As a girl I was a massive Wonder Woman fan. I was particularly entranced by the idea of the utopian Paradise Island – the girl-only home to Wonder Woman and her Amazon sisters. According to the Wonder Woman story there were no men allowed on Paradise Island, but I always imagined that they kept the men around, housed in pens, and just let them out to mow the lawn and fix stuff.
I am not alone in my fascination with utopias. It is actually an American phenomenon. We love the utopian ideal in this country. America was, early on, perceived as a utopian destination for Europeans – verdant, uncorrupted, and free. And America became a hotbed of utopian experimentation: Shakers, transcendentalists, socialists, free-sexers and free-thinkers.
It is partially the pro-utopian DNA in us that fuels our love affair with brands in this country. It is not a coincidence that the vast majority of the great global brands are American. Great brands, like utopians, offer the promise of an emotionally enriched, fundamentally better life – in other words, use this brand and your life will be better and different! For an Axe believer that means you can go from being a skinny kid with acne to a constantly-getting-laid-girl-magnet. Is there a better definition of utopia for the teenage boy? Starbucks actually puts us in charge of the utopia. The brand lets us each enjoy a few moments of complete sovereignty. I imagine the fantastic feeling of command I get when I order my half-caff Americano is eerily similar to the way I would feel were I to order the peasants taken to the dungeon and given only gruel. Well, maybe that’s just me.
Perhaps the perfect founding metaphor for the relationship between branding and our utopian urge are brands that were literally birthed from utopian communities: Oneida flatware, the brand that sprang from the Oneida religious commune of the mid-nineteenth century and Amana, the corporate outgrowth of a Lutheran-inspired utopian community.
At CBX, we actually harness this utopian thinking to explore the power of brands. When developing a Brand Purpose, for example, we think about a brand’s vision for a better world – often in utopian terms — and then show how the brand is pivotal in bringing this world into being. This grandeur of ambition is critical to driving consumer connection. People want to connect with brands that are trying to do more than just create shareholder value — they want to connect with brands that have a meaningful role in, and make a meaningful contribution to, the world.
We recently undertook this exercise when working with the Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP). We created a utopian IFP world. And through that exploration we saw that opportunities to tell stories were paramount, which helped lead us to a Brand Purpose driven by the idea of creating “successful personal storytellers.”
So the next time you are trying to get your head around a brand, ask yourself what kind of world that brand would build. And let’s hope it’s a world where the men get let out of the pens more frequently.