Culture Hacking: America's next big industry?


This is how I see it. And it isn’t rocket science:

1. If you want to change your business, you also have to change your culture. If you want to change your culture, you also have to change your art.

2. And that’s where gapingvoid comes in- creating art and ideas that express, reflect, articulate what the clients’ business needs to become.

3. You can call it “Internal Advertising” if you want; I prefer the term “Culture Hacking”- changing your company’s fortunes NOT by trying to directly change what the general public thinks of you, but by trying to change what YOU think of you.


The Golden Age of advertising- the “Mad Men” era- started about 50 years ago, with people like David Ogilvy, George Lois, Bill Bernbach leading the way, and shops like Weiden & Kennedy, BBH, Fallon, BMP, GGT, CDP and Goodby following in their wake.

This golden age came to an abrupt end, when our friend the Internet came along, with a lot of people on Madison Avenue suddenly starting to fear for their jobs.

So if traditional advertising is “dead”, what comes after it? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself for the last ten years, ever since I launched gapingvoid back in 2001.

Though I wasn’t paying too much attention at the time, the answer kinda-sorta came to me back in 2004, in a line I wrote in The Hughtrain:

: The hardest part of a CEO’s job is sharing his enthusiasm with his colleagues, especially when a lot of them are making one-fiftieth of what he is. Selling the company to the general public is a piece of cake compared to selling it to the actual people who work for it. The future of advertising is internal.

You can call it “Internal Advertising” if you want; I prefer the term “Culture Hacking”- changing your company’s fortunes NOT by trying to directly change what the general public thinks of you, but by trying to change what YOU think of you.

Improving the company by improving the culture, by subverting the culture via counterintuitive means. Exactly.

[Photo courtesy of Adbusters.]

And yes, Culture Hacking is also what drove the Occupy Wall Street movement and AdBustersSame idea, different aims (And if you read Greil Marcus’ “Lipstick Traces”, you’ll learn that the same riff goes back to 1970s punk rock, 1950s French Situationism, early 20th-Century Dadaism, even back to the Middle Ages…].

The new business model will be the  intersection of the three following things: Purpose, Company Culture and Media.

1. Purpose: It’s the “Why” of what you do, it is not the product, it is the Purpose-Idea, as expressed by Mark Earls, or “The Why” as expressed by Simon Sinek.

2. Company Culture is informed by “Purpose”, it is that actions that a business takes each and every day to remind people of their purpose. Purpose is a set of beliefs, and Culture is the expression of those beliefs in business (Action).

3. Media: Advertising, PR, earned media, paid media, call it what you will. Once you have a “Purpose” and a company “Culture”, those two things inform all of your advertising, PR, communication, social interaction and points of contact with the outside world. From your logo, to your ads, Social Media, How your planes and trucks are painted, etc. It all informs, reinforces and feeds each other.

Culture Hacking is why “Delivering Happiness” became an international best seller. Culture Hacking is why people flock to Nevada in droves to take the Zappos tour. Culture Hacking is why people will one day pay Jenn Lim and Tony Hsieh millions of dollars for the services of the “Delivering Happiness” company.

This is also why Rackspace and Babson College hired gapingvoid to draw cartoons for them. This is why we produce Cube Grenades. This is why big PR firms like Weber Shandwick or Edelman, if they get it right, will steal millions of dollars’ worth of business AWAY from traditional Madison Avenue agencies.

Culture Hacking is all about creating social objects. Exactly.

[One more time:] Stop wasting your life in the traditional advertising-era quicksand. There’s a new game in town. Culture Hacking is a multi-billion dollar industry, still in its infancy. Get in early if you can…

[Further Reading: The Cluetrain ManifestoDelivering HappinessCreative AgeTribesThe Hughtrain and Lipstick Traces. All must-reads to better understand this brave new world of ours. Plus my friends at Laughing Squid and PSFK always seem to have their fingers on the pulse…]