Big Ideas from a Small World

Change-vertising: Why it’s ok to make Dungeons and Dragons Jokes

Posted in From Canada, Get High Fives, Global Outlook by Ryan Thomas on May 27, 2009

This morning a good friend of mine and talented writer here in Toronto sent me the following e-mail:

I’ve been reading Goodson’s blogs and articles for days now, and analyzing case studies on the Strawberry Frog site. I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around the exact notion of Cultural Movements and how you would go about sparking one.
And also how you could project the success of your idea without actually having to execute it in order to sell the idea to a client.

I’m hoping you have some knowledge about this and could provide some insight?

Insight I have. Dental and Medical I do not. So without further ado…

Step 1:

kindling

Think of a closed culture as a log cabin. They are structurally sound, tightly packed and cozy – but above all they keep the outside out. We all belong to closed cultures or have at one time. Your family is a closed culture, your work place, your hobbies and interests make for great closed cultures.

Well before advertisers stumbled onto the idea of starting cultural movements, closed communities have been breeding them. Jazz spawned whole new way of looking at music, addressed racial barriers, and spawned some of the greatest cultural movements of the 20th century. Remember the beatniks were proto-hippies.

Now it’s important to make a distinction here.

Open Cultures are: Represented in mass media

Closed Cultures are: Not represented in mass media

For this example though, we are going to use one of the strangest closed cultures ever to grace North America:

Dungeons & Dragons

In the mid seventies there was nothing quite as geeky or socially ostracizing as Dungeons and Dragons. Groups of young men limited to 5 or 6 would sit in basements and spend entire afternoons fighting imaginary creatures and playing pretend. The game itself worked on a rules system that was totally inaccessible to people outside the community. To purchase books or products you had to find a store, a rare jewel where often the owners knew you by name.

In short if you were a member of this community you felt a sense of belonging and ownership – yet you were also an outcast.

Step 2:

wet

Closed cultures over time build up vocabulary, preferences and commonalities between its members. The stereotypes often associated with the gay community did not start that way. They developed as a cultural short hand. A way of seeing and speaking that told others that you were a member if they also spoke the same short hand.

Skateboarders did the same thing, though were far less persecuted. If you didn’t know what a heel flip was, you did not belong to the community. It was a simple test and you were a tourist.

These communities developed well in advance of the internet and today closed cultures dry much more quickly. Meme’s can now race through a community over night, developing what once took years in a matter of days.

In our Dungeons and Dragons example cultural short hand revolved around the rule system already packaged with the game. A great roll on a 20 sided dice would let a character do amazing things. Members of the culture announcing “I roll twenties” is a kin to rappers promising “I’ll make it rain on these hoes“. Once a closed culture has developed a cultural shorthand, brands have an opportunity to partake in the culture.

Twentiesshirt

Nothing is more tragic than when marketers start fires with wet kindling. Free running never had a chance to really develop before it started appearing in marketers’ pitches. It never got the opportunity to call something it’s own before it was sold back to its members.

Step 3:

trees

So you have a culture that is under represented and perfect for your brand. It has its own shorthand. But how do you know if your culture is big enough to really get a good cultural fire started?

Look for trees around the cabin.

Many people may be associated with a closed culture by virtue of personal relationships. You many never have played D&D yourself but that boy you dated in university did. There were always sharp dice on his floor, his bookshelf embarrassed you at house parties. Or you had a Magic the Gathering phase in high school. You knew some of the terms associated with D&D but never really got involved yourself. In many articles about the death of Gary Gygax one of the founding fathers of Dungeons and Dragons his reach is estimated at 20 million players over 30 years. If the average person has upwards of 100 personal contacts, the question begs to be asked: how did D&D stay out of mainstream media for so long?

The same goes for jazz, street racing, guitar hero and about a million other closed cultures.

Your trees have reach and are well connected, if you start a fire big enough, they burn too and you’ll have a fire lit under the ass of a much larger culture.

Step 4:

spark

Use what you have learned about a culture. Borrow its language and images and bring it to mass.

Why mass media?

In an age where everyone is talking about social media, why would starting a cultural movement be about mass?

The answer is simple: To open a closed community’s doors.

Television represents the collective everyman. Even in a market of 1000’s of specialty channels, if it’s on television or on radio or on the side of a billboard, surely you’re not alone.

The community is bigger than you think.

  • Skateboarding is not a crime.
  • He’s a hip cat.
  • I have a plus one to social rolls.

That’s the best activator of social media you will ever find. Suddenly people are willing to say ‘I did it’ or ‘I used to know someone’. The closed community grows and with it your brand and the connections you have made.

It’s high risk and still requires great creative, but sparking a cultural movement means your brand is no longer simply jumping on trends but helping people to connect and recognizing their passions.

Here are some of the closed communities growing in Toronto today:

  • Fixie Bicycle Riders & Slow Bike Gangs
  • Amateur Burlesque & Sideshow groups
  • Stictch n’ Bitchers & Square Foot Gardeners
  • Web & Indy Comic Readers

Given time any one of these could develop into a brand new touch point to help grow people’s personal interests and your brand.

Happy Rolling D&D Image

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  1. […] Read the original: Change-vertising: Why it’s ok to make Dungon’s and Dragons Jokes […]


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