The tremendous response this week to the launch of Viva Forever! The Musical(manhandled by my esteemed colleague Dee McCourt and her team of pixies) probably came as a surprise to many in the higher echelons of the arts and media world. Yet the tremendous outpourings on twitter, not to mention the reams of coverage and the national front pages, are testament to the power of a great brand used well. The musical will be- permit me to say it- fabulous, thanks to the astute professionalism of all involved, but we are reminded, too, of the enduring power of a nostalgia brand, particularly in stressful and troubled times. Understanding the crowd is a rare thing, and something only true PR thinkers really excel at.
The Spice Girls worked, and continue to work, because a fantastical, quasi-geographical world and brand story was created around them. With ‘girl power’, they took the rudiments of late-era feminism and combined it with the cheery patriotism of the Britpop age to create a sort of feelgood nationalism. Their exuberant laddette/coquette charm projected a charming imageof an irreverent, boisterous, red and blue dayglo Britain. Crucially to those with an eye on the girls’ cashflow, this appealed not only to those indigenous to the Isles, but to folk across the world ready to buy into a heartwarming vision of a green, occasionally mean, but always pleasant land.
Constructing such a world requires a combination of calculating intelligence and unbridled enthusiasm- in short, the brains to understand the crowd, and the heart to join them now and again. It’s these qualities for which Simon Cowell is often praised, but they work just as well outside of the entertainment sphere. Any brand in the Now Economy needs to think about how it can be loved rather than liked, and how it can truly excite and inspire the herd.
This thinking needs to come at the earliest stages of a new product launch or rebrand or other campaign. It needs to forsee the slumps and work to pre-empt them. Importantly, while conversation is important, the story is still more important. Social media activity needs to be harnessing and stirring up the hype and the love, not trying to persuade people to chat to a tin of dog food. Look at the London 2012 celebrations: despite scepticism, everyone will most likely buy into the event, but too little thought has been invested in what to do with their excitement, adulation or- god forbid- ire in the inevitable post-summer cultural slump.
What we try to do for clients is to begin with asking how they can be loved, what worlds they can construct and what stories they can unearth that will persuade the crowd to love them, to join in. Too much energy is invested in rushed campaigns that seek to garner as much noise as possible without thinking about the reaction that noise provokes. In the case of modern PR, the reaction is too often annoyance. Understanding the power of the crowd isn’t about quick fixes, it’s about understanding the emotional needs of an audience, thinking ahead, and as a consequence remaining far more relevant than products or people who might sometimes be considered more fashionable or innovative. The crowd can be predictably unpredictable- to understand them, you have to think like them. This is the skill that a consultant tries to teach.