Challenging cultural orthodoxy: brands as ideological innovation

The tech industry frequently thinks of innovation as a “better mousetrap” game. Where’s the significant innovation or invention? It’s all features and benefits.

With DNVBs, we find that that innovation is often both softer and deeper – it’s ideological. This works when the cultural orthdoxy in the market is tired, frequently caught in some sort of dead end. Sophisticated, minimalist, utilitarian, aspirational… all of these can be endpoints from which it is hard to recover unless the brand takes a “stance.”

Coca Cola pioneered fighting for social change. Nike made everyone an athlete. Starbucks democratized the artisanal-cosmopolitan aesthetic. Jack Daniels rediscovered frontier masculinity.*

Of course this is only one way to think about cultural innovation, but it seems to me a particularly fruitful one. With the decline of trad sources of identity and cultural meaning – religion, arts, the nation, other institutions, etc. – brands have over the last fifty (?) years emerged as the primary form of cultural expression. With DNVBs, they may become crucibles of identity and social movements that serve to rewrite culture globally.

* These are all examples from Douglas Holt’s book Cultural Strategy, which so far is excellent. Yes, I’m once again learning in public.