is an edited summary not a full transcript.]
Cropper presented three case studies from his work
as senior manager of youth and urban communications at Nissan
North America between 2001-2002. For Cropper, the word “urban”
referred to geography, not ethnicity. It signified a multicultural
mosaic, and telling stories in such an environment requires
a special expertise. Cropper said that elegant and powerful
communication must build on strong narratives; this was a
feature of all three branding case studies that he presented.
Nissan's Electric Moyo promotion was an integrated branding
effort that began with outdoor billboards all over the country,
sprayed with graffiti and the URL of the project website.
The website featured a customized Electric Moyo Nissan automobile
(equipped with turntable, oversized speakers, etc.), driven
all over the country by the poet/MC Bridget Gray. A camera
crew tour bus followed the poet and the car, and Electric
Moyo's arrival in every city was heavily promoted on radio
and other city-specific media. The entourage made it a point
to visit non-commercial venues such as youth and community
centers in each of these cities, where Gray spoke about her
philosophy of freedom, access and respect. Her mantra was
that to go far in life, people needed freedom, and once they
had freedom they would have access to opportunities and, consequently,
respect their communities. The buzz around Electric Moyo led
to the creation of a national syndicated radio show with the
same name, beamed out of the car, with artists like Alicia
Keys, Justin Timberlake and Cameron Diaz having free-wheeling
conversations with Gray. Thus, according to Cropper, by providing
a forum where creative people could share their ideas with
their audiences, Nissan became a patron of youth culture instead
of a mere advertiser.
Here the concept was to take a traditional idea, but execute
it in a new way. Instead of using ordinary two-dimensional
billboards, Nissan decided to advertise their new sports utility
vehicle by creating a transparent version of a traditional
shipping container and enclosing a brand new Nissan Armada
within it. The legend "Break glass in case of adventure"
was stamped on the front of the container. The company ran
a TV spot with the same theme, and also placed the container
and car in dense urban spaces – Times Square in New
York and Miami's South Beach, for example. People were naturally
surprised. Nissan then used film of people's reactions to
the Cube in Times Square in another advertisement film.
Cropper said that the movie theater was at the top of the
media food chain in terms of its reach and in terms of the
emotional power it generates, but he often found in-theater
advertising extremely annoying. He aimed to do something different
for Nissan, a form of in-theater advertising that was respectful
and would also create word-of-mouth buzz. In an exercise that
blended live theater with film, the company planted four actors
in selected movie audiences. When the Nissan advertisement
(consisting of a face on the screen popping up and asking
"who are you?") played, the four actors would each
jump up from their seats and yell out their answers.
Shapins described two of Counts Media’s ongoing
projects: Yellow Arrow and The Ride.
Yellow Arrow, a “psycho-geography” project, was
conceptualized as the world's first global public art project.
Shapins described it as a MAAP – or Massively Authored
Artistic Project – a new way of combining the Internet,
mobile technology and stickers. The project consists of little
yellow arrow stickers placed on walls, lampposts and other
spaces in big cities. Each sticker has a unique code on it.
People place their arrows to draw attention to favorite locations
and objects in their city. They send a text-message (SMS)
from their mobile phone to a central number and associate
it with some short text. When another person encounters their
arrow, he/she sends the arrow code to the central number and
immediately receives the earlier message on his/her mobile
phone. The group website at http://yellowarrow.net
is the main conduit for these activities. Shapins noted that
yellow arrows were being deployed for many different purposes.
A bike tour entrepreneur, for example, was using the yellow
arrows to organize his tours. Non-profit groups can use Yellow
Arrow to map and promote historical sites or civic projects.
Shapins said that he was planning to promote the global use
of Yellow Arrow by creating regional sub sites, such as Germany.yellowarrow.net
Ride New York
The Ride is a large-scale theatrical production, a new Times
Square attraction to be launched in Fall/Winter 2007. It would
be a part Broadway musical, part video game, part blockbuster
movie, part Disney ride. It aimed to create a theatre of experience
for its audience, which would travel in a customized bus through
New York, viewing performers on the streets all over the city.
The outside performances would be combined with augmented
images projected from inside the bus. The bus window would
become a screen – sometimes partial, sometimes complete.
Ryan contended that the cell phone has created a
mobile personalized space that offers interesting branding
opportunities for companies aiming to reach youth cultures.
Two billion handsets already exist worldwide, Ryan said, making
the cell phone ubiquitous. EMI believes that the sale of special
ring tones and ring-back messages is going to be highly profitable.
The company is also interested in the ring tones and ring-back
tones as a promotional strategy for popular music. He called
this “sonic branding” and noted that when a phone
rings and ten people in the vicinity hear that ring tone,
this becomes a powerful advertisement for the song. Thus,
potentially, any cell phone user could become a mobile, continual
promotion for one of EMI's clients.
