Turning Common Assumptions of Branding on Their Heads

COMMON Pitch Posters, August 2011
COMMON Pitch Posters, August 2011

The dizzying speed at which technology and innovation advance, along with new tools like social media platforms, are changing the way individuals and companies approach business.  And now business as we know it is evolving.  A simple action like one-for-one shopping (or “BOGO,” buy one get one) can make an individual feel like a philanthropist.  Traditional notions of what is behind branding, marketing, and licensing are all undergoing transformation.  Prototyping and collaboration are integral to developing products and services that both do good and work well.  To that end, a creative community in Boulder, CO is leading the way.

COMMON launched in January as a “creative community for rapidly prototyping social change.”  Combining the experience and talent of Alex Bogusky, Ana Bogusky, Rob Schuman and John Bielenberg, COMMON links entrepreneurs with the creative community to speed up social change and innovation.  This bunch in Boulder may redefine what it means to be a brand.  What used to be exclusive will now be inclusive, and instead of incubating, COMMON is determined to “out-cubate.”

Alex Bugosky spent a career building and transforming popular brands from the Mini Cooper to Burger King.  As he told the Sustainable Industries Economic Forum last week, he became successful over the years, but felt more uncomfortable participating in a culture that encouraged consumption and brand devotion.  Coupled with his belief that the earth’s ecosystem is reaching a tipping point, he decided he wanted to do his part to change the nature of how we do business.

According to Bugosky, people have spent the past 100 years trying to get away from each other, with everyone convinced he or she needed to own everything individually from their own home, their own car, and their own swing set.  But how do you communicate that with an air of levity, instead of browbeating people with a dystopian view of what the future will be like if we continue our current paths of consumption?  It was is enough to replace disposability with sustainability; secrecy with transparency; embrace collaboration instead of competition, and celebrate the community, not the individual.  No, said Bugosky, starting and running a business had to be FUN.

He connected with Bielenberg and Schuman, who two weeks ago at PSFK’s San Francisco Conference recalled one of the group’s most successful events, COMMON Pitch.  The Pitch on August 19 combined the best of a venture capital competition, live talent show (without a Simon Cowell), and crowdsourcing for ideas.  Since COMMON had no idea how the event would pan out, a band was hired to perform and give the event a musical punch.  The results far exceeded COMMON’s expectations.  Hundreds of companies sent in their ideas, and ten were selected to make their pitch to a live audience and panel of local celebrity judges.  Votes selected the winner, Bell Lamps, which manufactures cost effective portable lamps that use solar energy to provide both economical lighting and cell phone recharging.  Incidentally, most of the audience left before the band performed as the “collaborative competition” (or competitive collaboration?) shined on its own.  Events like COMMON Pitch and other “accelerator events” are designed to rapidly develop social ventures, under an umbrella of a unified and collaborative brand.

Entrepreneurs with an idea can join or start various collaborative brands. COMMON Farms is a means by which local and organic farmers can find simplified distribution channels to stores.  Coffee Common aims to promote fair trade and sustainably grown coffee while connecting them to consumers, stores, and baristas who looking to change how we view and consume this timeless beverage.  And Common Cycles will work to link bamboo production and manufacturing to make bicycling more affordable while creating jobs in central Alabama.

Can COMMON challenge common notions of what makes a brand?  Many will be skeptical in a market where we are alpha consumers, brand mavens, or practice brand affinity–even if many of us do no understand those last three terms that I tossed out.  But at a time when many innovators, entrepreneurs, and dreamers with an idea feel that have no one to turn to but themselves and each other, COMMON and its participants could change the business and social innovation landscapes in ways a crowd in a Boulder theater could not have imagined just two months ago.

Learn more at Common.is.

Photos courtesy of COMMON.


Leon Kaye is a consultant, writer, and editor of GreenGoPost.com and also contributes to The Guardian Sustainable Business; you can follow him on Twitter.  He lives in Silicon Valley.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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