A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to be invited to participate in Future Foundation’s latest initiative to uncover insight and stimulate new thinking – an urban insight safari! #ffsafari
The idea requires gathering together a collection of brand owners, strategists and researchers, drag them out of their cubicle farms, then taking them to places that challenge while feeding them with intense experiences that stimulate and surprise.
The Liminal Space created an afternoon in London designed to expose us to a) Emotive Consumption b) Community Sustainability, and c) Contemporary Connoisseurship.
First, we went to Victoria Miro in NW1 to see work by Grayson Perry & Sarah Sze. I consider myself a blend – 50% traditionalist, 50% philistine – so this definitely took me to a place where I was anything but comfortable. I quickly became aware of the space around us, especially the way in which the gallery uses height to change perspectives, as a substrate for work. I’m reminded of New York, which is the only city where I ever walk around and remember to look up. There is virtue in going to a gallery, taking a pause and re-framing how we look at ‘everyday’ stuff.
Second, we went to a part of London most people avoid, to visit an urban farm collective who have regenerated a retail space through social enterprise and volunteering. It is now a self sustaining café & venue. Again, not my thing but I was struck by how every piece of their wacky and ambitious experiment had a story containing layer after layer and detail most people could never imagine.
Third stop was a tour through Borough Market designed to trick the senses and share a concept of how we will live in 2062. Most times I go there I am heading for a train or perhaps meeting someone at the excellent array of bars and gastro-stalls; the idea of stopping to ask what it is that makes it a special space has never occurred to me. Here I deviate from the plan, since the real value to me was not in what had been prepared for us but in the way my fellow participants were all engaging their senses to evaluate the stimulus: flavours, noises, smells and textures…
The overriding lesson for me was the role of the ‘narrative’. It was a common thread running through all three experiences. Whether it be the artists explaining their exhibition, the tale of urban regeneration or the provenance associated with food – they were linked by the requirement to tell a story and the voracious appetite of people around them – not just to listen to it, but to join in. We have always told stories, but in recent years we’ve lost the ability by overdependence on the media to do it for us. Now though technologies have awakened in each of us a desire to get involved, co-author, mash-up and share. This isn’t confined to art and culture (where perhaps it was always alive and well) but has become part of everyday life: an Instagram picture on a FB page, a review about a book via amazon.com or a tweet connected to a newsworthy local incident.
The commercial implication for brands is straightforward. Society doesn’t want to be told a story, it wants to be part of a story. Brands need to consider carefully the narrative, which bits they need to own or use to guide us versus those we want to open source and share. Agencies and brands need to give careful consideration to the role of their audiences in co-creating the materials that drive advocacy and the channels used to share the story.