The Pleasure Principle

I just got back in the country a few hours ago. I write still having sea legs but one thought still resonates with me: The "feeling" of a brand. Okay, I know you probably think its jet lag or something, but let me explain.

After some meetings I spent some time in the remote parts of the Virgin Islands. Each island had experienced tremendous rains for over a week. Many streets were closed, there were mudslides, and lets just say they don't have the same plumbing as we have.

As an American, I realized there are few things I need daily. At the top of my list was coffee. So here I was traipsing through uncommon land to find a mere cup of Joe. I was distracted but eager to see what I'd heard from friends described as "utter paradise." Because of the weather and my caffeine addiction all I noticed were the poor conditions, bad plumbing, starving dogs running around, etc. All I thought of was how good it was to be an American and how addicted to brands we were.

Sure, there were signs for Eucinda's groceria, and Jerry's jewelry but it sure was hard to find any recognizable brands. As I sat behind the driver, I suddenly started my own scavenger hunt on a quest for brands. They didn't have to be recognizable to me per se; they just had to "look" like strong brands. To my surprise I found something that looked like a BJ's wholesale club with the same font and an odd name, Carib beer (which I'd never heard of), Pepsi, and KFC.

I went into a couple of places to get bottled water and find something safe to eat. It was amazing how I lowered the bar of expectation and took what I could find. Back in the States it's a different story. We are programmed to search for food at restaurants that "looks" good. It typically relates to almost everything else in addition to the food: the location, how many cars are parked outside, valet parking, front doors, the design of the foyer, the bar area, the hum inside...

Later on I read a great article entitled The Economics of Aesthetics by Virgina Postrel in the Fall issue of Business + Strategy magazine. In it she references none other than good ole Starbucks as a leader of this theory. Think about this for a moment, whether you are a Starbucks fan or not, think about walking into one. The stores are carefully designed, they call the coffee makers "baristas," the walls are lined with artwork, people are slung over comfy yet funky chairs and sofas, many have books and laptops out, the music dances with the buzz of the machines eagerly frothing. Starbucks has mastered the art of premium coffee in a premium atmosphere.

Just as my image of the Virgin Islands was tainted by the terrible weather, brands are sensory. When you think of McDonald's what do you think of? Most likely you said fast food, convenient, inexpensive, a place the kids want to go, drive thrus, etc. You would never expect comfy chairs, funky music, and baristas. However, McDonald's has jumped on this bandwagon by offering premium salads tossed with arugula and Newman's Own salad dressing for $2.99 and $3.99. This is almost triple the price of its average food. Postrel points out, "Businesses today face an aesthetic imperative. Style can no longer be an afterthought. It has become a critical source of product identity and economic value. The desire for interesting, enjoyable, and meaningful sensory experiences is everywhere."

This, my dear readers is the Holy Grail to us who create campaigns. What brands do you think achieve this? Better yet, what brands suck at it? Which brands do we all look at and say, "Wow I wish I had created that ad?" For me today it's the simple pleasures. A medium cup of coffee in a Styrofoam cup is making me quite happy.

Drop a note on the Spin board. Until next week...

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