Zeus Jones believes brands are defined by what they do, not what they say. Modern brands are guided by purpose and built on experiences. We've been building a company from the ground up to deliver on this belief through strategy, creativity, design and digital expertise. We're proud to be doing it in collaboration with many great brands.
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Welcome! Here you will find essays on technology, trends and our take on making things work. Beyond that, we post design examples we love, and other cool stuff we find.
Unsurprisingly, one of the benefits of working with companies in different industries is that it opens you up to different perspectives. However, I’ve come to realise that the biggest differences between companies aren’t always betwen one category and the next, but often come down to whether the core business is built upon a physical product or a digital product.
I’m not talking about the obvious differences like distribution and manufacturing, but rather the more subtle differences like assumptions and expectations. The mental models of people within companies tend to be shaped by the products that the company makes. If those products are physical, the mental models tend to be bound by physical laws and vice versa.
Because these models operate on a very basic and fundamental level, it’s often possible to hear people within “physical companies” talk intelligently and coherently about digital strategy but within a physical context of segmentation and separation. Conversely, we’ve all heard seemingly sensible strategies for growth described by people who live within digital companies who have forgotten that some resources are limited and finite.
But neither model is all wrong or all right. Thinking within “physical companies” can be liberated by adopting a more digital mindset, and thinking within “digital companies” can be grounded and made real by adopting a more physical mindset.
On a bit of a whim, Rob and I recently went a conference on Platform Strategy at MIT. We’ve been interested in platforms for a while and have followed much of the published literature on the subject, but hadn’t had a chance to hear, in person, from some of the people who are pushing the field forwards. After a rough start, the speakers got consecutively better, more inspiring and more mind-blowing. At one point, before lunch, Rob and I turned to each other and said simultaneously, “I think I’m the stupidest person in the room, wait…”
Based on chatting with the other folks who were in attendance, as well as the bemused expressions we received upon explaining what we do, I am fairly certain we were the only marketing people there. In some ways this isn’t entirely surprising as some of the discussion was quite deep, technical and not at all focused on marketing. But, it’s also fairly damning considering the fact that all of the discussion was about business and the future of business.
“Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”
The big difference in my mind is that marketing delivers questionable value, whereas the value of platforms is being quantified in a wide variety of industries. Indeed the single biggest reason that platforms are so interesting is that they exhibit network effects, i.e. their value grows exponentially rather than linearly. Perhaps this is one reason why the companies that have built the most compelling platforms (Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc.) have also found less need for traditional marketing.
But in listening to the speakers talk about the challenges of building and growing platforms, there is still hope for marketers. Almost universally, platform owners described the “cultural challenges” of getting partners to participate and collaborate on a platform as far more difficult to overcome than the “technical challenges” of building and maintaining a platform.
So, while platforms deliver a fertile environment for interaction and collaboration, the challenges of aligning the needs, hopes and desires of network participants remains. And this is where marketers and brands have a unique role, because we ought to be the experts in “aligning the needs, hopes and desires” of diverse groups of people. And brands, especially those built around a purpose, ought to be designed specifically to create participation and collaboration.
Unfortunately, most of the marketing industry’s discussions of marketing and brand purpose are still tied firmly to communications and outdated models of business. Even today, “brand purpose” is used interchangeably with “brand positioning.”
But if platforms are the future of business then brands aren’t just a way to describe “what you do,” they are a way to describe “what we can do together.” And brand purpose doesn’t drive the kind of communications you create, it drives the kind of business you build.
In hindsight, it’s clear that the genius of Mio was not solely product innovation, it was the thinking around when and when not to extend a brand.
Working in CPG, we hear these discussions frequently, and the prevailing wisdom is that it’s always more efficient to launch a new product under an existing brand rather than creating a new brand. But this story highlights two of the factors that are calling prevailing wisdom into question:
Many CPG brands, like Crystal Light, were developed to capitalize upon consumer trends that no longer exist. Dieting is on the decline, the sales of “light” branded products across a variety of categories are weakening and not even product innovation can save a brand that is intrinsically tied to a behavior that people don’t have anymore.
