MacLeod's schtick was about creating cartoons on business cards. At the time, he was creating what we might today term marketing campaigns for English Cut, a then rising Savile Row tailor. A little later, he worked with Stormhoek, a South African wine producer which has since been sold. Both were able to trade off Hugh's popularity as they built their brands.
The long run campaigns were based around the conversational nature of blogs spiced up with edgy and amusing artwork.
These were some of the earliest examples of successful content marketing that leveraged digital tools and the notion of the cartoon as a social object. A social object is many things but at its simplest. it is some-thing that triggers an emotional response around which people make social connections. From a marketer's standpoint, these can be powerful ways of starting conversations around whatever topic they wish to influence. While marketers think they 'get' this concept, many fail. As he says:
Note to Social Media Marketing Dorks: The hard currency of the Internet is not Facebook “Likes” or Twitter “Retweets”, as flavor-of-the-month as they might be. By themselves, they’re worthless.
The hard currency of the Internet is “Social Objects”.
i.e. Social Objects for people to SHARE MEANINGFULLY with other people.
You’re either creating them or you’re not. And if you’re not, you will fail, end of story.
Do you get the feeling Hugh's a bit passionate about this topic? You'd be right.
Using social objects
I like the idea of social objects. On JD-OD.com, Jon Reed and I have created a 'style' of creating video conversations with many different types of people. We don't strive for CNN quality video productions though we do try and get great audio. If anything, I sometimes joke that we try and suck more - not less.
We try make videos that people want to share because the content is of interest to like minded people. It doesn't always work but that's how we learn to make better social objects. When I record LWIT I try to make videos that are the antidote of serious reporting. They're meant to be offbeat, occasionally NSFW but ultimately a fast and hopefully memorable way to consume a set of news items that might be interesting to an enterprise audience.I've seen Hugh's cartoons hung as cube grenades in many an office. They always raise a smile or provoke a thought. That's their purpose. When anyone comes through the door of our house, the first thing they see is Ignore Everybody - it's part of my schtick. Create or Die is hung above my office desk. Loneliness (see image right) is on the wall next to my desk and opposite the door. You get the point.
The last few years, Hugh has moved into the broader business market, helping companies like Rackspace, HP and others build new cultures or campaigns. This is no mean feat. It all started back on 2006-7 when he created the Blue Monster for Microsoft, a poignant reminder of Microsoft's risk of becoming irrelevant. Today, Hugh has a client referral list that many would die for. All are successful in their own way. See below.
Most recently, Hugh has extended his ideas into something he calls 'culturemail.' His explanation of how it works:
Using e-mail or other internal social platforms, we create and curate our visual messages which are designed to move the organization strategically along the path of change. It’s supported with real-world materials that spread the messages, embedding the most cherished ideas into all levels of the organization.
It's an exciting idea. I receive Hugh's daily newsletter that always includes a cartoon so I 'get' what he's saying. Communicating ideas through art has a visceral appeal that encourages sharing. If that same art has a touch of instantly identifiable humor then so much the better. That's what makes Dilbert so endearing. It's what makes consumption of Hugh's newsletter such fun.
Hugh positions this as part of change management, a pre-requisite for organizations coming to terms with the changing market environment and the need to engage new marketing modes that often take people out of their comfort zones.
Right idea, right time
It's the right idea at the right time. Too many organizations have tried to hijack the social web in a way that perpetuates broadcast advertising and reinforces our prejudices against false messaging. Instead of understanding there can be no authenticity unless it comes from within, these organizations reveal a cynicism that has the opposite effect to that they were anticipating. Remember the Wal-Marting Across America fiasco?
Those organizations that 'get' the ideas behind 'culturemail' will love what Hugh is doing. It provides one way to approach the often intractable problem of effective change management.
It's all a long way from cartoons on business cards. I'll be following his progress. So should you.