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Berlin Brief

Picnic Founder Alex Pallete On Paradigm Shifts In The Branding Business

December 9, 2014

by Paul Glader

Alex Pallete is one of those Mad Men who got fed up with the system. The volatility, consolidation and staid business model in the advertising industry gnawed at him. He also felt it was out of tune with citizens who were tired of being marketed at and who are more sophisticated than many brands realize. So he quit and went to a two-year program at the D-school at Stanford University. “I was there to reset and evolve,” he said.

He’s now trying a new approach at creative work by launching a branding innovation firm in Madrid called Picnic. Its focus is to avoid just advertising products for brands but, rather, to collaborate with companies on making products and solutions. In other words, picnic aims to do innovation rather than just branding. He joins other ad industry detractors such as Alex Bogusky, a former ad wunderkind who quit his firm to try his hand at start-ups and turned into a vocal critic of the advertising industry.

Pallete showed the film The Naked Brand to the November module of The Berlin School of Creative Leadership and led a spirited discussion about the post-branding, anti-advertising industry revolution. The film suggests an 'age of transparency' is sweeping global commerce, allowing consumers to critique products via Yelp, Twitter and other forums and rendering company advertising and marketing less powerful. The film points to certain brands such as Patagonia, Nike and Zappos as listening to customers and being more transparent than other companies.

Pallete took some heat from several creative directors in the room, who felt the film, Bogusky and Pallete’s position is a bit hypocritical and self-serving (i.e. “Criticize the ad industry and quit after you made a fortune in it?” or “Some of your new paradigm on branding looks strikingly similar to the same disingenuous advertising you criticize.”). But his presentation was thought-provoking. And some of his critics in the room said they enjoyed talking out their questions with Pallete after his presentation. Meanwhile, in proposing a new mindset to creative work for companies, Pallete proposes a series of paradigm shifts:

1)      Purpose v. Positioning

“We spend months defining what a brand wants to occupy in your mind space. Now, you have to think about purpose. If you are genuine in this way, you will occupy space in people’s minds. Purpose killed the positioning star.”

2)      Experience defines a brand instead of a brand defining an experience

Nike is creating products that line up to their purposes (with the campaign “Life is a sport”).

3)      Moving from persuasion to a solution

For advertising and companies, this means “making things people want versus making people want things.” Palette cited Kickstarter and its wave of entrepreneurs creating things people want to sponsor such as an innovative cooler that raised $13 million. He also cited Quirky and Craigslist as platforms that allow people to meet human needs. “Many startups are born from different sections of Craigslist,” he said.

4)      Brand usefulness instead of brand awareness

Story-telling builds on values but does not add value to people’s lives. Sometimes you do things that don’t build on your story. Brands often still don’t know how to have a dialogue. “Fame on Instagram is the same as being rich in Monopoly.” Instead, Palette says, focus on shared values. He cites J&J’s launch of Band-Aids made by fashion designers. The idea didn’t take off. But it led to new lines of Band Aids from Disney, the Muppets and other brands that help kids enjoy the bandaid and forget their pain.

“Don’t just listen to reply. Listen to understand.”

7)      Collaborative, curative process v. Restricted, creative process

Lego came up with an idea for people to upload ideas for new Lego products and pieces. They will produce some of the pieces as a result. This notion of collaborating with consumers helps Lego expand its products in a way that meets demand and pleases customers. It is a contrast to the notion of a restricted group of people creating all the new Legos. “Collaboration amplifies your voice,” he said. Later, he quoted an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

8)      Create products that communicate instead of communicating already existing products

He cited a project by the World Wildlife Federation to reduce paper (and keep more trees from being cut down and mashed into paper) by inventing a new type of document file called a .wwf. Unlike a pdf or other typical document file, a .WWF document cannot be printed.

5)      The problem defines the relevance of the solution

“Empathy is the first step in design-thinking. You have to embrace other people’s values.”

6)      Empathy: Listen to fully understand

“Don’t just listen to reply. Listen to understand.”

7)      Collaborative, curative process v. Restricted, creative process

Lego came up with an idea for people to upload ideas for new Lego products and pieces. They will produce some of the pieces as a result. This notion of collaborating with consumers helps Lego expand its products in a way that meets demand and pleases customers. It is a contrast to the notion of a restricted group of people creating all the new Legos. “Collaboration amplifies your voice,” he said. Later, he quoted an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

8)      Create products that communicate instead of communicating already existing products

He cited a project by the World Wildlife Federation to reduce paper (and keep more trees from being cut down and mashed into paper) by inventing a new type of document file called a .wwf. Unlike a pdf or other typical document file, a .WWF document cannot be printed.

Paul Glader

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Visiting Professor
WiredAcademic