Capitalizing on Piracy: turning a bad word into a useful arsenal

Its been done for eons now. My first tryst with piracy was before I even knew it had a name or was perceived to be a bad thing. As kids in school we were always compiling music CDs for each other – the source was usually a friend with a speedy internet connection who downloaded it off a torrent.

Not too long ago, getting content to an audience slowly started to become more important than monetizing it right away. The shift began with independent artists streaming their music online for free and encouraging listeners to pay what they could to download it.

Cut to 2013 and the era of Content being King. In the music world, it’s fast revamping the business model. Piracy implies getting something through illegal means/without paying for it – well, what if you remove the ‘illegal’ tag? It suddenly makes the act less enticing. Amanda Palmer says it beautifully in her TED talk, where she states “Don’t make people pay for music,let them”. The industry is moving from making people pay for content to allowing them the choice. It’s the best way to disarm the monster. Justin Timberlake for example, decided to stream his new album 20/20 online for free before making it available for purchase in stores. The zeitgeist has forked the business model – there’s now the free and the paid. And free isn’t hurting anyone’s bank account. If anything, allowing people to have something for free is turning passive listeners into supporters who sometimes choose to buy an album to show support for the artistDonating = Loving

It isn’t just the music industry that has realised this. HBO recently publicly declared that they consider piracy a form of flattery. Game of Thrones is among Pirate Bay’s top torrent download and the producers of the show aren’t afraid of it harming sales.

The obvious benefit is effective marketing and spreading to a wider audience base, but it also ups the pressure on content creators to increase perceived value of their offering.

What does this mean for branded content in other categories? I don’t have definitive answers, but here’s a few points to ponder:

– Hustlers inc: When you put the illegal tag on something, the offering becomes that much more sought after and knowing how to get it gives you social brownie points. In other words, holding back makes the offering sweeter for those who find a way to get it.

– Free for friends and family: Giving away something valuable for free makes people feel closer to you…you’ve invited them into your circle and made them a friend. This isn’t the same as promotional chachka, the consumer can tell the difference.

-Vulnerability is in: How can you let people support your brand? Showing vulnerability is one way of humanizing your brand and connecting with people. Like Amanda Palmer,like reddit or wiki, it’s okay to let people see you’re vulnerable and could use the monetary support. What incentive are you giving people for them to offer up some scrilla? (without expecting it as a given)

What once started out as a barter system of money for content is slowly evolving into an honour system, one that encourages the end user to come forth, be part of the creation process and make a contribution out of choice. The traditional purchasing model isn’t going anywhere, and shouldn’t either but maybe accepting piracy as a parallel model and embracing it won’t be such a bad thing. Thoughts?

Straight from the Heart

 I experienced Canada’s annual meeting of eclectic minds – ideaCity 2010 for the first time this year and was blown away by the diversity of speakers on this year’s all-women panel. From Olympic gold medalists to mind-readers, from comedians to sexperts, the mental stimulation kept flowing. But, what was most interesting,and memorable amongst all these wise 20 min mental fodder sessions, were 3 speakers whose stories were a sharing of real life. Robert McAfee Brown once said: “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.”  I couldn’t agree more, especially when those stories were so interwoven with the person themself.

Buck Angel, a female-to-male transgender star in the adult entertainment industry, opened my mind with his take on sexuality being a matter of the mind, and how he believes what lies between one’s legs should be of no consequence to a person’s sexual preferences. He was so honest and straightforward , that he made the topic of transgender, sex, and porn seem completely palatable.

On the other side of Buck, was Nina Arsenault. A male to female transgendered person And Canada’s most famous one at that. Nina takes delight in savouring the feminine form as an art object. Her views, much like Buck’s, are about daring to explore her inner construct. As she says, ‘If you don’t fit in, everybody’s looking for what’s wrong with you, and society is constantly defining what is ‘real’. Both Buck and Nina comes from a simple standpoint of ‘telling their story’, nothing more, nothing less.

Then, there was Natalie McLennan. Bright academic theatre student, who went to New York to make it big. She succeeded,but not in quite the same capacity she set out to. She became, NYC’s #1 escort. Her story,is one of triumph…of emerging from the murky depths of prostitution,getting her act together and even writing a book about it. Her message – to give people a chance and refrain from labelling. I found her story appealing as it takes courage to stand up on stage and talk about life as a hooker. But she told her story, and came through as being as real as it gets.

What unites Buck,Nina and Natalie, is that their stories are so intense, yet told in as calm and simplistic a manner as possible. No fabrication. No fakeness. What this did was, create acceptance,applause and genuine respect for them.

I believe brands can learn from them. The sooner brands start talking from the heart,the quicker they become relatable. For example, even though Harley Davidson has a certain mystique around it, it speaks from the heart to the spirit of the biker in its “We believe” commercial.  It is in showcasing who you are, and baring all, that you are remembered, liked and even admired. Yea sure there can be an enigmatic aura around the brand, that’s what keeps it exciting, as long as it still comes through as open, direct and transparent.

As with all things,brands included, the best way to go, is always straight from the heart.

Molson Canadian: more than just beer

For a beer brand to make commercials that instill a sense of patriotism and national pride is rather commendable. That’s exactly what Molson Canadian has done. The commercial has an average Canadian lad up on stage, proudly dispersing stereotypes about Canada and telling the audience what Canada is and is not.

Firstly, why Canada? Could any other nation pull off a similar ad? Yes and no. Molson Canadian has hit upon a very delicate spot – Canadians are always trying to shake off the American yoke and are tired of playing second fiddle to Uncle Sam. The beer has merely acted like a catalyst in helping Canadians embrace their land and feel proud to be Canadian,instead of apologetic about their differences.

Some lines from the ad ( I believe in peace-keeping, not policing, Diversity not assimilation ) stand out sharply as Canada’s attempt at standing taller than the States; while others are clearly pride drivers (Canada is the 2nd largest landmass! The 1st nation in hockey! And the best part of North America).

All this, while keeping ‘beer personality’ codes in mind: that of being a loud, back slapping, guzzler drink/buddy beverage and hence could plug this need gap, of being able to boldly stand up for the country.

They have even gone on to make a commercial with an “I am Canadian” anthem, which is pure goosebump material; especially when sitting in a bar, it’ll make you want to proudly call for a Molson.

What is truly wonderful, is how even though the beer isn’t really top-notch, it has created a powerful tool for itself – a symbol of what the country stands for. Canadians are stereotyped just as much as any other country is, if not more and this is ad helps debunk a handful of those stereotypes,especially American beliefs.

Another point in question: Do brands that take on a larger role garner a stronger place in the consumer’s heart? Because nowhere in the commercial is there any mention of what the product is like, and yet by the end of it, it makes you want to stand up and clap and go out and buy a Molson. Market leader being Corona, and Heineken at number 2, Molson Canadian shares 3rd place with Miller Genuine Draft. For a beer that doesn’t quite deliver on taste, the advertising has certainly pulled a lot of its weight.

Molson Canadian to me, has become quite a cult brand with these ads. Patriotism is a tricky topic to touch upon given that you could come off sounding preachy if not done right.

EDIT: July 2013
Molson recently brought back its ode to patriotism for Canada Day this year. 10 years after the first communication (above) of its kind was out. This one was brand activation based and hinged on a strong insight. Again, goosebump material. Here’s what they did: Molson fridge