Yesterday, searching online, I rediscovered the pornographic Disney poster, The Disneyland Memorial Orgy, from 60s counterculture magazine The Realist and started to think about the ways in which brands operate in the 21st century. Looking at this poster, as well as at an article in the Telegraph suggesting that Morris dancing could die out in 20 years because not enough young people are taking up the bladder and getting in to the spirit of the thing, I began to consider the way brands protect themselves and how rigidity is likely to cause their downfall.
Disney never sued Paul Krassner, who conceived the satirical Orgy poster in the wake of Walt Disney’s death, never ordered that the poster be suppressed – although they did take umbrage at a full, commercial run. They were surely aware that the poster actually added to the viability of their brand, to the longevity of the icons Disney created, and that to suppress it entirely would be to suppress the desire of the people who were amused and/or titillated by it to interact with the brand in the future. They were aware that adults need the freedom to play with a brand for future iterations of the brand to reach the audience it is intended for – in Disney’s case, the children.
This is where Morris dancing is failing. Its form has changed little in the last 90 years, since Cecil Sharp saved it by recording Morris dances in The Country Dance Book and setting up, with others, the organisation that is now known as the English Folk Dance and Song Society. Here is an extremely rigid organisation noted for its unwillingness to allow change, being stuck in a mould where participants are perceived as beard-wearing, real ale-loving people over 55 who are prone to shout “Judas” at musicians who defy the sternly stratified traditions. As playful as the Morris may seem, its inability to change or accommodate new ideas is precisely what is neutering it. Where Disney allows satire to breed and change to come, the Morris train-spotters are protectionist and will not allow other traditions to infiltrate and strengthen the brand. Simply, they have no sense of fun and thus no entry level for newcomers.
The same is true of many brands in today’s market – they allow for no undercurrent of anarchy that allows for change and strengthens tradition. Morris men and PR companies, account managers and advertising executives alike pander to their clients’ fears of change and job loss and falling market share and so stay static, which means that they are far less likely to survive. They are selling a process, a structure, an unbending way of doing things that hasn’t changed for years.
Companies like Apple, with the iPhone, and Facebook do it differently – they survive by allowing others in to create new things within the bounds of their platforms. They allow creators in to play. Even Fox TV, a huge structure, part of the behemoth that is the Murdoch media empire, allows a certain amount of fun to be had at their expense by their biggest brand, The Simpsons.
This is a year when everyone must give up the idea of being comfortable, when brands, PR and even Morris men must bring in new people via new ideas, new ways of doing things that are transparent and exciting and engaging for a wide spectrum of consumers and traditions. Those who will survive will eschew process in favour of an open mind. Allowing people to play with brands is the big mantra of the coming months – it is necessary now for us to get away from the fiefdoms of the past and allow fluidity for the 24/7 credit crunch agenda.
It has been speculated that there will only be worldwide peace in the face of an alien invasion; the credit crunch is the beginning of that invasion as far as brands and PR are concerned. Now all we need to ask ourselves is “have we the ability to allow this change to happen?” If not, then we will find ourselves on an endless Escher staircase of ever-diminishing returns.