Could Your Brand Be a Movie?

Hollywood movies are so well produced that it’s easy to be seduced by the craft. But if you break it down, there is actually a great deal of structure to a well-crafted film. Many dismiss it as formula. But the more accurate truth is that the art of moviemaking is a complex matrix themes and elements that overlap seemlessly, when done right.
In The Matrix, when Neo first meets Morpheus, many elements of moviemaking magic come together. There are dozens of storytelling elements that encapsulate the movie’s premise and set up the structure and motivations of the entire movie—and they are executed with an extremely high level of artistry. It’s the entire drama of the movie in a two-minute nutshell, and many moviemaking magic tricks overlap perfectly.
Of course, many sci-fi fans would complain that the verbal explanations in The Matrix are excessive, and we concur. Many explanations are already inherent in the action and implications of the movie’s progression. some are completely unnecessary, and some could have been communicated visually instead.

Morpheus’ speech begins:
Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain. But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind… driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Relationships – Mentor/Hero:
Let me tell you why you’re here.
Though the overt relationship is Morpheus as teacher and Neo as protégé, Morpheus hints that those roles may be reversible when he says: “No, the honor is mine.”

Motivations – Physical/Emotional:
You’re here because you know something.
Action is an outward manifestation of an inner desire.

Mysteries – Explore/Discover:
What you know you can’t explain.
When Morpheus explains Neo’s choices, his explanation is purposely vague. The mystery keeps the audience interested.

Story Arcs – External/Internal:
But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life.
Neo wants to go to a new place, he will also face new challenges that will force him to grow as a person. The audience knows that Morpheus has other plans; he told Neo so much earlier in the movie.

Trinity hints at the premise shift when the normal cause/effect expectation is reversed:
“It’s the question that drives us. It’s the question that brought you here. You know the question just as I did. The answer is out there. It’s looking for you. And it will find you, if you want it to.”

Can your brand be a movie?
The answer will find you, if you’re open to it.

Chipotle Goes Long on Long-Form Propaganda

If you didn’t catch the four-part, 87-minute Chipotle miniseries on, I can save you some time…
Farmed Dangerous
Thoughts after watching the first episode (2/17/14)…

Chipotle debuted the first episode of its four-part “Farmed and Dangerous” miniseries on Hulu today, building on the success of its viral videos “Back the Start” and “Scarecrow.” While those two animated videos portrayed straightforward hero journeys, the new series is a satirical sendup of an exaggerated dystopian present.
Trying to elevate marketing to a form of beneficent propaganda, Chipotle hopes “Farmed and Dangerous” will also elevate the debate about sustainable farming practices (and sell more burritos, obviously). The first show introduces the premise that big oil and big farming are in cahoots, shoving new industrial farming methods down our throats (pun intended), while trying to keep down resurgent sustainable farmers.
A New Yorker article puts the campaign into historical perspective, citing several precedents, even as early as 1947 and the “Kraft Television Hour.” And anyone interested in whether movies or TV can actually move the needle might want to read a recent study called “Moving Pictures? Experimental Evidence of Cinematic Influence on Political Attitudes,” co-authored by Todd Adkins and Jeremiah Castle of the University of Notre Dame. expanded on the study’s thesis, explaining how at least seven movies have actually changed the beliefs or views of moviegoers through before and after surveys.
“Farmed and Dangerous” may succeed in showing how dystopian our current industrial farming is only if it continues to surprise viewers with levels of satire and irony. The first episode took its time laying out the premise, which is not all that revolutionary in and of itself, but it will need to continue to surprise to really drive the message home.
The success of a film like The Matrix, on top of all of its many levels of meaning and craft, benefits partly from the ingenious plot construction that keeps first-time viewers in the dark and leads to bigger and deeper surprises. The first big surprise comes a full 30% into the movie, where the entire premise of the movie is first revealed, and what seemed real in the opening scenes was only a construct of a dystopian future.
So much has been written about Apple’s 1984 Macintosh commercial that I would do well not to claim a blinding new insight here. However clever it is, it is not merely the cleverness and its metaphorical message that it contains that might have changed people’s perspective. Its profundity lies in the premise that computer users were already well into a dystopian future that they had scant hope of escaping—until, ironically, 1984 came and with it, the Macintosh.

