experiential shift

Posted on September 6th, 2011 at 1:58 am by @uberblond


I love how people can be so damn optimistic. we go on our diets, we buy our exercise machines, we think we’re going to change the world. we’re only a resolution away from super-human status. but so often we fail.

and as much as “failing” has been such a trendy topic in any industry that claims to embrace rapid fire, digital culture-driven development, when the back fat expands yet again after the fifth diet in five months, failing isn’t sexy or SXSW-cool – it just plain sucks.

let’s take it one step further: when this failure to change means that we’re continuing to suck up resources unnecessarily or there’s people around us that are suffering when there’s loads of wealth to share, it doesn’t just suck. it starts to veer into the realm of being irresponsible (not that I’m a saint by any means).

I’m thinking about this today because I woke up to an interview with @lacreid, aka the Fat Planner, who is doing the brilliant Don’t Feed the Planner Project for 50/50 Make or Break by @madebymany and @g00dfornothing to benefit famine relief in Africa. @lacreid is eating famine rations for 50 days and raising donations for his effort.

I think this project demonstrates an interesting, rather new, approach to empathy and to change – people taking on an experiential shift to drive real empathy and change.

take Six Items or Less: people always asked me if it really changed people’s lives (for many, yes) and why it worked when other efforts to get people to cut back on their consumption don’t. after pondering that one for awhile, and watching the Six Items community go through three cycles, I have a thought: Six Items and Fat Planner share structural principles that make immediate empathy and long-term change likely to happen (as well as social spread):

1) there’s a challenge

it must force a behavior change that people feel, but not one that is impossibly difficult. Ideally, it rubs against a cultural and behavioral norm.

2) there’s a time limit on it

this sense of limit encourages people to try it in the first place and keeps them going even when it’s tough.

3) there’s no “right” end-point

keeping the outcome open (for example, there was never a “right” Six Items experience or outcome) allows a dialogue to happen with the originators and gives the participants ownership over the experience. and ownership = motivation.

people need to feel the change (less consumption) and/or the problem (living on famine rations) hence the challenge. but people need hope and a goal, hence the time limit. and get people through a two weeks of buying differently, eating differently, exercising differently, whatever differently… all of the sudden what seemed to initially be intellectually impossible (cut back your consumption) becomes a way of life and they start to own it.

taking it one step further, if talking about it can be reduced down to a simple sentence, it’s likely to spread socially (ie eat famine rations for 50 days or wear six and only six items of clothing for a month). anytime anyone is doing something “kinda crazy” that rubs against culture and they can easily talk about it, they will. and others will. it’s @griffinfarley’s propagation planning in action.

people spreading the word? enter real value for brands.

there’s a @FastCompany article that made the Twitter rounds recently about how “brands being human is the new black”. remarkably, that’s an exact same theme that @seth_weisfeld and I talked about last summer and I couldn’t agree more. our culture will increasingly demand that brands, if they want success, show their guts more and not be afraid to be a bit emotional, a bit more curious, have a sense of humor, less “know it all”, more thoughtful, more provocative… more human.

being human also gives brands permission to challenge. brands shouldn’t just coddle us and make us feel sexy all the time anymore; that feels so depressingly tired and I’m bored just thinking about it. let’s have a real conversation – let’s create spaces in our communications where we think and provoke and explore via brands.

imagine if H&M had gotten on board with Six Items. imagine if UNICEF directly facilitated the Fat Planner challenge. that’s interesting stuff, the kind of stuff that makes brands deeper, stickier, memorable – it’s the stuff that keeps the brand on people’s radar long after the experiment is done.

create and foster a fixed experience shift.
watch empathy/behavior change for a lot of people.
give them the language, talk with them and make the experience theirs just as much as it is your brand’s.