So here's another round of judges' feedback. Jason's obviously taken time to be thorough, constuctive, point to what's working and what needs working on.
First off I have to commend everyone who had the guts to submit something – I think it’s amazing that so many of you took the time and energy to take an honest crack at this, in your spare time, and to open yourself up to judgment and criticism. It’s not an easy thing to do for anyone, let alone earlier in your career. Seriously – you each have my heartfelt respect for that.
Overall, I have a couple of observations.
One is that while there was some good solid thinking in each of the entries, many seemed to miss the point of the exercise. Andrew gave you something very specific to do. Cultural Strategy is not just about finding something that is culturally relevant (all marketing should really do that to some degree or another). It is about finding a lightning rod to provoke debate & conversation, to insert the brand into popular discourse. It’s not just about finding an insight into people’s feelings towards a category. It’s about finding reservoirs of deep, strong emotion – passion, frustration, anger, disappointment, joy – which are untapped and unspoken in the category and in popular culture. Most of you didn’t do that.
The other is the importance of really giving some thought to how you set up and sell your idea. Several of the entries buried a lot of the smart bits under too much explanation and discussion. Some exposition is fine, but be crystal clear what you’re saying and what you want people to remember. Remember your readers and judges will read 10 of these in a row. So don’t be afraid to be didactic. Clearly call out your key thoughts, even repeat and summarize them. Otherwise your big ideas might get lost. Another benefit of being didactic is it reminds yourself to follow all the steps and the rules – which a few entries didn’t do.
So – your submission is incredibly succinct. Which can be a good thing. I like that you were brave enough to submit it in a short, simply written style and avoided an elaborate deck. But in this case, sorry to be harsh, it mostly felt like you weren’t trying that hard. I’m not sure if you were going for an off-the-cuff style or just didn’t have much time to work on it, but it all came across as dashed off and not totally thought through.
You made a lot of observations and conclusions that had no evidence or examples behind them. Which is too bad because you had a few nice ideas for sure. I think the cultural shift you identify – basically the rise of the creative class – is true and has potential, but it unravels from there. I think I get why you went to “celebrating the occasional shave” as a territory. But celebrating people for not using your products very often is a difficult strategy to pull off, especially for a premium priced brand that needs to build up sales momentum. That’s not to say you can’t feature guys with facial hair – see Thomas’ entry for a different approach to featuring guys with beards. Also, your tactics felt superficial. Supporting independent creative content is a basic idea, and there are a lot of brands doing that today. I didn’t get the exactly how KOS would do it to fit the idea and the brand. So overall I didn’t get the sense of how you would create a real cultural impact.
And then your manifesto didn’t seem to really fit with the rest of it. The idea of using song lyrics as a manifesto is a nice one. Music can be a powerful shortcut to help bring people along. But the lyrics you chose are darker and have more conflict and edge than the rest of your submission. And in that I think there’s a missed opportunity. You could have explored some of the themes in the song more deeply – lines like “woke up in the nightmare world of craven mediocrity” and “calling into question virtue gone to seed” have all by themselves the potential for some really interesting cultural strategy.
Overall this felt like some solid, basic planning. Nothing that really blew me away, but a good start. Adopting a challenger brand strategy is a decent place to start with a brand like this. However you didn’t really go into that too much, you mostly talked just about the need to generate strong preference. There are a lot of good other useful principles and rules behind how to activate challenger brands which you could have tapped into further. Read Adam Morgan’s book Eating the Big Fish if you haven’t already.
Mischief is a nice territory. I would have mentioned earlier in your strategy setup that you drew some inspiration from how the brand and the founder are already behaving (like the King’s Speech video), rather than leaving that as an afterthought in the tactics. That helps ground the strategy in something really authentic to the brand. And I’m very glad you talked about the founder. It’s interesting that more submissions didn’t mention him, there’s usually some great cultural fodder in the founders of a company like this.
