The Spark explores the sometimes nutty, but always fascinating, relationship between Marketing, Brand-Building and Pop Culture. What happens when marketing plans, ideas and efforts meet the fluid reality of pop culture?

Popular culture is the marketplace where consumers collectively manifest needs, desires, likes and dislikes. And, yes, figuring it all out is becoming increasingly difficult, given the speed with which information can be disseminated. At the click of a mouse, attitudes change and perceptions shift. It’s paramount, then, for marketers to let go of outdated assumptions and stop relying on shallow insight. Many have already done so. But there are many that haven’t. In those cases, you see a train wreck (ask Janet Jackson) or there’s the marketing equivalent of a tree falling in the forest (look at Burger King over the last year or so): Oh, it fell, but few knew and none seemed to care.

What helps—and what’s missing for a lot of “products”—is a soul. To my mind, a soul is what makes a “product”—be it a company, a musician, a can of soda—more than just a commodity. A soul keeps your company or whatever you’re selling alive and in touch with living human beings. It’s what propels a product past commodity stage and makes consumers feel like its about more than just getting them to buy burgers, sneakers, digital music players. That’s why it’s McDonalds, not Burger King (I really do have a soft spot for BK, so I wish this wasn’t the case). It’s Nike, not Reebok. It’s JetBlue and definitely not Ted or Song. It’s an iPod and absolutely no other digital music player.

Maybe a company becomes a brand—a great brand, no less—when it is able to speak to something that’s universal. Pop culture affects the way these universalities are conveyed. When it’s done right—and “right” changes moment to moment—consumers feel less like consumers, and more like human beings. That’s when you get “buy in.”

I fully expect this space to evolve over time. With just a few posts, it already has. I don’t have all the answers—just a point of view based on my experiences—so your comments are welcome.

That said, let’s spark dialogue. Insight. Creativity. Maybe, even, great marketing.

Posted by Rob Fields