safe at home.

The mastery of the metaphor in all examples tells an engaging brand story and responds to deeply human desires and motivations.

Looking at Millennial Metaphors#4: Affiliation

Millennials are considered to be the most connected generation with technology and social media supporting their need for affiliation.  The CONNECTION metaphor speaks to this desire to belong and helps to explain the deep metaphor’s status as one of the ‘giant’ universals.

Millennials have grown up in the ‘thumbs up’ culture of Facebook. It is in the digital village of social media that they have learned the power of sharing ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ with others. They are an empowered generation of consumers who are quick to publicly ‘shame’ brands and organizations online when they do not deliver on their promises and praise those who exceed expectations.

Using the power of the connection metaphor as a catalyst for brand building is a wise move for those wanting to create deep relationships with millennials. A wonderful example of this comes to us from Sweden and the not-for-profit world of blood donor services.  The brand builder recognized millennials’ desire to ‘belong’ and affiliate with a worthy cause, giving blood.  Armed with a deep understanding of affiliation as it relates to their organization, they designed a unique donor experience. Specifically, the organization created a community in which the act of donating is directly connected to the saving of a life. They do this by texting donors every time the blood they give is transfused, acknowledging that because of their generous donation a life has been saved. This ‘thumbs up’ turns donors into acknowledged heroes and helps to strengthen the bonds between the organization, donors and the cause.  It is a community of giving powered by leveraging the connection metaphor in which donor relationships with the organization and cause is deepened with every text sent.

Growing up in a digital village millennials are a generation that are expanding and shaping the meaning of connection.  They continuously interrupt activities using social media to reach out to affiliate, friend, like or share.  In doing so they are turning the experience of disruption into an experience of connection. How might exploring the nature of connection among millennials help you strengthen your organization brand’s relationship with this important cohort?