All the projects we have seen – whether shouting at
a screen or putting up yellow arrows – get people to
think differently. I see the same in the music space where
music is sold largely through word of mouth. It's got me thinking
about how both your ideas could be used in the music business
or in entertainment.
There are a lot of opportunities. I have been toying with
the idea of listen-while-you-wait bus shelters. You could
sample music while waiting, and if you like what you hear,
press two to purchase. I am also seeing artists using mobile
phones to create art – mobile light sculptures in cities
for example, or music.
We're thinking of the mobile phone as a remote control. For
us, it’s a platform, and we might use entertainment
products like songs, as clues in a game, for example, that
we create about a city. There are so many ways that we can
seamlessly integrate brands into entertainment experiences.
It's so obvious to me that once the Yellow Arrow concept gets
above baseline – then it will become commercialized
immediately – people are going to use it for selling
pizza and then no one will care about it any more. Why isn’t
this going to happen?
We're excited if a local pizza place uses it. But if a big
brand comes in, then it becomes more commercial.
Why do you think you have any control over it?
Because everything runs through our system.
Isn't authenticity supposed to be about a narrative that is
real and not scripted?
That’s the next level. To create a forum where people
can express themselves. However brands have a tendency to
be fearful of unfiltered environments. When I tried to create
public forums funded by brands like Nissan, my battles weren’t
so much with the creative teams, but with the legal department.
I think that more enlightened brands, or brands that create
products that empower people to express themselves, will be
the first ones that go out and create public forums with public
That's a good question. If truly human experience on a fundamental
level becomes commercialized, then it is not a good thing.
If authenticity is most valuable to a brand, it is what they're
going to go for. For us, we try in a larger sense to be similar
to Apple – to not just market, but to be a platform.
We got hate mail from the Billboard Liberation Forum when
we did Electric Moyo, saying that we had used their art form
– graffiti – for a commercial purpose. Actually,
we had used world famous graffiti artists to create those
ads. But it’s a fine line.
Thorburn, MIT Communications Forum director: The
problems being discussed here have always been embedded in
advertising. One way to think about what you have been calling
“branding” is to think of it as intrusive and
colonizing. When you dropped the Armada Cube on the street
or went into the theatres with the Theater Jam, you didn’t
ask permission, you intruded into spaces already being used
by pedestrians or theater-goers. When bystanders are compelled
to listen to an egregious song when someone’s cell phone
rings, you’ve captured or seized the attention of people
who had no intention of listening. I think this is an ethical
and moral question of great complexity. It may be that some
people applauded after the Theatre Jam, but there must have
been some who were not impressed, who felt they were being
manipulated and taken advantage of. How do you address the
question that some people want to remain private, free from
advertisements, and that the people whose attention you are
aiming for have to be deceitfully shocked or manipulated into
There's no doubt that since the beginning of time, society
has been driven forward by commerce. You sell ideas and thoughts,
Ryan sells music, Shapins sells art. Having said that, some
of the big themes around marketing today revolve around permission.
In negotiation, getting someone to say yes without asking
a question is considered a great skill and requires elegance.
It is contextual – context is the most important piece
to the puzzle – you show up in environments where you
are expected and appreciated, but in unexpected ways. If I
had dropped that cube in the middle of MIT, it would be inappropriate,
but in the middle of Times Square, it is the nature of Times
Square. It is a spectacle.
In the case of Yellow Arrow, to receive the content, you have
to ask for it. So it is permission-based in that way. The
visual presence, of course, is not asked for – not everyone
wants to see yellow arrows in their neighborhood. In the case
of The Ride, the question is certainly appropriate, but again,
we are riding through Times Square and not residential neighborhoods
What have you done that has actually benefited the urban communities
that you talk about rather than just growing the bottom line
for your companies?
With Nissan, we supported a lot of youth organizations. Our
'Shift' campaign had a very strong foundational elements attached
to it. In terms of environment – as a car company, we
were very concerned with how Nissan developed hybrid products.
It was a broad range of things, but I feel proud of the efforts.
Companies have a hard time linking altruism to profits.
We're not doing marketing. But for us, community support has
been vital. There is a group of eight people in Copenhagen
called the Urbanities, who've come together and adopted Yellow
Arrow as a tool for helping advise the city on urban redevelopment
efforts. Another organization in Colombia wants to use a flower
as a symbol to build harmony in their country using our Yellow
Arrow model, and we've written back offering them our infrastructure
to do so. What you're describing is “make money, doing
good.” This is great, but also disturbing. When we're
looking for public goods from marketing campaigns and corporations,
instead of getting these from the public sector, it is indicative
of a frightening trend – that of social goods becoming
compiled by Parmesh Shahani