Thoughts after watching fourth and final episode (3/10/14):

The fourth and final episode of the Chipotle-produced miniseries “Farmed and Dangerous” posted on this morning. It’s a lot to ask an audience to wait for punch lines of satirical jokes drawn out over four weeks an hour-and-a-half of buildup.
While some are worth the payoff, some maybe fall a little short. But if you only watch the final episode, you probably get the premise, the moral landscape, and the punch lines.
The extra time did give the producers time to be pedantic and point out all the bad ways Big Oil, Big Ag, and Big Industry are corrupting our society. And PR, for that matter. In the final episode, the villain Buck Marshall quips: “McDonald’s doesn’t own Chipotle, that’s just a rumor I started.” (Fact checker: McDonald’s was a major investor from 1998 to 2006.)
The fill-in time supplies propaganda (the word is not only negative) about the main sustainability topics of the day, from the negative effects of GMOs to the true costs of food products on retail shelves. The drama hinges on the female lead, Sophia, having a conscience and choosing sustainable farming over her father’s PR firm promoting Animoil, the offspring of the marriage between Big Ag and Big Oil.
Chipotle is trying to springboard off the success of its viral videos “Back the Start” and “Scarecrow.” A New Yorker article last month puts the campaign into historical perspective, citing several precedents, even as early as 1947 and the “Kraft Television Hour.”
Plot twists are few once the premise is set, but there are a couple of choice-cut ones at the end that are worth a chuckle. Whether the new form has legs is reliant on the density of the information, the level of the subversiveness, and, of course, whether it’s actually entertaining. This experiment erred on length, discussion, and detail to appeal to very wide audience. It was a long way to go, but not as long as the journey back to more sustainable farming practices.
The producers tipped their hand for a joke, making the point that all media is, after all, propaganda, when one flack suggests: “What if we produce a satire that pulls back the curtain on the disturbing world of sustainable farming?” Satirizing the satirists is an even trickier proposition, but the proposition hits close to home.

Finite or Infinite Games: Which Do you Prefer?

“Which do you prefer?” is actually a rhetorical question, as everyone plays both finite and infinite games as defined in the James P. Carse book Finite and Infinite Games. In fact, Carse asks no questions in the book, which, amazingly, is now almost 30 years old.

Carse, a religious scholar and now-former NYU professor, posits a poetic philosophy built on a number of telling dichotomies. Carse’s distinction between the two kinds of games is more descriptive than prescriptive, but nevertheless carries tremendous weight.

The book seeks to illuminate the different ways individuals view their roles and actions in life, society and culture. How one responds to any particular situation depends on whether that person feels they are engaged in a finite game or an infinite game.

And the crystalline purity of the sentences can be mesmerizing:

“Myths, told for their own sake, are not stories that have meanings, but stories that give meanings.”
“What will undo any boundary is the awareness that it is our vision, and not what we are viewing, that is limited.”
“The homelessness of nature, its utter indifference to human existence, disclose to the infinite player that nature is the genius of the dramatic.”
“Evil is not the inclusion of finite games in an infinite game, but the restriction of all play to one or another finite game.”

The structure of the book is 101 logically sequenced short sections that each jump off on a narrow thesis but end conclusively. The structure keeps the author’s thoughts succinct and orderly. The language is poetically inspired because it builds on the implications of simple statements by creating new meanings, which create new implications, which create new meanings, and so on.

The book starts with the difference between finite and infinite games, and then expands on other dichotomies that this semantic distinction might require. So begins section 1:

“There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.”

These introductory statements open up realms of possibility by offering new perspectives on both mundane and spiritual aspects of human interaction, experience, and achievement. Dichotomies arise from the central dichotomy, pitting against each other refined definitions of Society and Culture, the Theatrical and the Dramatic, and Power and Strength, among others.

It is poetic, too, in the genius of creating an infinite game of its own. The book does not set out to achieve a stated goal. It merely builds on its own corollaries and inductive reasoning, and follows wherever that might lead, to compelling results.

I’d like to tell you how the ideas in the book relate to what we do here, but I’d rather you read it without any more preconceptions than I’ve already planted.

Buy the Finite and Infinite Games on Amazon.

 Finite Games1

Has the Pink Ribbon Brand Become Unmanageable?

Be honest… What is your gut reaction when seeing NFL football players in pink socks? A little much, maybe? Bordering on over-saturation? Frustrating even?

As the “Pink Ribbon” month has ended and the flow of pink as abated to a degree, some may have more questions than answers about the direction of this massive cultural movement. Some might feel conflicted. They want to be empathetic, but they also don’t appreciate visual noise. They wonder if they should feel bad about not feeling the “right way” anymore.

If we consider pink ribbons as a brand, it has certainly been successful in achieving a few goals. For instance, breast cancer “awareness” is at an all time high. But what does that mean? Well, it means probably more women are being tested more regularly, more cancer is discovered earlier, more surgeries are performed, and more treatments are being delivered to manage the disease. That’s all well and good.