Some of your creative work was a let down – the pogo sticks and fight club stuff felt gimmicky and inauthentic. But I thought the “grow down” idea has great potential. “Removing the signs of growing up” is actually a very big cultural insight that I think you could have done a lot more with.
The last couple of thoughts around keeping the conversation open through fast mischievous takes on current events have potential to be great tactics. They are using (as Faris would say) cultural latency to your advantage in a way bigger corporations usually find hard to do. I would have liked to see you explore that and its implications a bit more.
And really glad to see that you gave a bit of thought to retail, that’s such an important point of activation for a brand like this. And one we often don’t give enough thought to.
So I like that you did some good planner basics – looking at barriers to usage, identifying potential target audiences, and being brave enough to put some specific numbers behind your objectives. That’s always very refreshing to see so thank you for that.
But overall it was disjointed, more like a collection of observations and thoughts than a cohesive argument. And most importantly, the thing that the brief focused on, the cultural strategy part, was really weak. You focused on the shaving behaviours, but not on their role in and connection to broader culture. I didn’t see a real idea, or what the cultural shift was, what your ideology was, what your manifesto was. So it came across more like a brand manager’s brief to the agency than as a strategist’s point of view. You didn’t really follow the rules. And the first rule of an assignment like this is always, before you do anything else, ANSWER THE BRIEF.
Overall you did a really good job. You had me from the first slide. I really liked your intro quotes and there was a simple but powerful logic to the way you explored the target and the category landscape. The cultural shifts around the changing definitions of being a man, roles of the sexes in relationships, and of changing focus from facial hair to body hair, are all great territories. With the ‘good guy’ target you have identified a nice cultural space to build on.
Having set everything up really well, I would have liked to see you go even deeper in the ideology and your manifesto video. I think you could get more specific on why and how hair gets in the way of the good guy’s dream of connection and love. And I bet if you did think a bit more about that, you could find some rich ideas that would create some cultural impact. Your activation tactics were a bit light, but as a planner the strategic work is the most important and you did all the right stuff.
Nice job on this one, a good logic taking us through the thinking. And I find a well-written prose argument to be a nice break from glossy PowerPoint sometimes, so thank you for that.
I like that you took on the packaging as a touchpoint. Not something that we think about enough, or that we just take as a given which can’t be changed (although of course the reality is it can be fantastically tough to actually change).
I like the cultural shift you’ve identified around the Zuckerberg/Eiseberg/Apatow axis of new male icons. And “funny men” makes for a nice territory with a lot of potential. I think you’ve hit on a cultural strategy that quite deep, but in some ways it leaves me wishing you had done even more with it.
You talk about creating a comic face to the brand and making fun of category conventions. And your manifesto is a good start. But you touch on stuff in your manifesto that I would have liked to see you explore further. Beyond just sponsoring a comedy festival and sending people funny video clips… what would it really mean to be a brand that takes the piss out of the expectations of being a guy today, and uses humour to stand up for guys to authentically be who they want to be? The realm of male identity today is hugely ripe for some witty deconstruction. How could we really interject that perspective into culture and create debate and conversation around what it means to be a guy? And how could we use that to the brand’s advantage?
This was the submission that I felt most polarized about. There is a lot of good stuff in here, smart and very thorough, and I like that you clearly stuck to answering the brief as a structure. But at times it was over-written and over-thought and over-packaged, and I found myself having to struggle through parts of it (45 pages!). I felt you were sometimes trying to prove how clever you were, and that is never a good thing for the audience to start thinking.
The analysis of the current orthodoxy was good, the changing gender roles are clearly a huge cultural shift. Identifying the trend of “slacking off” as “male R&R” after generations of dominance is really interesting and has a lot of potential. The two stereotypes of metrosexual and slacker, and the fact that they are at once common and unaspirational is also an interesting tension. There’s a gold mine of cultural relevance in there and you went back to it effectively in your tactics as material to culturally comment on.