Food and beverage is a category that is fragmenting not consolidating. This is a category where lowered barriers to entry have spurred innovation and reset consumer expectations. Longevity and scale are not as appealing as passion and progress; and newness, when combined with current, cultural relevance is often a safer bet than attempting to twist an established perception into an area that clearly doesn’t fit.
Netflix is a household name, a disruptive force and a prized element of daily life for most millennials. But our honeymoon phase with the streaming service could be winding down.
If you want proof of our wavering hopes for Netflix, just look at its stock prices. One week we’ll have high hopes for the company and the next week it will do something that makes people lose faith completely.* Competition is ramping up for the service, between the recently announced Xbox Originals, Apple making friends with Comcast, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus and HBO Go.
It’s safe to say, we’re no longer streaming on Netflix alone. Beyond that, Netflix has made deals with Comcast and Verizon, making people doubt it’s going to continue to fight for net neutrality as promised.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what Netflix can do to get back the traction they once had. From what I see, Netflix has several routes to earning investor/ consumer faith (which may be the same, may not).
For awhile, Netflix offering exclusive content seemed to be the beacon of hope people were looking for. People will keep their $8 subscriptions if it means they can watch House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. But more and more services are starting to offer original content, and chances are that Netflix will start to offer some stinkers along with its winners, diffusing our urge to watch most Netflix originals. Is content alone enough to keep our love of Netflix strong? Maybe.
Netflix is a disruptor plain and simple. When they first offered their streaming library, people realized they had something better than cable on their hands, for roughly 1/8 the price that Comcast was charging for Internet alone. This quickly made Netflix seem like an advocate for people, an alternative to all the overinflated systems cataloging and providing access to media.
But now that they’re making deals with Comcast and Verizon, they’re starting to seem like one of the big guys. (And, I guess, they raised their price by $2, but come on Netflix is still dirt cheap.)
Netflix’s initial proposition is providing access to movies and T.V. how people actually want to watch them (on multiple devices, on-the-go, at home, whenever they want, as much as they want). And everyone else started copying that. What else could Netflix do to become a provider of access? Could they start a book library service like Oyster (which calls itself The Netflix of books)?
Netflix is still beating all the other streaming services out there because it has a better user experience. There are no ads, it has its own complete brand and customized experience (which Amazon Prime is still far behind on with their streaming service), and it owns at using data to find you content you will like. Beyond that, they’re working on offering higher quality picture at faster speeds, which will please the nerds but probably do little for the average consumer who doesn’t faint at souped-up tech specs. What could they do to continue having the platform to beat?
I’m not sure which of these offerings Netflix considers to be at the heart of its mission. Maybe it’s all of them – and that’s ok. The more they try to continue being the company to beat in terms of content, advocacy, access and experience, the more they will retain the beloved position they’ve carved out for themselves. My gut tells me that advocacy above anything else is the most important quality for Netflix in the future. If they can continue disrupting systems that come between people and the stories they love to watch, they will continue to be beloved. But how will they do that? Now that’s an interesting challenge for people in this industry.
*I own shares of Netflix and T-Mobile, although at a somewhat negligible level. I believe I am supposed to disclose that if writing about them.
“Mr O’Mara himself [bookstore owner] told The Independent that theirBoys’ Book covers ‘things like how to make a bow and arrow and how to play certain sports and you’d get things about style and how to look cool in the girls’ book.” At the same time, he added: “We would never publish a book that demeaned one sex or the other.’
It is not like a publisher to leave a bandwagon unjumped upon, but Mr. O’Mara seems to have missed a trick. Hasn’t he heard of Suzanne Collins’ multi-million-selling Hunger Games trilogy, which has a female lead character and striking, non-pink cover designs, and is loved by boys and girls equally? For anyone else who has missed it, the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, is rather handy with a bow and arrow and doesn’t spend much time caring about looking cool.”
