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Tom Nixon

Companies need to realise their markets are often laughing. At them.

Today is the 10th anniversary of The Cluetrain Manifesto – a set of 95 theses about how business is changing forever – that became a book of the same name. Although the term ‘social media’ wasn’t used until years later, many people hail Cluetrain as the start of this new world, and it’s been a huge influence on us here at NixonMcInnes since we started in 2000.

To mark the 10th anniversary of Cluetrain, a wiki has been set up where people have been volunteering to pick up one of the theses and write a blog post about it.

I grabbed theses No. 20, mostly because I thought it would be fun to write about:

“Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At them.”

So here goes…

In 2006, Chevy decided to invite the world to help it create advertising slogans for the Tahoe. In the era of ‘user generated content’ this had to be a cool idea, right? Err, no. The results were brutal, with people all over the world slamming the “mighty four-legged, earth munching, grass-mowing, tree-felling, carbon-spewing beast of dirt trails (rarely) and grid lock (mostly)

You see, in the age of Cluetrain, a brand isn’t something that you position and control. Your brand is whatever the people out there say you are. And as Chevy found out, they’re often laughing at you.

And you don’t just get laughed at when you invite the crowd to write advertising slogans for you. Next time you have a corporate slip on a banana skin, you’re gonna get laughed at. Very publicly.

Having rats infest your fast food restaurant is unlucky. Having a TV crew show up is unwanted attention. But having a million people forward the clip to their friends because they think it’s funny. Well, that’s Cluetrain.

Oooh, people are cruel aren’t they? Yep, but it’s hardly surprising after centuries of corporations telling us what to think them.

Even messages to your own employees will make their way into the public domain, and you can get laughed at for that too, as Mike Soutar found out.

“It makes such a difference”

So where does all this leave us? Well, it leads us quite neatly onto thesis No. 21 – “Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.”

No company has done this better than Blendtec. Taking their slightly awkward, nerdy CEO and putting him in front of a camera blending stuff that was never meant to be blended. From an initial outlay of $50, Blendtec have increased sales by 700% just by allowing people to laugh with them, and not just at them.

And at this juncture, I’ll hand the baton over to Jay Moonah who will tell you more.

Let us know what you think about this thesis in the comments.

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