Art & Commerce: Seizing the Global Soul

We humans are all 90 percent the same. Our world has become a mash and hybrid of everything. We’re influenced by things happening on the other side of the globe. And I’m not just speaking of urbanites, but everyone with access to the Net.

So what do marketers need to know about this global soul? There is opportunity, but also a greater sense of peril. Universal insights into human values increasingly join more and more of us around the world, but not in the form of one top-down advertising campaign. Rather, different technologies and tools help marketers attract a unified mosaic of diversity.

A starting point in understanding this new world is to look at current trends in the cultural conversation. Welcome to transculturalism, goodbye monoculturalism and its ancestor, multiculturalism. Our generation is all about cultures coming together and quickly mutating, creating an ever-evolving mosaic of a hybrid global-organic culture. You see it in design, arts, media, social interactions, music, film homages, TV remakes, food and drink fusions, and advertising.

Remember the surprise of Vong’s French-Thai menu? Now you can find that kind of fusion almost everywhere. Look at the “active mosaic” in the drinks world, where two dynamics are pushing us forward: the engineer approach of replacing ingredients in a product and balancing a proposition (e.g., sake replacing vodka or tequila in mixed drinks), and the marketer approach of creating a story behind the product and generating appeal (e.g., green-tea saketini or sakeriniha, which is sake with kiwi and grapes).

For Don Julio, our agency came up with the idea of Dom Pom—tequila on the rocks with a splash of POM pomegranate juice and a frozen tequila-infused salted lime.

The active mosaic in food is rampant across the world. Sushi is now a staple in every small city I’ve visited recently in the U.S. And in the U.K., the former foreign secretary, Robin Cook, noted several years ago: “Chicken tikka masala is now a true British national dish, not only because it is the most popular, but because it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences. Chicken tikka is an Indian dish. The masala sauce was added to satisfy the desire of British people to have their meat served in gravy.”

So what do marketers need to remember when navigating the growing mosaic? One can’t stay above or navigate across the mosaic with a bland culture that is, globally, ultimately relevant to no one. One must own a piece of the mosaic, and it must be true. Authenticity rules. Aiming for the universal insight can link common values globally, but with the opportunity for local flavor and bottom-up engagement.

Another area of influence on our lives comes from “riding the oceans.” The ever-growing online gaming experience is in its infancy. Communities are global. Players are playing and chatting for hours with the same people. In this give and take, you get to know your fellow players, and their real and their virtual worlds. In the latter, those persistent worlds evolve round the clock. Hence the status of your character may have changed while you were sleeping. Check out the World Sudoku League (www.wsl.nu), where “every day at midnight GMT a new daily Sudoku board is uploaded.”

Furthermore, aficionados develop their network, hopping from contact to contact, meeting in forums. They know the events happening in their own country as well as events in any other country on the planet. Even if not physically traveling there, they know all about it via the Internet.

If you have the Internet, your world is huge, even if you live in Wichita Falls, Texas. Social networking inspires people across the globe to seek out friends in Milwaukee and Mongolia. These same worldwide networks are developed through e-mail, through casual friends, through work. Individuality is changing (just look at the youth in China and their explosion on the Internet). See also: pan-Pacific cuisine, Nobu, Mavi jeans, green-tea everything, martial arts, Kill Bill, electronically mediated life, gaming, 3G mobile telephony and the Manga aesthetic (something our agency has tried to capture in our work for Asics’ Onitsuka Tiger sneakers and sportswear, at madeofjapan.com).

What’s changing our culture the most? People moving around our planet in unprecedented numbers. There are new Asian/Latin American communities in North America, Hmong Chinese in Wisconsin, Salvadorans in New York and Los Angeles, Caribeans in Toronto, Brazilians in Quebec City, American exiles in Amsterdam and London, Canadians and Brits in the United States, new immigrants to Japan and Finland (finally).

This has affected our lives in diverse ways: Package holidays have gone intercontinental (Teutonic Thailand). Bollywoodization. DIY pan-spirituality. A bigger market for EU and Nafta. NATO as culture. In the Latin world, from Italy to Chile, there’s reverse immigration and colonial reattachment. There’s New York music with a Euro platform: Interpol, the Strokes, Scissor Sisters. The fashion axis is in Paris, London, New York, Milan. The common mass-entertainment platform has local influences. The hottest Britpop? It’s made in Toronto by second-generation Indians. For those looking for the economical nose job or breast implant, southern-hemisphere medical tourism is on the rise in Brazil, a country with a new sense of self-sufficiency. I’m writing this from the seat of an impressive new Embraer 190, made in Brazil.

To leapfrog the global economies, emerging cultures are exploring creativity in ways that would make you blush. Last year, while judging the Titanium at Cannes, I saw many entries from Eastern Europe and very few from France, Italy or Spain. Creativity is alive in the emerging economies. Our agency is working for a global Turkish brand. On a recent research study, our team came across the most extraordinary urban graffiti covering Istanbul that echoes the kind of graffiti I’ve seen in Brazil and expresses the kind of social change I remember from New York and Stockholm in the 1980s.

What do marketers need to know? When everything around you is in flux, it’s important to be anchored and consistent. The brands that matter are those that are the quintessential definition of their category.

Essentialist brands define the premium‚ for the category.

An increasingly common theme across the globe is that the good life is now the big life. Doing more, going further and connecting to others. He who collects the most experiences wins.

Finally, take our own industry. The hybrid merger of disciplines, cultures and technology is remixing the advertising talent base and making for the kind of creative renaissance that hasn’t been seen on Madison Avenue since Mr. Bernbach’s days.