This doesn’t stop at kids’ books. Even though women make up the majority of fiction readers, books written by women are often covered in cake or ice cream-related imagery and set in pastels. Why are we only talking about kids’ books?
And why are we not talking about advertising? The kind of world wherein this happens:
Yes the people at Dr. Pepper are apparently sensationalist fratboys who can’t do fractions, but this still stung when it came out.
(Dear Dr. Pepper, being 1/1 isn't rare. It means every single person is like this. The higher the denominator, the more rare something is.)
I often wonder when the decision comes into play to cut off half of the population in marketing. Sure some products are definitely going to skew female or skew male, but oftentimes that will have more to do with the way they’re marketed than anything inherent about the product.
Yes Dove and Old Spice are probably fine marketing different products to men and women. But is this ever necessary with soda? Why does my Coke Zero can always have some kind sports graphics on it? Are they trying to reinforce to the men drinking it that Coke Zero is manly even though it’s diet? Doesn’t that insult men and women just a little bit? I mean after all it’s delicious, flavored, carbonated water. It’s not actually for either gender.
Millennials are a generation that has seen huge strides forward in tearing down traditional gender roles. And people even younger than us are growing up with Facebook gender options like this:
The more inclusive products can be the more they’re going to appeal to millennials and the generation after millennials (who are going to be out spending money soon). After all, we’re generations that grew up surrounded by marketing. We’re smart enough to know when it’s unfairly cutting us off, pandering to gender insecurity and just plain-old offensive. Aiming at both genders is probably going to make your product more flexible, forward-thinking and stylish. Better than inspiring lots of “buzz” from angry people right?
On March 1st, we marked Zeus Jones’ seventh birthday by opening our doors for business in San Francisco. Today, it becomes even more of a real thing as we’re finally able to tell the world that Neil Robinson is joining me as a Founding Partner of Zeus Jones San Francisco.
Neil was most recently the Executive Creative Director at AKQA San Francisco. Neil joined AKQA in London in 1997 as its tenth employee, a designer by trade. He moved over to San Francisco in 2004 to help bring the AKQA culture to their recent merger with Citron Haligman Bedecarré. Currently, Neil oversees all creative on clients such as Levi’s, Jordan, Visa, Google+ and Target. Neil instinctively gets the mission we are on and not only is he a great human being, he is also ridiculously talented. We are very lucky to have him join us.
I can’t wait to get to work with Neil and to start building a creative company for the modern age from the ground up – a skunkworks that challenges marketing as usual. I thought I’d ask Neil to write a few words about why he’s excited by this opportunity:
“Over the past 17 years, I’ve learned that the right partnerships are foundational to doing great work and establishing an inspired culture, so joining the Zeus Jones family today is an honor. I believe these relationships and our shared values will position Gareth and I well as we build the SF office.
I’m excited by the opportunities that exist for a dynamic and nimble Zeus Jones SF office to help clients in ways that are complimentary to their culture and that help them design the connective moments between marketing, products and services.
Gareth and I are dedicated to extending the creative culture of Zeus Jones Minneapolis, embracing an inventive and entrepreneurial spirit and creating a home for curious, hybrid thinkers. It’s day one and exciting times lie ahead!”
Wish us luck on the adventure we are about to undertake.
Naming is incredibly hard. If you’ve ever been involved in a naming process, you know just how much work is involved finding a name that’s meaningful but not overly telegraphic, evocative but not overly clever, and more importantly, not taken yet by someone or something else.
To make a client feel better about a naming process this week, ZJ CEO Rob White shared just how hard naming Zeus Jones was back in the day. The final result, he said, only came about when everyone was drinking lots of whisky, and it was actually the brainchild of a ZJ founder’s wife. While most people liked the idea of mashing a god (Zeus) with a regular guy (Jones), it took awhile for the name to fully grow on everyone. Such is the case with naming though. We have to grow into our names.