But it can also be argued that pink ribbons as a brand have lost their way, and there’s significant backlash about who is benefitting or profiting from this media frenzy. A compelling documentary film, Pink Ribbons, Inc., strips away the glossy, happy veneer of the movement by listening to the disenfranchised patients, survivors, and families—and by following the money. Many breast cancer “survivors” have strong feelings about the role of cause marketing, and there’s good reason to be skeptical of its aims and results. To the harshest critics, the whole movement smacks of rampant corporate profiteering and insensitivity to the victims.
A concise L.A. Times movie review of Pink Ribbons, Inc. is here and the movie website is here. Of course, where money would best be spent is always up for contentious debate. For instance, should more money go to finding a cure, discovering better treatments, or to finding the cause?

Pink Ribbon Screen

From another perspective, a fascinating branding dialog can be had over who is really in control of the pink ribbon movement in its broadest sense. To many brand theorists, consumers own the brand—or, at least, the emotional meaning of the brand. But the pervasiveness of the pink ribbon movement has, ironically, made the personal impersonal. The broad stroke of “Join Our Cause” has clouded the effort to create awareness of personal stories and education about early detection. In the most cynical eyes, though, the movement is more about helping non-diagnosed friends and family of breast cancer victims feel better about themselves.

The failure of the branding is not one of intention; it’s a failure of communication. What are these organizations really doing with their corporate partnerships? Why should you give money to them? What are their long-term strategies? Why isn’t there greater levels of transparency?

Every brand can get off track. Values change, priorities change, goals change, people change. That’s when “horizon values” and “horizon goals,” as we like to call them, can be useful. One of the first horizon goals of the pink ribbon movement was near complete citizen awareness of the importance of frequent mammogram screenings. That was a noble goal, to be sure. But what happens when everyone is aware? Continual awareness? That becomes white noise that will be tuned out.

There’s a way out: Stressing new horizon values. Having horizon values that seem unreasonable or unachievable at first glance doesn’t mean you will be held completely accountable if you don’t achieve them. Most consumers are reasonable and realize that change takes time. They know a cancer-free world won’t happen in anyone’s current lifetime. That’s okay. You can still say that’s what you want.

And the Susan G. Komen organization ( does that, in fact. From their website: “…we have invested almost $2 billion to fulfill our promise, working to end breast cancer in the U.S. and throughout the world through ground-breaking research, community health outreach, advocacy and programs in more than 50 countries.”

That horizon goal has worked well so far. But now it may be time for more narrowly defined goals that the public can get behind. Consumers are expecting more and more transparency, but they don’t expect miracles—yet.

What is the current meaning of the Pink Ribbon?


The New Metrics of Sustainable Business Conference Measures Up

How would you recognize a truly sustainable business if you saw one?

That was one of the more ambitious questions at the New Metrics of Sustainable Business Conference, hosted by Sustainable Brands in Philadelphia. Luckily, each of some 30 sessions during the conference Tuesday and Wednesday offered pieces of the complex answer.

One tactic of the sustainability movement is to persuade, cajole or force businesses to recognize the value of measuring sustainability by showing how it impacts their bottom line. One of the chinks in the armor is corporate risk management.

With more than 2.6 million credit ratings in play at one time, these ratings have an enormous effect on shifts in market value. As long- and short-term environmental risk management grows in importance in credit ratings, the conversation will necessarily change.

Before that happens wholesale, there are still many new metrics arguments to be made that help CEOs, CFOs and CMOs see intrinsic and extrinsic value in more sustainable business practices. The refreshing aspect of the conference sessions was that hard facts and data were behind every attempt to quantify sustainability gains — and quantify the value of measuring them — in business activities. The frustrating aspect was that many of the proven, reliable measures and initiatives in place today are still slow to transition to the mainstream.

The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia was a fitting venue for the third year of this Sustainable Brands forum, given the school’s motto, “Laws without morals are in vain,” and the fact that the school is my alma mater. Jeffrey Smith, partner at Crowell & Moring law firm and Advisory Council member of SASB (Sustainability Accounting Standards Board), added another layer by quoting Penn’s founder, Benjamin Franklin: “The great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by false estimates they have made of the value of things.”

Read the rest of my article on here.

Check out the conference presentations here.

Also, think about reading this book: How to Measure Anything, subtitled “Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business.”

Finally, a favorite quote of mine from Galileo…

“Measure what is measurable, make measurable what is not so.”

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