This week saw the completion of Collective Spirit, a boat built as part of the celebration of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. This is a remarkable piece of art in its own right, as well as being an example of and a metaphor for the development of what I believe are a number of key themes in today’s marketing and communication landscape (or should that be seascape).
The boat has taken a year to build, and is made up of 1200 thin slices taken from a collection of “everyday” objects donated to the project; mostly by the public. The vast majority is highly personal to their previous owners, and each is embedded with its own story, all of which add to create a greater whole (or should I say ‘hull’). Arguably the centerpiece is a guitar once played by Jimmy Hendrix, but in the context of the overall idea, this does not dominate. It sits alongside a peg (that a lady used to gather all her important documents), a ruler (a key tool used by an architect before the advent of computers and part of a wooden spoon (used by someone’s beloved mother when baking).
As a whole the boat represents a ‘floating collage’ of peoples lives and memories and metaphysically a richness of stories that each component part sparks.
I also think it is representative of a number of key frameworks that have come to the fore in recent times, as brands respond to the changing marketing environment that all brands are having to respond to.
The name itself points to the more obvious ones – crowdsourcing and collaboration.
Though each of these is linked to the power of the group (e.g. to solve problems and develop ideas), over and above that of the individual, I think this particular example also demonstrates that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, not just in terms of the end result, but also in the context of shared common experiences and stories. Some of the power of the latter comes through our own identification with events in stories, or their characters. By bringing together such a wide and distinct range of objects, people, and their stories we gain something of a precious stone with many facets that each reflect the light of life in their own way, whilst creating an overall sparkle.
Brands might do well to learn from this. Crowd sourcing and collaboration need not just be for the brands benefit, say in helping in the development of new product. The boat of itself is beautiful as a piece of art and as a statement of our shared culture and experiences, but the real richness lies in the multitude of individual and personal pieces and associated stories. As brands open themselves up to more input from and involvement with consumers, they perhaps be careful not to subsume all the small stories, both from within and outside the organization that can add to the richness of the brand story.
I’ll develop my thoughts about the relationship of other marketing frameworks to the “Collective Spirit”, in subsequent posts, and explore to what extent we can see brands as boats.
Are there any connections that you can see?