Curious about what the other name candidates were, I asked to see them. Luckily, Eric Frost had them on an old hard drive. They show a lot more restraint than the rejected names I often come up with for things!
Yellow Gray Black
THE CLYDE GROUP
There are many brands out there that probably won’t be around in 20 years. I see them everyday. These are mostly brands that have no chance of appealing to young people, because they’re big and cheesy, unsustainable, or just old-fashioned. Sure some of them will figure out how to innovate, but many of them won’t. I don’t want to lump Barbie in with this category, where I might put, say Olive Garden, because she is a classic icon of our culture, and her image just sticks to something in some girls like a magnet. (She’s also the #1 toy brand.) But after announcement of her new #unapologetic campaign today, I am wondering if it’s rough waters from here on out for Barbie and friends.
Just to recap: Barbie will be appearing in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue in a 4-page advertising campaign and in a cover wrap on limited copies of the issue, according to The New York Times. There will also be a limited-edition Sports Illustrated Barbie.
“As a legend herself, and under constant criticism about her body and how she looks, posing in … [the issue] gives Barbie and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are, celebrate what they have done and be #unapologetic,” Mattel said in a statement on Tuesday.
Despite all the potential for getting people to write opinion pieces that get mad hits that this has, let’s remember that Sports Illustrated and reality dating shows have nothing to do with children who play with toys.
For some reason Barbie’s marketers are trying really hard to market the doll to adults. Sure the Barbie Sports Illustrated issue is creating a lot of conversation, but for what good? Most of the conversation has to do with a) the fact that it’s creepy that a doll is gracing the cover of a magazine aimed at men looking for uh … reading material b) how strange it is that Barbie is #unapologetic about promoting body insecurity in young girls c) the fact that the campaign basically rips off Rihanna’s already somewhat patented way of talking about herself and how the public perceives hers as a woman in pop culture.
Barbie’s sales are slipping, and it’s not just because kids would rather play with Monster High dolls. It’s more likely that:
A) The idea of gender-targeted toys is increasingly being scrutinized by Gen-y parents.
B) Barbie’s blonde locks and blue eyes feel increasingly less relatable/desirable in a more and more diverse America. Heroes like Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham are giving girls something more intellectual/ real to look up to.
C) Barbie is cookie-cutter successful in a very 20th-century way (hot, has car, has job, has boyfriend) when 21st-century kids see many more options of carving out an identity of their own. At least Monster High dolls say it’s ok to be weird and freaky.
D) Barbie’s P.R. and marketing efforts are more interested in angering people and scintillating lonely parents than making play more imaginative for kids.
When I was a kid, I barely played with Barbies. She seemed boring to me compared to my American Girl Dolls. They lived through wars, escaped from slavery, and came with a series of books that helped me understand history, which, when you’re a kid is basically how you get a sense of what this world you live in is like. Barbie didn’t add much value to my life then. Considering her latest campaign, she seems to be getting even less relevant to culture. And that’s ok.
At Zeus Jones, we often talk about the value of conversations between brands and their consumers as inspiration for larger-scale awareness campaigns. Sunday night during the “Big Game,” Cheerios highlighted another key reason for brands to invest in always-on content: to continue the immediate conversations mass advertising has the potential to spark.
Although the story is still progressing 48 hours later, I’ve documented below how we collaborated with the Cheerios brand and digital teams to leverage game day buzz into continuing connections that truly deepen relationships and enhance experiences with the brand.
At times the team was guilty of delving into the dreaded #RTMBowl territory when other brands’ work aligned with our brand purpose, but overall we are most proud of how we turned people’s love for the 30-second ad into ongoing conversations that bring them closer to Cheerios and their families.
Big game commercials are typically mass advertising on steroids – image-based messages intended to grab attention by outshouting other brands and showcasing the supposed genius of their creators. At worst, these ads can waste a good portion of a brand’s marketing budget on a pandering gag that has little to do with the product or experience. At best, creative efforts to impress other marketing insiders serendipitously also make an impact with the American public at large.
