As part of our series of posts exploring a “question-centered” teaching approach, we asked Douglas Holt, co-author of Cultural Strategy: How Innovative Ideologies Build Breakthrough Brands, to give us his thoughts on the above question, featured in the new course Q Skills for Success.
As a Professor of Marketing at Oxford University, I am very interested in how icons and brands become popular.
I believe that popularity works through two very different processes. The most intuitive for most of us is the ‘fads and fashions’ process.
People, brands, and styles become popular because the right people have adopted it — rich people, celebrities, opinion leaders, hipsters in subcultures — and we copy them in the eternal human quest to be fashionable and admired.
My work examines the second popularity process — the emergence of cultural icons — a far more durable and powerful form of popularity, and much less well understood.
Icons emerge because they express a particular ideology that society demands at a particular historical moment.
Consider Gloria Steinhem or Ann Coulter, Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela, John Wayne or Bono, Ronald Reagan or Hugo Chavez, Greenpeace or Focus on the Family.
These individuals and groups became immensely influential by advancing innovative ideology, and thereby developing intensely loyal followers.
Or consider farmer/cookbook author/television host Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, author Michael Pollan, the international Slow Food movement, and the American grocery retailer Whole Foods Market, amongst others, which have transformed food consumption for the upper middle class.
These cultural innovators have championed an alternative approach to agriculture and food. They have made an ideological challenge to the dominant scientific–industrial food ideology. They have brought to life the value, even necessity, of winding the clock back to some sort of pre-industrial food culture in such a way that it is irresistible for the upper middle class in the United States, the United Kingdom, and many other countries.
We call this phenomenon “Cultural Innovation”. It is something that can be thoughtfully researched and planned, unlike the seemingly random birth of fads and fashions.
Douglas Holt is L’Oréal Professor of Marketing at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, UK, and previously a professor at the Harvard Business School, USA. He is the co-author of Cultural Strategy: How Innovative Ideologies Build Breakthrough Brands (OUP).
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