How to brand culture

In the world of goods and branding, an important power shift has taken place.

In general, the things we buy have become better, more reliable and more uniform in quality. This means that the values they represent - and the experiences they can deliver - are acquiring more power to determine whether someone buys them or not. As a result, the power to influence consumer decisions has shifted from the people who make stuff to those who tell others about it.

This is not rocket science. It is, however, hard for corporations to deal with because most are set up to talk to people in the flat language of brand statements and on-pack descriptions. And while they can change their language, the past ten years has shown that for brands, this is simply not enough; it just makes them look as if they are trying to keep up. They must change their idiom.

Words alone do not make a distant brand relevant. Participation and conversation do that. I set up John Doe to help brands to engage with the world in the quickest and most effective way; collaboration with people working with the contemporary culture that speaks to the audiences the brand needs to reach.

By contemporary culture, I mean the creative activities that allow ordinary people to feel as if they share the same practices and worlds as professional creatives. These activities, including underground fashion, music, board sports, photography and film-making, gaming and music, might have been sub-cultural a decade ago, but have now not merely gone mainstream - they are the mainstream.

Their practitioners are potential partners for a brand's journey to mainstream acceptance. But to make partnerships work in an enjoyable and liberating way, certain rules must be observed. These form the 'Manifes-Doe'.

  •  'Consumer relationships' is just another phrase for 'conversations'.
  • In the 21st century, 'brand' is just another word for 'story'.
  • If you are trying to communicate with people, you should be aiming to tell a story in a conversation, with beautiful and memorable moments.
  • It is easy, if sometimes expensive, to tell the world you are amazing. But doing so does not mean the world agrees. The aim is to get the world to say you're amazing.
  • Collaboration with contemporary culture is an effective way to do this.
  • Public cynicism about brands collaborating with contemporary culture is a myth you should ignore. The public is cynical only when the collaboration is badly executed.
  • To ensure good execution, brands must trust creatives, and creatives must trust brands. When one tries to impose its values on the other, the execution begins to fall apart.
  • Brands must talk in the language of the market they want to reach. To achieve this, they must accept help and share responsibility with people who live in that market. If you want to talk to fashion people, act like a fashion brand. It's not complicated.
  • Brand people and creative people should acknowledge that they are different, and then respect each other. Knowing your own limits is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • Your conversations and collaborations shouldn't deliver just impact, but content, meaning and legacy.

John Doe can facilitate this because we understand both worlds. We believe that the PR content we create makes a cultural difference - that's why we have the contact book we do, generate the results we do and stimulate the sales we do. To find out more, email us on

We are a PR agency and don't do ads. So we have donated our print ad to a far better cause than our own.


Which film title best sums up the spirit of your agency?

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - as an agency, we understand how to mobilise the good, the bad and the crazy to create revolutions.

Specialist journalists make the best specialist PROs. True or false?

False - the best talent makes the best PROs. Just because you can report doesn't always mean you can influence. PR is a craft in its own right.

How do you find spokespeople to whom your market responds positively?

To engage a market, you must deliver social currency and a good story. The best spokespeople have a point of view worth hearing and are not afraid to deliver it.

Rana Reeves is the founder of John Doe.

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