This year’s Cheerios ad has a slightly different origin story. Back in May 2013, another adorable Cheerios ad unexpectedly generatedracist backlash for featuring a young biracial girl connecting with her white mother and black father. But with the hate came a lot of love, and one family was inspired to create We Are The 15 Percent as a way to connect with and celebrate multiracial families nationwide.
When the brand needed a new ad for the game, many voices advocated for bringing back the family from the Just Checking spot, including Big G President Jim Murphy and even a few journalists. And Zeus Jones’ own Christian Erickson chimed in with some inspiration from the Murphy-Wests, the family who was inspired by the first ad to create @WeAre15.
Our rockstar producer Leslie Brindley hopped on a plane, along with friends from Rickshaw Films and Big G Digital Marketing Manager Craig Pladson, to meet Michael, Alyson and Alexandra Murphy-West at Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Maine. A busy weekend netted a poignant profile of how they were inspired by Cheerios, and how their brand of family love is something that connects them with families of all kinds.
My favorite quote in the video comes from Alyson:
“We want to see the other one smile: that’s what a family is. It’s based on love, it’s built on love. And we’re no different.”
To us, the Murphy-West video connects the “Gracie” spot with the real families who inspired it, and whom it’s meant to inspire. It also connects the spot to a whole host of content we developed for Cheerios.com called The Family Breakfast Project.
The Family Breakfast Project
As part of our Cheerios.com redesign launched at the beginning of 2014, we worked with the Cheerios team to develop an always-on program that enrolls people in the Cheerios family – giving the brand, product and content ongoing roles in their lives.
Two of our creative dynamos, Elias Martinez and Rachel Hardacre, worked closely with Watertown, MA nonprofit The Family Dinner Project to leverage their exhaustive research and experience helping families connect over meals. The result is The Family Breakfast Project, profiled in more detail by Rachel on our blog here.
#FamilyLove on Game Day
Leading up to game day, community manager Kate Sommers used content from The Family Breakfast Project, Cheerios game day recipes and an invitation to share family pictures, to get our fans excited about one of our country’s largest events for family gatherings.
Throughout the big day and during the game, we enlisted the help of other General Mills community managers to continue conversations with families and influencers. We also leaned in to this unique advertising showcase by interacting with other brands whose ads shared our #familylove theme.
We saw firsthand through our analytics how much people appreciated both types of engagement.
When the Gracie spot finally ran late in the first quarter, the analytics went into warp speed, and for awhile we were frozen until things slowed back down. Then the community managers got right back to work. They responded to as many people as possible thanking them for their love, sharing behind-the-scenes footage to highlight adorable child actor Grace Colbert, and sending coupons to help them get started with The Family Breakfast Project. All the response led to another debate on our Facebook wall, as well as an unanticipated trending hashtag inspired by the spot.
The big game is advertising’s most important event, and Cheerios struck a nice balance between the Real-Time Marketing opportunities it provided and the more personal one-to-one engagements with viewers who connected over the ad’s theme of family love.
As positive responses have continued, we’ve used our social channels to move the conversation to the Murphy-West video, The Family Breakfast Project, and the coupon to help families connect over Cheerios.
Cheerios believes that when people come together, anything is possible. And at Zeus Jones, we believe that a brand’s beliefs and purpose can enlist partners and unite them on a mission to do something valuable for people.
That’s why we’re proud to announce the Family Breakfast Project – a partnership between Cheerios and The Family Dinner Project to help families start the day together and make the most of what each day will bring.
The Family Dinner Project is a grassroots movement whose mission is to help bring families to the table for food, fun and meaningful conversation. They do this because research has proven out that when families connect, it makes a lasting positive impact. Over the last few years, they’ve been traveling the country sharing the importance of family dinner and providing the tools, resources and inspiration that helps families make shared meals a reality.