But then we get to the Ivy League man. I was left wondering about what you meant by that. At first you seemed to be talking about it as a new preppiness. That confused me a bit because it wasn’t entirely connected with the cultural shifts you identified, and you could argue that preppiness actually is just a re-packaging of the same shaving category orthodoxies of successful, clean shaven men. But then where you actually went with it – into the James Francos of the world – was more about a new type of thoughtful, curious, individual, T-shaped male icon. But I wouldn’t call that Ivy League, it feels like the wrong label for the person you’ve identified. Ivy League brings to mind cultural elites, jackets with crests, and the rowing team, rather than individualism and pursuing your passions, and it kept throwing me off.
But, within all that, you’ve also made some great observations. I like the idea that the future is something to be actively created. I think James Franco (and others you mention like Justin Timberlake) is a brilliant cultural icon and the ideology around having a personal sense of style is really nice. Being a curator of culture and timeless style is a good way to articulate the role of the brand. And standing up for purposeful, thoughtful men in an age of slackers and care-free guys is a really lovely position to take. I also like that you thought about how to use Will King – always a good idea to think about the founder and the role he plays in the brand mythology.
But some of the tactics felt like they could be patronizing to the target – things like a summer school in being a renaissance man, training them in sophistication. If they identify as this target they probably already think of themselves that way. And being a curator is a better place than a teacher. Then, after all the richness of the thinking, your manifesto felt like a bit of a let down. I missed the thoughtfulness and purposeful earlier descriptions, and reading some of it – “survival of the fittest”, “take charge of your destiny” – sounded like it could be a Gillette ad.
Your submission felt understated and simple, which I liked. But probably too understated: I think you could have done a better job really calling out the key ideas to help the audience along, and having a stronger point of view. Sometimes you presented a lot of information and I wasn’t sure what the key take away was supposed to be. And sometimes there were really brilliant thoughts buried in the middle of a paragraph.
You did a really good, thorough job with the category myths and orthodoxy. Nice use of various sources, quotes, pictures and videos to make it really multi-dimensional. And some great insights – like when the Gillette guys gets interesting and deviates from ‘perfect,’ he gets axed; or the link between category norms and male submission. But again these were a bit buried – could have called them out and explored them a bit more.
The cultural shift you identify around gender equality and how men are reacting is good. The ideology and source material was OK but felt a bit superficial – ‘the good things men did in the past are still valid’ is true but you could go deeper. You have some really meaty stuff buried in there which would have been great to explore more, like Susan Faludi’s point about masculinity being derived from utility in society, and not being something ornamental to display. And Tom Ford talking about contributing to the world. You could do a lot with that. What position could the brand take around that thought? A brand standing for guys who contribute to society, or who get their hands dirty, would be an interesting cultural strategy.
Similarly, the idea of “just enough is more” is a really interesting thought, would have liked to hear a bit more about where that could go.
I think you had some OK ideas for tactics. Celebrating “interesting” men is a good starting point, but a bit obvious and I think you could have gone further with it. I like the idea of a shaving brand celebrating guys with facial hair overtly, that would definitely be a departure for the category.
Calling out the industry for over-doing the technology has a lot of cultural potential, stuff like “there is no good reason for Gillette Fusion” and getting dermatologists questioning the utility of 5 blades would be great. I wasn’t sure if these were just observations though, or something you were actually suggesting – but I think it would be a great tactic to go out and pick that fight.
Overall some really good stuff, but I think you needed a bit more clarity on your thoughts, and the courage of your convictions to really take a stand and have a cultural point of view that would create impact.
“Theestrategy” blog entry:
Not really sure what to say. This was a difficult one to read – to be honest at times I wasn’t sure what you were getting at. And using various ads or other source material to demonstrate your point is one thing, but this relied almost entirely on video clips and didn’t make clear your observations or conclusions about it. You left us to connect the dots too much. It’s too bad because there were a few potentially good nuggets of thought in there. Targeting younger guys at their early shaving moments is an interesting strategy, and I think an untapped moment in the category. The “boys will be boys but they need to become men” tension has some potential. But the whole thing kind of fizzled out and didn’t go anywhere.