Jeff Rosenblum is the co-founder of Questus and the creator of The Naked Brand, a documentary about the future of the advertising industry. The documentary shows how the industry can help save the planet one small step at a time, and features business and marketing leaders like Kevin Plank, Tony Hsieh, Alex Bogusky and B. Bonin Bough.
I interviewed Jeff for my book SOCIAL STATE, and below I've included the content included in the book, as well as the rest of our conversation. In this Q&A, Jeff shares about the origins of The Naked Brand, as well as the industry's evolving role, corporate transparency, and much more.
“We had no idea that we would discover this amazing story that the advertising industry can help save the world.”
Esteban Contreras: The Naked Brand is a documentary about how advertising needs to evolve. What’s the story?
Jeff Rosenblum: The funny thing is that we never set out to specifically make a documentary. We simply started out with an observation. We realized that consumer communication has gone through a complete revolution over the past decade. Search, mobile and social technologies have made brands completely transparent, and simultaneously, ad avoidance technology has completely disrupted the marketing industry. So, we set out to create a brief video discussing the revolution that is going to take place in the world of advertising. We had no idea where it would take us, and we certainly didn’t think it’d turn into a documentary including some of the most important and influential executives in the world. And, we had no idea that we would discover this amazing story that the advertising industry can help save the world.
EC: Why and how should leading brands celebrate and empower consumers?
JR: Consumers are already empowered. Advertising campaigns no longer create brands. Rather, a brand is created through the totality of an experience, and perceptions of that brand are based largely upon the way consumers communicate with each other. Rather than trying to manipulate their social image, businesses should focus inwardly - create great products, provide excellent services, diminish the negative effect that the business has on the environment, and treat employees with respect. Subsequently, consumers will admire the corporate values and carry the brand message forward. The fundamental discovery in the film is that a brand identity is based upon its behavior rather than its advertising message. This doesn’t preclude a company from doing powerful and exciting things through social media. But many brands focus first on leveraging social media to empower consumers before considering corporate behavior, and that is extremely inefficient.
EC: What are examples of a recent agency execution that demonstrates otherwise?
JR: There are a lot of great brands that are creating inventive, successful ads. Chipotle’s “Back to the Start” is an incredible advertisement. Red Bull’s initiative to support Felix Baumgartner’s jump from outer space is an unprecedented project, and I think, an example of the newest definition of advertising. The ironic part is that when brands actually focus less on advertising they create the opportunity to develop a world class ad, because those ads are based on reality, and it’s simply the role of the agency to develop a creative, emotional layer that sits on top of that real world story. The other thing you’ll notice is that the creative canvas has fundamentally expanded. We’re no longer limited to a 30 second TV spot, or a full-page print ad, or an 350*250 banner ad. Great brands create immersive platforms. When brands have a great story to tell and can do it in an unprecedented way, consumers want to immerse themselves in that content and spread the story in a way better than paid media ever could.
EC: Can social media help rebuild lost trust?
JR: Sure, social media can rebuild trust, but it can also break down trust. Social media really just provides a lens to corporate behavior. So the real focus for brands should be on internal behavior that gets consumers to say what the brand wants said on social media. Ad gimmicks in the social space won’t have any real meaning in the long-term. Social communication will happen whether a brand participates or not, so it’s the brand’s job to create something worth advocating.
EC: Companies like Pepsi have made bold moves with "social good" campaigns like Pepsi Refresh, and we can all agree on the win-win benefits of this approach. However, is there a danger in corporations having so much power that they start taking over the responsibilities of other organizations, such as non-profits, churches and government begin? And what's the danger in jumping on bandwagons only for the sake of profit?
JR: I don’t think there’s any danger for corporations getting involved in social good. You can never have too many people participating in making the world a better place. I think the only danger for corporations is when they start doing it for solely altruistic reasons. Then it just becomes a short-lived marketing trend, and brands will move on as soon as they see a new shiny object. One of the important messages within the film is that when brands do things that move the planet forward, they make more money. Those are the stories that consumers want to share, and when consumers share a story it becomes a de facto ad platform. As long as corporations can be more responsible for the planet and find a way to build their brands and generate profits, I see absolutely no downside.
EC: Alex Bogusky is an example of someone who drove change in the ad industry and then left when he didn't see enough impact in terms of meaningful business transformation. What can ad executives and CMOs learn from Alex and his new venture Common?
JR: There’s a lot to learn from Alex Bogusky, who was instrumental in constructing the story behind The Naked Brand. Specifically, I love his philosophy on corporate transparency. “Transparency,” he says, “is not a choice. It’s going to happen. The only choice is: does it happen to you, or do you participate in it? And when it happens to you, it has proven to be really ugly.” What we can learn from Common is their dedication to transparency. For example, in the spirit of community and being transparent, they broadcasted their board meetings on the web with real time streaming. Regardless of whether the information was positive or negative, they decided to share it. I don’t think that’s going to make or break the Common brand, but it is an important demonstration of transparency. And that’s extremely powerful.
EC: If today's hot startups were to become tomorrow's big corporations, what would you recommend they do in the next few years in order to make the world a better place?
JR: I think the most important thing we need in corporate America is powerful leadership. If you consider some of the most important brands, whether or not they’re in the film – Apple, Amazon, Under Armour, Patagonia, Chipotle, Virgin America – all of these brands have powerful leadership teams that are willing to take risks and break down the silos that exist within their organization. Their marketing, operations, customer service, and product development are all in close communication with one another. They realize that it’s the totality of the consumer experience and the synergy created through interdepartmental communication that creates a breakthrough brand, not simply a great advertising department. And that’s pretty easy for a small start-up to do. Many of them are conceived around a ping-pong table doubling as a conference room. But as many of them grow up and gain responsibility, it becomes easier to be siloed. The breakthrough brands are the ones that fight against the natural pull toward boundaries and corporate silos and continue to focus on the needs of the consumer. Apple is now the most valuable company in the world. According to the Steve Jobs biography, every single Monday he got key leaders of his team together for a meeting. That’s extremely hard to do, of course, because everyone is busy, and adding one more meeting to the calendar is difficult. But it proves is that even giant corporations – when they’re committed to breaking down the silos – can act like a start up, and the returns are unprecedented.
EC: What advice would you give to young advertising professionals who want to drive meaningful change?
JR: Take risks. Have a good time. Break the rules. Be positive and supportive of your teammates. But don’t accept anything but their absolute best. Remember there’s going to be a revolution that takes place in the world of advertising. You can be a part of that revolution, or you can watch from the sidelines. The choice is yours.