In the same vein, Cheerios cereal has been a part of families sharing time together for decades. Over the years it’s been a part of so many families’ mornings, making it one of a very few truly ubiquitous American brands.
So when we brought the two together, it truly was a perfect fit. The Family Dinner Project looks to help families get back to the table for a meaningful mealtime, and Cheerios aims to help families start the day together with connecting over breakfast.
The Family Breakfast Project is an idea that lives at the heart of the newly redesigned Cheerios.com.
In partnership, we collaborated to create simple, fun ideas that helps families make the time to start having breakfast together.
The Family Breakfast Project page includes more about the value of family breakfast and also how to begin breakfasting together. A simple guide gives families 7 days of ideas to try out together to make mornings easier, more meaningful and more fun.
Each day of activities brings a different spin on how you can connect with your family. Day 6 is all about love. The placemat activity on day 6 gives a simple craft a meaningful touch by filling each placemat with words of love for each family member.
John Sarrouf, the director the Family Dinner Project, shared a few of his thoughts on the Family Breakfast Project:
“With Cheerios, we’ve created this partnership that really is meant to give parents an opportunity to rethink their morning in a way to make families feel more connected.”
We are excited to be kicking off the Family Breakfast Project and with our partnership, we look forward to continuing to bring value and connection to breakfast time.
In Minnesota, winters are cold. That’s why whenever we start thinking about our annual holiday gift, giving out something to bundle up in always comes up quickly. We thought about making the warmest socks possible, or the warmest mittens, but then we decided to focus on hats. You can’t get by in Minnesota without a warm hat – and anywhere you live, a hat can make a statement.
This year, we decided to make hats inspired by the Scandinavian designs that are a part of Minnesotan culture. From bright colors to clean lines, we drew our favorite elements together to create two different hats for our clients, families and friends.
The last post from Christian made the announcement that I’m lucky enough to be able to help write the next chapter in the company’s mission to modernize business. I’m thrilled, so I thought I’d write something to try and tell you why.
In many ways, this has been a long time coming. Just over a decade ago, I remember attending my first U.S. planning conference. At that event, I met Adrian, who was doing the same job I was at Fallon. He was incredibly generous with his time and advice. More presciently, I remember having a long conversation with him about how planners could apply their skills more broadly than the narrow confines we tended to apply them in ad agencies. We were full of belief that the industry could – and would – change.
Four years later, at the same conference, I remember seeing Rob and Adrian give a presentation just after Zeus Jones had opened its doors. They talked about brave, provocative ideas like ‘marketing as a service’ and ‘actions speaking louder than words.’ I was struck by their hunger and belief in those early days and have watched with awe as they, along with the other Joneses, have built an incredibly successful business helping build modern brands for some of America’s most iconic companies. Every time I saw them, I was struck by the impact they were causing and the huge amount of fun they were having creating it.
I realized that it was time for me to take advantage of the opportunities that come with shaping and nurturing modern brands. That’s why I talked to the founders about whether there might be an opportunity to join forces and help accelerate progress on the mission to modernize business. It felt like a partnership that could help us both achieve what we’re passionate about more quickly, while having more fun along the way. Thankfully, they shared the excitement in the idea and from that, Zeus Jones San Francisco was born.
So what do we hope to achieve? Well it’s definitely not measured by size or how big we become. Rather, we’d like to be judged by the size and quality of the impact we have on the clients we partner with and on people out there in the world. Maybe make marketing a little bit less like a four letter word in the boardroom and on the sidewalk. And if we create something that feels in some way like a modern day Eames Studio in its scope of work and impact, then I for one will be a very happy man,
We are deliberately not trying to create an entity that’s all about being new or different. Rather, we want to create an offering with a greater depth of curiosity and diversity of output. A creative company that is, at its core, commercially curious – a creative company that wants to apply its creativity to solving business briefs, not just communication briefs. And we want to do it in a way that modernizes business by building modern brands: brands guided by purpose and built through experience. To do stuff for, and with, people rather than just say things at them. To bake marketing directly into the product rather than making it an increasingly expensive and irrelevant artifice.
