Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Coldplay's Yellow - The Quest for Erudition ?

While driving into office in the morning I was listening to Yellow. 5 years ago a friend introduced me to the song and to Coldplay - and I admired him for his erudition. More so because I think of myself as a bit of a musician. The thought just struck me however - at this time Coldplay was already very big. My admiration was only account my not knowing them - if the same were to happen today, I would treat the incident with some contempt. I already know them - and you think it a big deal ?
Question therefore - what is erudition ? There is no doubt that human beings admire it - and the greatest brands in the world represent it. But is it about what the erudite entity knows or about what I don't know ???
The puzzle - I don't know; and you tell me. Now I know. In this lies the mystery of brands dying. There are two parts to this puzzle - in this world of hyper-knowledge how do I know what you dont and how am I supposed to keep ahead of what you know. I do not have answers - but I can hazard a guess. If brands have to be ahead and brands need to continuously reinvent (in a relevant fashion) the answers would lie in thought leadership and society.
Mere scholarly pursuit of knowledge (dictionary meaning) cannot lead to erudition admiration. Insight is key. I remember an article in HBR I read years ago that gave some meaning to this. The hypothesis - society continuously evolves in a certain direction in a mass fashion, but secretly desires a different state. If a brand spots this discontinuity and adopts it in positioning, brand character or world - it appears to create new thought while actually resonating with secret desire. Two interesting examples the article took related to post world war 2 America. This was the time the US start white collaring - and a society which till then was outdoor centric started heading into offices to earn livelihoods to good to give up. In this cusp - two brands were born. Marlboro with the iconic cowboy and Mountain Dew with the grassroot hillbilly picked positions that perfectly fit the discontinuity and became gigantic.
I know it is dangerous to attribute post facto causality to successes - but treating this as a mere intellectual exercise, I believe I have a similar example from my ITC days (not that I was involved in it). In the mid 80's ITC took the Wills Navy Cut brand to India's most powerful tobacco brand. This was a time when traditional India was emerging to modernity and beginning to question the current mores of the man-woman relationship (quite inequal at the time). The "Made for Each Other" advertising campaign broke with shots of a man and a woman reading "The Polish Joke Book" together and sharing a good laugh. I believe at a subconscious level - viewers understood that the demonstration of an activity we believe to be individual and personal (i.e. reading a book) suddenly being shared was a demonstration of intimacy and sharing in the relationship which was absolutely new. I did'nt know you could have that kind of relationship at that time - I admire the brand for this new thought.
Which brings me back to Coldplay's Yellow. There is no sustainable basis on which I can admire the mere posession of knowledge. To admire erudition - I need insight. Tough, No ?


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