We think San Francisco is the perfect place to build, from the ground up, a creative company for the modern age. It has an optimistic, can-do energy and an almost built-in disdain for legacy systems. The irony, of course, is that in this hotbed of business innovation, there’s precious little marketing innovation happening. We see a tremendous opportunity to bring a new approach to branding and marketing that can better help grow and modernize business.
We’ll be opening our doors here on March 1. We’ll keep you posted. But for now, we’d just like to invite both the companies and talent here that embody this spirit and are interested in our offering to get in touch.
In 2007, we created Zeus Jones around a belief that was unique in the agency world: that actions speak louder than words and that modern brands were built on experiences, not communications. Early on, we realized that building our company around this belief was not going to be easy. It meant that we’d need to figure everything out from scratch: the business model, the processes, the mix of talent, the right kind of company culture.
A job like this is never truly done, but over our first 7 years, we’ve made huge strides toward creating a whole new kind of agency. And we’ve been fortunate to put our beliefs to work in collaboration with some amazing brands, companies and clients. The results have exceeded our biggest hopes, and we’ve managed to have a far-reaching impact on the way our clients approach branding. We’ve helped brands find their purpose, created new products and services with them, helped them forge unique partnerships and helped them get more value out of all their efforts.
The most exciting part of the journey so far has been discovering that there’s always something new to learn, along with new problems to figure out, and new opportunities to pursue. And I don’t mean just new clients and new briefs – every now and then we get the chance to take the company itself in a new direction. And when Gareth Kay approached us about opening Zeus Jones in San Francisco, that was definitely one of those opportunities.
We’ve never assumed that Zeus Jones’ destiny is to grow big, and we’ve never set goals around things like how many people we have. We’ve been 100% focused on building a great company culture and doing work that we love to do. Staying independent has been a key part of that, which is why we’re always thoughtful about how we go about growing our company. The opportunity in San Francisco got us excited for a couple of reasons:
1. We had the right talent. Gareth is “one of us” – someone with deep knowledge and experience, who, like us, is always looking for new ways to apply his skills to modern business problems.
2. San Francisco is an exciting market. The bay area is a hotbed of business innovation, one that shares our beliefs in creating value for people over just marketing.
3. It gives us chance to apply what we know and to learn even more. As I said, we are always learning, adapting, improving. When we kicked off our business, we got mostly tactical communications briefs. Now, we’re given strategic business briefs. As a result, we have 7 years of experience building modern brands, and we’re ready to see if some of our approaches and processes can have the same results for emerging companies as they have for established big brands.
So, as of today, we’re officially announcing Gareth Kay as founding partner of Zeus Jones San Francisco! Gareth will be spending a lot of time in the first few months of the year with us in Minneapolis working hand-in-hand with the entire group, learning, teaching and planning with hopes of getting ZJ SF fully up and running the Bay Area by Spring.
Zeus Jones has grown significantly in Minneapolis over the last few years, so we are also announcing some additions to the partnership to help make sure both offices continue to evolve, grow and succeed. Head of Production Dave Annis joins Design Director Brad Surcey and the four founders as partners helping to oversee both offices. And senior designer Peter Petrulo will become partner in Zeus Jones Minneapolis.
We are super excited for 2014, more to come. In the meantime meet Gareth.
Lately I have thinking about Lay’s chips. While I am surrounded by case studies left and right of brands doing cool stuff to appeal to young people, there is something beautifully simple about what Lay’s is doing. Slowly and steadily, they are releasing interesting new flavors of chips. Sriracha chips. Chicken and waffles chips. Chocolate-covered potato chips. It doesn’t really matter what the marketing around these chips is. Put a cool new product in the aisles, and people will buy it. (Especially millennials, who are particularly adventurous and worldly when it comes to flavors.)
Think about how relevant to culture Lay’s chips would be if they had stayed, well, plain. Could any amount of Old Spice-caliber marketing have made us care?
While I realize that developing too many strains of one product can dilute what it means to customers, there is something that makes a ton of sense about starting with the product, not the marketing.
Look at Bud Light Lime, for example. The beer itself has to be facing some challenges in a market where locally-brewed, craft beers are on the rise. But Budweiser has followed the trend of experimentation with flavor by creating Bud Light Lime products aimed at novelty alone. I have had many friends who have been sharing their first experience trying their somewhat strange product, the Bud Light Lime-a-Rita on social media. Now, they’ve got a Cran-BRRR-ita for the holidays – and people are psyched, even if that psyched-ness is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I’m seeing this all over already:
Sure, millennials might sometimes prefer engaged conversations and experiences over well, junk food. (Or as this McSweeney’s article, Our Killer Appears to Be a Millennial, puts it: “This sick bastard loves to engage actively with brands if they approach him in an authentic fashion. He’s hungry for content and what’s new.”) But sometimes, we’re hungry for what’s new, and just something new is enough to matter. Especially if it’s a little bit weird.
APCO recently published a list of the 100 Most Loved Brands, and the winners might surprise you. As they should, considering branding, business and culture have changed a lot since we hit the millennium. The list is truly a mixture of the old big-hitters, the new world-changers, and some randos thrown in for good measure. (Click through to see all brands, or read about it on Adweek for their context.)
The first thing you will probably say is, “Why is Yahoo! at #2?” Me too. I don’t have an answer for you there. But I bet Marissa Mayer took a break from retooling some major part of the company over the weekend to take a shot or two at this news.
But there are a lot of telling insights to be drawn from the rest of this list. Overall, I would say it confirms what many of us sense as a major sea change in branding. In the last century, the rock star brands were basically unnecessary, unhealthy food brands who did massive amounts of marketing (Coke, McDonald’s etc.) And, maybe because of childhood impression turned into adult ritual, we still consume those brands regularly and maintain that childhood imprint of wonder and affection.
Yet as those brands sink, edging their way up, slowly but sturdily, are different kinds of brands. Useful brands, which significantly change our lives, and ethical brands that change how consumerism works. Examples of the first would be Google, Apple and Amazon, and a powerful example of the latter would be Whole Foods showing up at number 8. Whole foods beating Coke. Now that’s a huge deal.
The next notable group would be brands that provide access to consumers of all price ranges – access to pop culture, access to fashion and access to the home goods necessary to carve out your adult life in a rough economy. Yes I’m talking Netflix, Target and Ikea.
The final big class I’m noticing is large heavyweight brands who have managed to stay relevant to consumers through innovation and connection with culture – Nestlé, Kellogg’s and General Mills. Plus maybe people just love food.
Nike sitting all the way at 18 comes as a surprise. I would have put it in the top 10. But Nike has been very innovative and still connects with fans a lot better than other heavy hitters. It’s faring a lot better than McDonald’s (all the way down at 69) and Starbucks (96).
And Disney being #1 might seem due to the clout they built up in the last century, but they’re still doing amazing stuff today.
Who’s absent from the list? Best Buy for one. MTV (do people still want their MTV? Not anyone I know). Burger King. American Express (a surprise since they’re doing some really cool stuff). Chipotle (can that be?).
A few general lessons we can learn:
-Healthy (or the perception that a food is healthy) is edging out empty calories.
-Cultural clout doesn’t always reflect consumer realities, or Chipotle would probably snatch a high spot from a brand like Yahoo!.
-Brands whose products aren’t necessary or useful will need to create products that are to stay afloat. They should consider developing healthier or more useful products rather than putting all that money into advertising.
-While department stores and mass chains may be less popular with Gen Y, big companies are still putting the most effort into innovation and aren’t having a hard time staying in customers’ hearts.